In a recent report, Unesco, the UN’s education, science, and culture agency, has called for a worldwide ban on smartphones in schools. The report cites evidence linking excessive mobile phone use to reduced educational performance and negative effects on children’s emotional well-being.
Unesco emphasizes the importance of prioritizing face-to-face interaction between students and teachers, stating that digital technology, including artificial intelligence, should always be subservient to a “human-centered vision” of education. The agency warns against an uncritical embrace of digital technology, cautioning that its positive impact on learning outcomes and economic efficiency may be overstated.
The report highlights the need for clear objectives and principles to ensure that digital technology in education is beneficial and avoids harm. Unesco raises concerns about the distracting and disruptive nature of smartphones, tablets, and laptops in the classroom, which can have a detrimental impact on learning. It refers to international assessment data showing a negative link between excessive use of digital technology and student performance.
While acknowledging the potential of technology to expand learning opportunities, Unesco points out that these benefits are not equally distributed, with many disadvantaged individuals being effectively excluded. The agency also emphasizes the high costs associated with developing digital educational infrastructure and the environmental impact of such endeavors.
One significant concern raised by Unesco is the influence of private education companies on education policies worldwide. The report suggests that much of the research demonstrating the value of digital technology in education is funded by these companies, which raises questions about the objectivity of the findings.
Unesco commends countries like China, which have set boundaries for the use of digital devices in classrooms, limiting their use to 30% of teaching time and encouraging regular screen breaks. However, the report also acknowledges that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of online learning when schools and universities were forced to close. Nonetheless, it stresses the need to address the digital divide and ensure that all students have equal access to education, as millions of disadvantaged students were left behind due to a lack of internet access.
The report estimates that one in four countries has already implemented a smartphone ban in schools, including France and the Netherlands. These bans aim to address concerns such as cyberbullying, extended screen time’s impact on mental health, and the lack of regulation of technology companies. However, the effectiveness and practicality of a complete ban remain subjects of debate in some countries, such as the United Kingdom.
Unesco’s call for a global ban on smartphones in schools aims to protect students’ well-being and enhance the learning experience by prioritizing human interaction and minimizing the potential negative effects of excessive technology use. The agency urges policymakers to carefully consider the role of digital technology in education, ensuring that it serves the needs of learners and supports teachers, rather than substituting face-to-face interaction.