As students around the region begin returning to school, many of them will be adjusting to not having access to cellphones during school hours, in line with a looming government mandate.
Minister of Education Erica Stanford said the ban will officially take effect from term two, although “I expect many schools will be implementing these policies from term one”.
“Schools already implementing cellphone-free learning environments report increases in student engagement, concentration, and wellbeing,” she said.
During last year’s election campaign, the National Party promised to bring in the ban within 100 days of forming a government.
The announcement was not well-received by the Secondary Principals’ Association president, Vaughan Couillault, who said at the time of the policy was unveiled that a government-mandated school cellphone ban wasn’t necessary.
“Actually, what’s best is to empower schools to make decisions that are right for them and their community,” said Couillault, who is also the principal of Auckland’s Papatoetoe High School.
Although Wairarapa College principal Matt White agreed with Couillault that this type of decision is best left to school boards, he’s certainly not second-guessing his school’s introduction of a mobile phone ban this time last year.
“The number of cellphone related incidents have dramatically decreased,” he said.
The college’s ban means that phones cannot be used during class time and intervals, making it easier for staff to teach and prevent issues like cyberbullying.
“There is a voice within the school that they are quite happy that they don’t have to use their cell phones during the day,” White said.
Likewise, Masterton Intermediate principal Russell Thompson said he makes no apologies for his school’s cellphone ban, which was enforced for the wellbeing and safety of students in October 2022.
“I feel for the young generation of today,” he said.
“I just think of all the incidents we’ve dealt with – it almost makes you cry, the things that you see or become aware of.”
Thompson said he regrets not putting the policy in place sooner because of the positive outcomes his staff and students have experienced.
“Behaviour has certainly improved; kids aren’t quite as involved in those negative interactions.”
Masterton Intermediate decided to enforce the ban after rigorous discussions about student safety concerns.
The difficulties the school had faced included time-consuming investigations into issues like cyberbullying, fighting, negative social media posts, negative impacts on education, and hours spent “mopping up” incidents, Thompson said.
“By not having them in our school, we know that the kids can focus more on learning and conversations with each other.
“The cellphone, I believe, is taking away a lot of the positive involvements that they can have.”
Once the government’s mandate officially starts, there will be exemptions for students who need to use cellphones for specific educational tasks, health reasons, disability or learning support needs, and special circumstances.
The Ministry of Education said it will provide schools with guidance on cellphone policies.