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Phones in School Could be Banned For ‘Public Health’ Reasons in France

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Going to school in France? Leave your phone at home. French Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer said kids’ constant phone use is a “problem.” Ian Gavan/Getty for Deutsche Telekom

Leave your phone at home—it’s for your own good.

That’s the message French Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer sent Sunday when he confirmed that, starting in September 2018, phones will be banned through secondary school for all students. Blanquer called it a “public health” issue, complaining that kids are spending too much time staring at their screens instead of playing during breaks. He also claimed the ban could curb cyberbullying.

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“They are just all in front of their smartphones, and from an educational point of view that’s a problem,” Blanquer said, according to The Local.

The new policy will target students through 15 years old, forbidding them from using phones at any point during the school day. And it’s already inspiring some pushback, with teachers union representative Philippe Vincent telling The Guardian that his group “can’t find the logic or the pragmatism in the announcements” and wondering aloud about where administrators will store all of the phones.

“Are we going to transform a school into a giant locker?” he asked. “I’ve done a little calculation myself: 5,300 state schools with an average 500 pupils each, that makes around 3 million lockers.”

Despite the drama, Blanquer may be right about kids’ screen time being a public health matter. A report released in October by the nonprofit Common Sense Media found that kids younger than 8 are spending an average of 48 minutes a day looking at mobile screens, up from 15 minutes in 2013. The consequences are real: Too much tech use and media consumption have been linked to sleep problems, behavior issues and obesity, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Interpersonal skills also are at stake.

“We really need to be sure that children, and probably older people, are getting enough face-to-face interaction to be competent social beings,” Patricia Greenfield, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies screen time, told NPR in 2014.

There’s evidence that forcing students to put their phones away during school can help reverse some of the negative side effects. A 2015 study by the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics found that 16-year-old students got higher test scores after phone bans took effect.

France isn’t the first to outlaw the devices—there’s an ongoing international debate over whether phones should be allowed in schools. Districts in Nigeria and Uganda have adopted bans, and one school in China was even featured in a viral video that showed a man using a mallet to smash a water-soaked phone to bits.

No word on whether that will happen in France.

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