Mobile phone ban in Danish schools sparks debate

Fresh from summer holidays, Danish school children — many excited to return to their school, reconnect with old friends and move up a year — had their smiles turn to gloom when teachers asked them to hand in their mobile phones before the lesson began.

It’s all part of a vigorous campaign by more Danish schools to remove mobile phones from classrooms.

The major political parties, however, have been reluctant to officially legislate upon the matter, a grassroots decision since last August.

“Some schools in Denmark have taken the step of a mobile phone ban, and I support them. But we shouldn’t be making laws about it in parliament,” said Anni Mathiesen, a spokesperson with the Liberal party.

Instead, local authorities were asked to decide, and many enthusiastically agree with the conventional wisdom that dictates mobile phones in classrooms are a distraction to concentration and learning.

Polls suggest the ban has popular support.

A poll for Denmark’s TV2 found eight out of ten people in Denmark were in favor of banning phones from schools.

Arhus newspaper Stiftstidende also found that 82 percent of respondents were in favor of a ban when asked: Should we ban mobiles in Danish primary schools?

BETTER FOCUS, INTERACTION

“When you go to the school you can see that children who previously had their heads buried in their phones have been replaced by children that are talking to each other or playing,” said Lise Ammitzboell la Cour, headteacher at school of Gruntvigsvej in Frederiksberg.

Xinhua asked three Ninth graders at Frederiksvaerk School, North Sjaelland, on what they thought of the ban.

“It’s annoying to hand it in,” said Matilde.

“Some people don’t hand it in. Only 3 did today and teachers are not allowed to check your bags,” said Emily.

“But if they catch you with it they can confiscate it,” interrupted Sophie.

The girls agreed, however, that they concentrated more during lessons now the ban was enforced.

“I am not addicted to my mobile,” said Matilde. “But when I don’t have it, I know I don’t feel the need to look at it anymore.

As a sociologist, Anette Prehn thinks the transformation as necessary to creating life-building skills such as immersion, impulse control, empathy, inner calm and social flair that they need to learn.

“Research shows that conversations become more superficial when we have a powered mobile lying on the table. Just as subjects get worse grades for a test when the cellphone is on, it drains the cognitive capacity… Mobile-free schools unanimously report a greater focus and better interaction between students,” she wrote in the newspaper of Kristeligt Dagblad.

“We already see that the students act differently. They do not sit with their phone during breaks and are not disturbed during the school hours,” said school principal Sigurd Broennum to TV EAST.

A STEP BACK?

Surprisingly, dissent is steadily growing among Danish educationalists, psychologists, and scientists who disagree with the overall merits of such ban.

Danske Skoleelever, a politically independent interest organization for school students in Denmark, is against more schools confiscating mobiles at the start of the day.

“Mobile telephones should be used as an active resource in teaching,” the organization’s chairperson Sarah Gruszow Brentzen told Ritzau, the national news agency of Denmark.

Critics see the school ban as a significant step backward for Denmark, one of the most advanced technological societies in the world. A ban that might damage the ability of Danish children to keep up with the times they live in.

“It’s like saying, we will not use the printed book. We only want handwritten books. It doesn’t work. You have to take stock of the reality in which students live and try to help them get some good social interaction with the new forms of communication.” said Jesper Taekke, an associate professor of media science at Aarhus University, while speaking on TV2

“Mobile phones should not be packed away. They need to be actively used during lessons.”

The arguments for and against mobile phones in schools are both strong. But both sides need to listen to each other. And Danish schools need to find a balance — one that allows mobile phones to facilitate learning rather than prohibit it, according to analysts.

Prehn, despite supporting the ban, is reconciled with balance.

“The cellphone is a great tool. But we must set a clear framework for the students’ use of it. We do not let students run around with a circular saw every day at school, just because they have two hours a week of woodwork lessons,” said the sociologist.