“La Gautrais middle school in the village of Plouasne banned the use of mobile phone on its grounds four years ago, long before the French president, Emmanuel Macron, made an election promise to outlaw children’s phones in schools in an attempt to “detox” teenagers increasingly addicted to screens.
From September, all nursery, primary and middle schools will ban mobile phone use. More than 90% of 12- to 17-year-olds are believed to own a mobile phone in France, and children were already banned from unauthorised use in class. But , as in the UK, it was left to headteachers to decide whether to limit phones in breaktime.
La Gautrais’s 290 pupils between the ages of 12 and 16 come from surrounding villages in this farming area. Since the ban, staff have noticed more social interaction between children, more empathy and a readiness to learn at the start of lessons. There is less “switching-off anger” at having to move from breaktime gaming on smartphones to focusing in class.
“No phone use at school gives pupils a moment’s peace from social networks and some children tell us they appreciate that,” said the headteacher, Yves Koziel. “On social networks there’s an acceleration and extreme simplification of group relationships which can create conflict, even bullying. We’re freeing them from that – at least during the day. We’re cutting the umbilical cord and offering some respite from it.”
Koziel said he was pleased to see children returning to “ordinary things”, such as chatting, games and breaktime clubs and activities including dance and knitting. “I think children are more available for social interaction when they’re obliged to really speak to each other,” he said.
Policing the ban has not been difficult. Pupils switch off phones and leave them in schoolbags and there are fewer than 10 confiscations a year. …
“I do have a phone, but I leave it at home and don’t really think about it much,” shrugged one 14-year-old girl in a denim jacket. “I don’t rush to check it after school. When I get home, first I’ll have a snack, I’ll chat to my mum, do some homework, then I might look at my phone. But only if I’m waiting for an important message.”
Two of her friends don’t have mobile phones at all. “We don’t really need phones because we’re always chatting to each other in person, we chat the whole time – too much probably – and we’re really good friends,” one said.
– image and excerpt from ‘We don’t really need phones’: the French school that banned mobiles’, Angelique Chrisafis, The Guardian, 22 Jun 2018