Restricting smart watch and mobile phone use can be a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities. This is the conclusion of a report by Louis-Philippe Beland and Richard Murphy working at the London School of Economics Centre for Economic Performance (pdf) and Louisiana State University.
The survey looked at a number of state schools in Birmingham, London, Leicester and Manchester and found:
Following a ban on phone use, student test scores improve by 6.41% of a standard deviation. Our results indicate that there are no significant gains in student performance if a ban is not widely complied with. Furthermore, this effect is driven by the most disadvantaged and underachieving pupils. Students in the lowest quartile of prior achievement gain 14.23% of a standard deviation, while students in the top quartile are neither positively nor negatively affected by a phone ban.
Prof Beland told El Reg: “Whilst we cannot know for sure which students are distracted by the phones the most, this implies that low-achieving students were most disrupted and distracted by the presence of phones, while high-ability students are not impacted. If we think that the distractions affect everyone equally, even those not using the phone, then we might expect an equal response across all ability groups. These results imply that only those using the phones are distracted.”
Beland says that this and other research points to higher achieving students being better able to cope with other distractions and rules out the argument that schools without phones generally have a higher level of discipline. “We control for other policy changes," Beland said. "We also have a sub-analysis which studies the impact of introducing a ban between student age 14 test and age 16 test. Results increase. This is a very short period of time for other effects to occur.”
He thinks that schools should look at the possibility of introducing phone blockers – although in the UK this would have to be done with the co-operation of the mobile networks, as they own the spectrum. Passive blocking would not be subject to such restrictions.
That’s not to say that phones are universally bad. “Our findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones and other forms of technology could be useful in schools if their use is properly structured. However, our findings do suggest that the presence of mobile phones in schools should not be ignored,” Beland told us.
The findings of the report fly counter to the suggestion by OCR to allow access to Google in exams and the Mayor of New York removing a ten-year ban of phones on school premises in March 2015.
As to whether parents should ban the mobile phone at home, Prof Beland told us: “I cannot answer this question with our data.” ®