The United Nations (UN) has issued a report recommending the smartphone ban in schools worldwide. The UN’s education, science, and culture agency, UNESCO, aims to address a range of pressing issues such as classroom disruptions, declining educational performance, cyberbullying, and emotional instability among children.

The evidence is clear: excessive smartphone use hinders educational performance. Countless studies have shown that students who spend more time on their phones during class not only score lower in exams but also struggle to concentrate on their studies. With smartphones becoming an ever-present distraction, teachers find it increasingly challenging to maintain students’ focus on lessons and interactive activities.

Prolonged exposure to digital devices has been linked to anxiety, depression, and attention disorders, leaving children vulnerable to emotional instability. By banning smartphones in schools, educators hope to create a more nurturing environment that fosters emotional growth and mental well-being.

The proposed ban extends not only to smartphones but also to digital technology, including artificial intelligence. Unesco points out the importance of maintaining a “human-centred vision” of education, where face-to-face interactions between teachers and students play a pivotal role in the learning process.

Technology undoubtedly has its merits, yet the UN report cautions against the uncritical adoption of digital tools in the classroom. The fear is that an overreliance on AI-driven teaching methods might lead to a lack of personalised attention and hinder students’ ability to think critically.

The allure of integrating technology into education is often accompanied by optimistic claims about its positive impacts on learning and efficiency.

However, the Unesco report urges scepticism, as these positive impacts may have been overestimated. Growing recognition claims that an indiscriminate push for digital integration can detract from learning, undermining valuable skills such as problem-solving, creativity, and human interaction.

Critics argue that banning smartphones and digital technology in schools may be unrealistic and stifle progress in the educational realm. However, the objective is not to abolish technology in its entirety but rather to encourage thoughtful and mindful integration.

Schools are at liberty to adopt a structured approach, allowing controlled and supervised use of technology for specific learning purposes while safeguarding against its potential downsides.

Unesco also highlights the importance of educating students on appropriate technology usage, both in the classroom and at home.

Approximately one in six countries has implemented a smartphone ban in schools, either through legislative measures or official guidelines. Notable examples include France, which introduced its smartphone policy in 2018, and the Netherlands, which plans to enforce restrictions starting in 2024. China implemented restrictions on digital devices used as educational tools. In China’s case, these devices constitute only 30% of total teaching time, with students encouraged to take frequent breaks from screens.

Unesco acknowledged that online learning played a crucial role in preventing education breakdown when educational institutions closed during Covid-19 lockdowns. The organisation recognised that over a billion students worldwide transitioned to online learning during the pandemic, ensuring continuity of education. However, it also highlighted the stark reality that millions of underprivileged students who lacked access to the Internet were left behind.