SCREENS NEED TO BE KEPT OUT OF SCHOOLS OPINION PIECE by CHRIS MINNS
Written by Chris Minns -Leader of the Labour Party State Opposition
As parents of three boys – two in high school – Anna and I are constantly battling to keep the kids off their screens.
Now of course it’s the role of parents to set limits around screen time, and there is an important place for personal electronic devices for learning, entertainment and communication – but my view is that place is not in the school classroom or the school playground.
That’s why NSW Labor has announced that it will ban mobile phones and other devices from high schools if we win the election in March.
And while I know my boys aren’t exactly the biggest fan of this idea, I know I’m not alone. Parents right across the state have told me as much.
And we hear the same concern from our kids – they’ll be social outsiders if they don’t have (and have access to) mobile devices at school as their friends do.
But teachers don’t know if their looking up a Shakespeare quote or watching a video on Tik Tok.
And we know bullying is a major issue. Phones and in game chat functions are a major place where bullying takes form – so let’s get rid of them, and get kids talking to each other again.
Phones are already banned in primary schools here, and they’re already banned in high schools in multiple other Australian states, but for some reason that defies both reason and research, the Liberals refuse to ban them in high schools here.
And we’re right to be worried. Education rankings in NSW have been declining over the past decade or two according to PISA – who measures our performance against others here and overseas.
Since 2006, NSW schools have slipped from 8th to 23rd in reading, from 9th to 31st in mathematics and third to 23rd in science when compared to OECD countries.
Now while growing device addiction in schools is not the only cause of the problem – screens are certainly a major part.
Parents know that the 6-week summer holidays has become increasingly filled with children spending their time on video games, social media and instant messaging platforms.
The stats show up to three per cent of the population – particularly young males – use screens and video games to the point of having a disorder, and 17 per cent of online gamers were victims of in-game bullying.
But it’s not too late to start addressing the problem – if we act now.
In the United Kingdom they have managed to lift education results by almost seven per cent after banning mobile phones in certain high schools, with the biggest increases in the schools with the most disadvantage.
Under Labor, all NSW public school students would have their phones turned off during school hours and kept off and out of sight until the end of the school day, with logical exceptions such as to monitor a health condition or at the direct instruction of a teacher for an educational purpose.
But I want to take this further than just a ban. I want parents to have a better understanding about the impact of excessive screen, video game and mobile phone use on young people. So today, I’m announcing we’ll invest $2.5 million in research on screen-related addiction.
I’ve made a point of supporting good ideas, and I’d welcome Dominic Perrottet supporting Labor’s latest initiative. Lets make this a bipartisan issue and get kids off screens.
To inform the approach in schools and of screens more broadly, today I am convening a roundtable with experts in child psychology, cyber-safety and education.
I want our roundtable to consider what can be done to address the issues around screen addiction and in-game bullying.
Phones interrupt education in the classroom, face to face engagement in the playground, and it means we don’t have a generation of kids having handball tournaments or mucking around with their friends.
The school playground was some of the best memories I had from school.
So get ready – if Labor is elected, this will be last January back-to-school where phones are going into the school backpack for use during school hours.
This opinion piece first appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Friday, 27 January 2023