The gain on reducing inequality of banning smartphones in class, but…

This working paper examines the effect of banning smartphones in class and found that banning the devices increases the performance of the lowestachieving students. It seems that they are more distracted than the other students and so eliminating the device could help reducing the inequality:

The results suggest that low-achieving students are more likely to be distracted by the presence of mobile phones, while high achievers can focus in the classroom regardless of whether phones are present.

Ok, sounds fair, but… before making this study anti-technology or eliminating cellphones: the advice is much more subtle:

The existing literature on the impact of technology in the classroom implies that the unstructured presence of technology has ambiguous impacts on student achievement. We add to this by illustrating that a highly multipurpose technology, such as mobile phones, can have a negative impact on productivity through distraction. Schools that restrict access to mobile phones subsequently experience an improvement in test scores. However, these findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured.

So it’s all about structured use of technology in the classroom and there is maybe another little thing: there is a correlation between lower achieving pupils and the effect of a smartphone ban. Sounds logic as being more distracted means paying less attention to the class, means lower achievement, but it can also well be that the education wasn’t adapted to the needs of the lower achieving pupils so that their minds were more easily distracted and luckily (or rather sadly) there was an alternative in their pocket or under their table.

My personale conclusion: don’t ban mobile technology from school, but use it in a structured way. Something I tend to say as the best thing about e.g. tablets in education: they are much easier to put away and take back than computers.

Abstract of the working paper:

This paper investigates the impact of schools banning mobile phones on student test scores. By surveying schools in four English cities regarding their mobile phone policies and combining it with administrative data, we find that student performance in high stakes exams significantly increases post ban. We use a difference in differences (DID) strategy, exploiting variations in schools’ autonomous decisions to ban these devices, conditioning on a range of student characteristics and prior achievement. Our results indicate that these increases in performance are driven by the lowestachieving students. This suggests that restricting mobile phone use can be a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities.


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