Banning mobile phones from schools is music to all sensible ears

Emmanuel Macron's mobile phone ban will improve communication among teenagers/ Stock image Getty
Emmanuel Macron's mobile phone ban will improve communication among teenagers/ Stock image Getty

A quick look around fellow passengers on the Dubai or Paris metros, or the London Tube, reveals a uniform pattern. Nearly everyone is on a mobile phone.

Much less often these days do we hear a traveller blurt out: “I’m on the train” to someone at the other end of the train line and phone line. It was once a jarring accompaniment to any public transport journey. How much more discreet to text and how much simpler when the message amounts to an apology for being late home.

“How on earth did we manage before mobiles?" it is often asked.

They are unquestionably useful and, in extreme circumstances, life-saving devices, essential tools for busy people whether they work with brains or with hands. Even the constant nuisance of quick-discharging batteries will eventually be fixed by technological advances.

But mobile phones – never ours, of course, but those of others – can also be deeply irritating, which is why some restaurants, usually the better ones, and all theatres and cinemas worthy of patronage discourage their use.

And while we struggle to remember, or prefer to forget, dirty or out-of-order telephone kiosks, we know for certain about the unwelcome side effects of this helpful invention. For a start, it turns children into otherwise uncommunicative zombies.

Conscientious parents deny their sons and daughters portables until as late an age as can be justified before peer pressure makes it seem an act of cruel deprivation. Even then, they impose reasonable limits on the time that can be spent on them. But not all adults are as diligent; many are perfectly content to lessen the risk of being bothered by allowing offspring to remain glued to phone or laptop screens.

The France 24 television network reports that an increasing number of children and teenagers have mobile phones. A 2015 study suggested eight teenagers in 10 owned smartphones, compared with one in five just four years earlier.

The proportion can only have increased since that research. According to the newspaper Le Monde, some primary schoolchildren as young as eight take phones to school.

So France’s indisputably techno-age young president Emmanuel Macron should be applauded for a modest gesture of authoritarianism, a decision to forbid their use on school premises from next September.

This extends a measure that already bans them from the classrooms of primary schools and the first four years of college, as secondary school is known.

Since the Macron government recognises that mobile phones have beneficial qualities, it will permit their use for educational purposes or when emergencies arise.

Almost as welcome is the fact the elimination of grating ringtones will be accompanied by much more uplifting sounds, choirs in all France’s 7,000 colleges. At present, only one about a quarter have them.

Choral singing will gradually be extended to primary schools. In keeping with French secular tradition, schools will draw on a mixture of classical and popular music, from the stirring national anthem La Marseillaise to standards associated with Jacques Brel (Belgium but francophone) and Edith Piaf.

“The idea is to bring culture into the classroom,” says France’s culture minister Francoise Nyssen.

The idea can be seen as a near cousin of the mobile phone ban, which removes a less cultured phenomenon from schools.

France 24 raises questions of enforcement: where pupils’ phones might be stored, how staff will ensure compliance and whether all parents will even offer support. In truth, these should present only trifling challenges.

Once the rule is made, the rest can be dealt with quite easily and the end product, taken together with a proliferation of school choirs, should be music to all sensible ears.

Updated: December 16, 2017 07:42 PM


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