About 12 years ago, the first “Handys” snuck into school classrooms – and stayed there, distracting students and frustrating teachers. The effects can no longer be denied.
Frustrated by school students’ inability to concentrate in class, Austrian teachers are asking for system-wide restrictions on cell phone use. Ideally there would be a complete ban, says Paul Kimberger, the head of the teachers’ union; at minimum, cell-phone-free zones.
“More and more teachers are telling me that mobile phones are increasingly disruptive factors and concentration killers”, Kimberger said on the ORF Radio Ö1 Morgenjournal (morning news), on February 24. Teachers described a constant beeping and ringing, with the children looking at their smartphones instead of the blackboard. The problem not only affects middle schoolers, but also elementary school children and even some in kindergarten.
“I think that’s bizarre – and completely wrong”, Kimberger said.
No nationwide ban – for now
The numbers are frightening, but also a revelation. In 2020, there’s no denying it: For many, the cell phone is at the center of everyday life. And every glance interrupts your train of thought. So those 80 times reaching for the device, 80 times looking down, 80 times taking you away from what you were doing. And recovery takes an effort. “It takes around 15 minutes to resume the interrupted activity at a good level of concentration”, wrote The Guardian in 2018. And that was for adults. So how can children manage?
However, Education Minister Heinz Faßmann is more cautious. “I am convinced that a nationwide ban on mobile phones in schools is not an appropriate response to the digital challenge,” he told the daily Kurier, Feb 25. “I consider the current regulation to be important and right; in the end, those involved must support and implement the regulation”. Currently, each school has the right to decide for itself how to deal with mobile phone use. Sometimes this means that children have to put their “Handys” in a box during class, but sometimes it means that there is no regulation at all.