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04 December 2018

Switzerland: Assessment of the Ban on Cell Phones After Three Months in Several Schools in Canton Vaud

"Without our cell phone, the teachers think we're going to die."
by Caroline Zuercher, ABO+, 24heures.ch, 3 December 2018 (translation of most of the article)

Students hold up their cell phones. Photo: VQH/Florian Cella
"When my mother found out there was this rule, she told me it was right for me!" Salma is a schoolgirl in Villeneuve Haut-Lac, one of the ten establishments in canton Vaud where mobile phones have been banned since the start of the school year in September. Its director, Jean-François Theubet, hastened to rectify: "What is not allowed is free use. But the phone can be used under the control of an adult, for example to photograph the result of a science experiment."

In other words: no more devices at recess or between, including when students change buildings. Use is also prohibited while within the school perimeter, between 7:30 a.m. and noon and between 1:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. What do the students think about it? We met a grade 11 class (last year of compulsory school) composed of fourteen teenagers, eight girls and six boys aged 14 to 16.

Trust and punishment

The principal recommended that parents not allow children to bring their devices to school. It does not seem that the advice is being followed. However, the establishment does not organize a phone collection. It is based on trust and some punishments. A device is confiscated every two or three days, mainly because its owner forgot to turn it off and it rings in a bag. It then stays with the principal until a parent comes to pick it up.

On the young people's side, Rafaela sums up the general feeling: "Teachers think we are addicted and that we will die if we can't use our mobile phone during recess. They make a drama out of it for fifteen minutes, but it doesn't change anything." They use their smartphone for games, photos, social networks, music, watching series... And to make calls. Sometimes a lot.

Many admit a certain dependence.

One student admits to spending three to six hours every night on this small screen. Amandine adds: "It goes by fast and I don't realize until after I've spent a lot of time there." Salma, who regularly taps away on the phone between 5pm and 11pm, "is bored to death" without her device and doesn't think she could leave it in a closet for a day. Another young person watches TV shows at night until he gets tired. Isn't it a problem to stay awake so late? "I can't get to sleep. The problem is more like waking up on time."

Avoiding harassment

Does this prohibition not make it possible to avoid harassment related in particular to the exchange of photographs? "With social networks, we can get things moving very easily and quickly anyway."

Among the advantages, "some will talk more easily with others". But almost all of the students call for a relaxation of the rules. "Banning the mobile phone at recess, okay... But you can also be caught if you turn it on ten minutes before or after school. I don't see the point," says Delphine.

Instead of a smartphone, Noah prefers sports and reading. "On the one hand, I understand my classmates, we were born with the phone. I understand a little less why we spend six hours a day on it, but I respect it. People keep busy like that, that's all."

At home, their parents set the rules, but they were never really necessary. A young girl who admits to being addicted says: "It certainly has something to do with education. I, for example, received my first mini-iPod when I was 7 years old."

Convinced teachers

This does not surprise Lionel Moser, their head teacher. "I appreciate the hindsight they have in dealing with their use... Even if that doesn't mean they have to limit themselves." The mobile phone and its prohibition are also a subject of conversation among teachers.

We notice that students are regularly absent, that they have trouble coming to class in the morning... Most of us are in favor of this measure." He admits that he was skeptical. "I thought that such a ban was above all symbolic... But you probably have to start somewhere and it's important to set an example."

"It's a public health issue."
Jean-François Theubet, school principal at Villeneuve Haut-Lac.

What is your assessment of this ban?

We'll do one next spring. I can already see that the students are no longer bent over their devices at every recess. There is more communication between them. Whenever possible, they would take their games out at each break to earn extra points... We also had problems with filmed fights and harassment. Since this summer, I have not seen the inspectors of the Brigade des mineurs (police brigade for minors) again, as was the case before.

The students, on the other hand, judge the measure to be symbolic.

I understand them. But it is important to harmonize the rules and say that we want to act against what is a public health problem.

Isn't the school cutting itself off from society?

At first, I thought it was a shame to ban mobile phones in the digital age. I felt that it was more important to educate and raise awareness. But this public health issue changed my mind. I was also convinced because cell phones are still allowed if the activity is run by an adult. It must then be used for its true value, for example to photograph the result of a science experiment. Finally, the school will strengthen the teaching of digital science. We tested the first classes with toddlers, and this in unplugged mode.

How did you sell this to the students?

I presented this change to them as a form of liberation, stressing that they would live a few hours a day without a mobile phone. Then they are teenagers... They heard this speech, but it has to be repeated so that they can assimilate it! We are trying to make sense of this ban by informing them of the problems associated with mobile phone use. The subject was also discussed with parents, particularly in the sessions we had with them. We want to develop a learning partnership, because children's behavior depends a lot on the rules set at home.


The regulations in French-speaking Switzerland

In Geneva, cell phones are not allowed in compulsory school during school hours. As elsewhere, pedagogical use, with the formal agreement of the teacher, is possible. However, there are grey areas (e.g. preschool or lunch break) where regulations "need to be clarified", according to the Department of Public Education (DIP). "Global work on the smartphone issue at school is underway, with a view to clarifying it by the start of the 2019 school year at the latest," says its Secretary General Pierre-Antoine Preti.

In Fribourg, school regulations prohibit cell phones in orientation cycles. Each establishment can then specify the scope of this rule, for example by providing for a prohibition during recess.

In the Jura, the rules are made per establishment and there is no desire for harmonisation. There are no cantonal regulations in Neuchâtel either, but a reflection is underway to issue a cantonal recommendation. The principle would be that outside any educational activity, cell phones should not be allowed.

Finally, mobile phones are not allowed in the Valais, even at recess. In Secondary II, there are zones for its use.


Commentaire de l'Editrice de "Mieux Prévenir" :

"All schools should teach students safer cell phone use habits to reduce exposure to the waves: always keep a certain distance between you and the phone (never in your pocket), use the "speakerphone" mode or a hands-free kit, favor SMS, do not sleep with your phone, avoid calling in the bus, train...."

Original article in French:

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