Back to reality

Gregg Davies, Headmaster of Shiplake College, explains the positive impact of a mobile phone ban

A familiar morning routine; you wake up and the first thing you reach for is your phone. Scroll through the BBC news app, check Facebook – maybe a few Sky Sports notifications. In this technology-driven day and age, the thought of leaving the house without a mobile phone is a daunting one; the prospect of being off-the-grid isn’t one that fills most people with ease. But in a world where everyone is constantly contactable, there is a certain irony in the lack of interaction people are now experiencing. 

(Un)social media poses the constant threat of isolation and, worst still, cyber bullying. Preferring to communicate from behind a screen, there is a genuine danger that children are missing out on vital social interaction. Moreover, the apparent desperation to only showcase the highlights reel, can lead to people (particularly teenagers and young people) to feel left out and depressed, worried that their lives aren’t as exciting as their peers. It is suddenly very easy to hurl abuse anonymously online, or from behind a Twitter handle. People adopt a technological identity that can be far removed from their biological one. More and more, we are living our lives through technology; electric cars, smartphones, laptops, tablets. You name it – there’s an app for that. We have grown up with technology, and it’s not necessarily a good thing.

Technology certainly does have its place in education, as styles of learning have evolved with the introduction of technology. Classes are made more dynamic with the help of computers; homework is more accessible with online platforms and tricky subjects are conquered with interactive games. Pupils can also access resources online to aid understanding of topics outside the classroom; sites such as YouTube and BBC Bitesize are increasingly used.

However, whilst the use of tablets and laptops is encouraged in class at Shiplake, the use of phones has recently been restricted in order to benefit the pupils’ social skills. Shiplake College has taken drastic action: mobile phones no longer have a place in the Shiplake grounds during the working day. Whilst the accessibility of education and learning is heightened with the use of technology, increasingly I have noticed that our pupils are losing the key skill of social communication. Connectivity is getting in the way of experiencing and communicating in real life, and pupils are losing the ability to engage in social dialogue. It’s not just within school that I have noticed the increasing use of phones. It seems to be a nationwide epidemic; in waiting rooms, on public transport, in lifts – it seems that people would prefer to exist in the bubble created by the apps on their phone. Society is losing the ability to translate the visual cues that are so inherent in face-to-face conversation.

The announcement that Shiplake College was banning mobile phones during the school day was, initially, met with uproar from pupils and celebration from parents. However, over the course of the autumn term, pupils have noticed a change in themselves. They stay at the lunch table longer; lunch is no longer a rushed meal and then back to House to their own zone to communicate without actually speaking to anyone. Downtime is spent with classmates and peers, playing sport and having actual conversations. Phones are less and less of a crutch to pupils. This is a change particularly noticeable in Sixth Form boys and girls, as their ability to discuss and debate issues and events has been perceptible in class and houses. Pupils’ wellbeing has improved as a result of this; being outside, interacting with peers and seeing the world around them has relieved the pressure of constantly showcasing life online. One overheard comment has been that it has been ‘liberating’; the children no longer feel the social pressure to upload a virtual minute-by-minute diary through posts, likes, snapchats, instagrams, tweets and such like. Whilst technology furthers life and learning in many ways, it has been very positive for the pupils of Shiplake to step out from the screens and see the world around them.  


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