In many countries around the world, public education has its problems. Opinions often differ on how to solve such issues, though – and the furor surrounding a new law for French schools seems to be proof of that. Indeed, the French government’s edict has been met with criticism from some quarters, primarily because people aren’t sure that it will solve anything.
When Emmanuel Macron swept to victory in France’s last presidential elections, he did so as a reformer. In essence, his message was that he was going to clean up the system and bring prosperity to the nation by doing so. One of the measures his government has since taken, however, has left a few people scratching their heads.
In fact, Philippe Vincent, the secretary for the French Headteachers’ Union, would tell The Guardian in December 2017, “This new announcement from the [education] ministry leaves us dubious. We’re used to them being logical and pragmatic about things, and here we can’t find the logic or the pragmatism in the announcements.”
And PEEP, the largest parents’ association in France, has also voiced opposition to the new law. That’s what can be surmised from the words of Gerard Pommier, the organization’s president, who told The Daily Telegraph in December 2017, “We don’t think it’s possible [to implement this change] at the moment.”
Apparently, though, the people of France knew what they were voting for when they elected Macron. In fact, this latest mandate was actually among the president’s campaign promises. So, it’s perhaps surprising that some should express shock at its introduction.
Specifically, the new law prohibits children of all ages from using their cell phones at school. So, although children can still take their phones to school, they won’t be able to use them at any time. Furthermore, children may have to surrender such devices to teachers at the beginning of classes, or even at the start of the school day itself.
The ban itself, meanwhile, has been instituted in light of the large number of French kids who possess smartphones. According to France 24, a study from 2015 has revealed that more than 80 percent of children in France have a smartphone; that number is up from just one in five in 2011.
And French Minister of National Education Jean-Michel Blanquer justified the law while talking to the The Daily Telegraph. He said, “These days, the children don’t play at break time anymore. They are just all in front of their smartphones, and, from an educational point of view, that’s a problem.”
The minister added, “This is about ensuring the rules and the law are respected. The use of telephones is banned in class. We must come up with a way of protecting pupils from loss of concentration via screens and phones. Are we going to ban mobile phones from schools? The answer is yes.”
And a 2015 study from the University of Texas and Louisiana State University suggests that Blanquer may have a point. Why? Well, the findings of that research showed that student results improved by 6 per cent when smartphones were outlawed from some schools in England. So, a strict ban of such devices in France may actually help after all.
Yet despite the potential benefits of the proposed ban, French parents have admitted to having mixed feelings about the measure. The blanket nature of the law seems impractical to some, for example, even if they agree that phones shouldn’t be used in classrooms.
And Sabine, a mother living in Paris, gave her own opinion on the matter to The Guardian. She said, “They can’t ban them bringing [phones] to school. My daughter goes to school and comes home on her own, and at this time of year it’s dark so early, so I want her to have a phone with her. It’s reassuring.”
Furthermore, if the ban on phones is indeed to be enacted at the beginning of the next school year, some issues will certainly need to be ironed out. For one thing, no one is sure yet what to do with any phones if they have to be handed in before class. And that could present something of a problem – not least because French schools are of different sizes and have varied budgets.
And while the initial plan from the Minister of National Education suggested a possible locker system to remedy the problem, parents have been quick to question this, too, arguing that there may not be sufficient space for such a scheme in some schools. Indeed, one individual pointedly told The Guardian, “Are we going to transform a school into a giant locker?”
It’s worth noting, though, that phones are in fact already prohibited at some French primary schools, with pupils asked to hand over their devices at the start of classes. Teachers sometimes use boxes to store the items for the duration of classes, and children subsequently retrieve them before leaving. But concerns remain that if this is implemented nationally, phones are more likely to be stolen or lost.
PEEP, then, has argued that it would make more sense to talk to children about the issue first. ”One must live with the times. It would be more intelligent to pose rules and discuss their meaning with pupils,” its president told The Daily Telegraph.
Still, even putting educational issues to one side, there is another very good reason to curtail children’s phone use: to combat cyber-bullying. This insidious problem has grown with phone usage in general, and young people are particularly vulnerable to such abuse.
What’s more, the smartphone ban isn’t the only government policy set to be rolled out into French schools. Another new law will mandate that all primary schools must have choirs, in fact. Children will consequently be able to enjoy two hours singing a week if they want to, with choir singing being made a part of the curriculum.
Additionally, the government will decide which music the choirs will focus on. The program promises to have both classical and more modern songs for the children to sing – among them, it’s proposed, will be the French national anthem and tunes by famous singer Edith Piaf.
When it comes to the phone ban, however, time will only tell whether such an arguably draconian measure will pay off. Perhaps, then, it might ultimately help kids to reach their full potential in school – something that most parents, regardless of their views on the ban, would probably like to see happen.