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Why France Is Banning Smartphones at School Just as the U.S. Is Letting More Students Use Them

August 1, 2018, 9:54 AM UTC

French lawmakers have voted to ban smartphones in schools, affecting kids up to the age of 14 or 15, as of the start of the new academic year in September.

Smartphones have already been banned in the classrooms of French primary and middle schools since the start of the decade, but they were allowed on other parts of school grounds. Now, they’re banned across school premises, although secondary schools can still make exceptions for extracurricular activities or for disabled students.

When he floated the idea of the new ban last December, education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer complained that “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.”

Blanquer had previously suggested that pupils should leave their phones in secure boxes when they arrive at school, but critics pointed out the logistical issues of such a scheme. Now, pupils will have to either leave their devices at home or turn them off while at school.

Such measures are not uncommon in Europe, and there is often backing from teachers and students alike. A third of British schools ban smartphones in the classroom, and most Swedish schools impose similar prohibitions.

On the other hand, Italy reversed a classroom smartphone ban a couple years ago and is trying to encourage the use of the devices as learning aids.

The bans are also falling away in the U.S.—a survey earlier this year found that, while over 90% of public schools imposed them in 2009 through 2010, the proportion had dropped to 66% in 2015 through 2016. This seems to be a result of parents wanting to be able to contact their kids at all times, in an era where school shootings are common.