New Zealand records worst-ever PISA test results as it implements school mobile ban
New Zealand has joined many Australian states in cracking down on students using mobile phones in schools.
NZ Prime Minister Christopher Luxon has committed to a ban within the first 100 days of his new government.
Mr Luxon says the new bans are in the name of improving student performance.
"We are going to ban phones across New Zealand in schools," he said. "We want our kids to learn, and we want our teachers to teach."
The country's National Party says it intends to reform the school curriculum, improving reading, writing, and mathematics test results across primary and secondary schools.
The ban comes as New Zealand has recorded its worst-ever results in the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests of reading, maths, and science.
An increase in low performance. A decrease in high performance.
New Zealand Education Minister Erica Stanford says indicators reveal more than half of 15-year-olds in the country are not meeting basic literacy and numeracy standards.
The PISA tests are usually conducted every three years, with the 2022 test results ranking NZ 10th, 11th, and 23rd, respectively, in reading, science, and mathematics in the world ranking.
Over the past 20 years, NZ has continued to record fewer high-performing students and an increase in low-performing numbers.
This trend continued with the latest test, most evident in maths, where low-performing NZ students increased from 15 per cent in 2003 to 29 per cent in 2022.
High performers dropped from 21 per cent to ten per cent during that same period. New Zealand isn’t alone in seeing lower test results - 2022 saw a global decline in PISA performance, with the OECD saying that the COVID-19 pandemic interruption to education is partly to blame.
Mobile phone bans in schools
New Zealand is following Australia, where mobile phone school bans are now in place in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania, with Queensland to follow at the start of the 2024 school year.
The bans are in place for several reasons related to students' education and well-being. By removing phones, educators believe that fewer distractions will help students and teachers alike to focus on learning.
The New South Wales Department of Education has offered schools four options for implementing the ban:
- Off and away — Phones are switched off at the start of the school day and are kept away
usually in backpacks for the duration of the school day
- Phone in lockers — Phones are kept in a locker for the entire school day
- Locked phone pouch — Students place their phones in a magnetically locked pouch that
is unlocked at the end of the school day.
- Phones collected at the front office — Students deposit their phones at the front office,
collecting them at the end of the day.
Other states have similar policies.
Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace says that state's bans will benefit students in several ways.
“Putting mobile phones ‘away for the day’ will encourage face-to-face social interactions between students and promote their health and wellbeing by providing more opportunities for physical activity during break times,” she says.
“It will also reduce the exposure of students to the unsafe or inappropriate use of technology, such as cyber-bullying, accessing harmful content or breaches of personal privacy.”
Children will still be allowed to bring their mobile devices for use outside of school in support of safe travel, and there will be exemptions made for children who require access to phones for health reasons and/ or mental well-being reasons or to contact parents for tuckshop or uniform office payments.
Will a mobile phone ban help improve test scores?
There are emerging long-term studies into the impact of mobile phone use in educational environments, but there aren’t enough studies for conclusive evidence one way or the other. But there is interesting research that points to the benefits of the phone bans.
Sara Abrahamsson at the NHH business school in Norway has used survey and register data from several countries to examine the impacts of mobile phone bans.
In her thesis, she shows that there are education testing benefits for all students where a strict ban has been implemented, along with a decrease in reported bullying. Interestingly, her findings show that the bans give girls an even greater boost.
Abrahamsson’s studies were primarily focused on public schools, and she split them based on how extreme a phone ban was. Schools where students were banned from accessing their phones from the start to the end of the school day were labelled as having a strict policy. Those where students could access their phones during breaks from class were labelled as having a lenient policy.
This graph shows an increase for all schools each year, with those with stricter policies performing better.
While the educational benefits of banning phones were evident, Abrahamsson noted that general social well-being and motivation related to school were unchanged by a phone ban.
So, while Australian schools may be discussing the well-being aspects of the phone ban, the benefits will likely be found in improved grades.
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