My friend Michael Trucano, Global Lead for Innovation in Education, Sr. Education & Technology Policy Specialist at the World Bank, wrote a blog post two years ago about the pros and cons of banning mobile phones in schools. He noted that as early as 2009, France had introduced a bill to ban phones in schools. Now, that ban is a reality. Since when does France care more about mobile phones than their shrinking education budget?
When Macron was elected, he saw the election as a mandate to implement pro-business stances in a number of areas. As a result, the public sector is staring down some of its worst budget cuts ever, and schools are set to be hit particularly hard. Protest is a French art form, and while momentum is slowly mounting against these cuts, the French should be outraged even more that banning phones = good, banning education budget cuts ≠ possible.
I am passionate about the use of mobile phones for educational purposes when and where it makes sense. Despite being a pretty well-connected and wealthy country, technology in French schools does not abound, and maybe it doesn't need to. What does need to abound, however, is an education budget that truly demonstrates the value that the government places on learning and the current and future generations of children and youth who become products of the country's education system.
The education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, said that: "the ban was... a 'public health message to families', adding: 'It’s good that children are not too often, or even at all, in front of a screen before the age of seven.'"
From this quote we understand that the minister believes health can negatively be affected by too much screen time. But does it matter if the children can read at all, let alone on a screen? Does it matter if children have the non-technological support they need to learn when they are at school? The OECD's PISA 2015 rankings place France's educational performance at a paltry 27th, making it just around the middle of all OECD countries and a worse performer than even the United States. Will a mobile phone ban somehow free up money to improve France's slouching education system? I smell a red herring.
Elisabeth Riou, who teaches nursery school in France, said: “Unfortunately, the government cares less about children than it does about spreadsheets and budget cuts." Truer words have never been spoken.