(Photo: NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images).


by NADEEM BADSHAH

BRITISH-ASIAN parents have backed a move by a headteacher to ban smartphones from her school in order to control pupils’ use of social media.

Katharine Birbalsingh has barred students from using their phones at her secondary school in Wembley, north London.

Children at Michaela Community School are offered older phones at a discounted price of £10 to text and call their family. It also has a Digital Drop-off scheme, where pupils can leave items such as games console leads with teachers on a Monday and pick them up on a Friday.

Birbalsingh has argued that “social media is the number one reason why children won’t reach their potential at GCSE level. It stops them doing their homework and breaks the memory chain.”

BBC presenter Sonali Shah, a mother of two, told Eastern Eye: “Taking regular breaks from them [devices] is essential for all of us, so why not enable children to use school hours as a clear break?

“Teachers have enough to do in the classroom without having deal with the social and mental health issues that come with irresponsible use of a smartphone.

“There is social pressure to engage all the time, so I think many kids and parents would welcome an enforced break. Parents who want their child to have a phone for the journey to and from school can always buy a cheap one that can call and text. It doesn’t have to be a smartphone.

“Outside of school hours, it’s up to us parents to decide how much screen time
is right for our children and try to prevent them becoming addicted to these devices.”

The proposal for smartphones to be banned from all schools has been supported by Nick Gibb, minister for school standards. Currently, some schools allow phones in the classroom while others only allow them outside class.

Geeta Sidhu-Robb, a mother and CEO of Nosh Detox Delivery, told Eastern Eye it was “a brilliant idea”.

“Kids use smartphones at schools for so many things like bullying and trolling. It’s also very distracting during the school day. Generations of children managed to live through a school day without having a smartphone. I am pretty sure the generations to come could too.”

In February, chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies issued the first official advice on screen time and social media, urging parents to ban smartphones from mealtimes and leave them outside bedrooms at night.

The guidance suggests using tracking apps to monitor how much time children spend looking at screens or using social media and what they are watching.

It follows a review which found that heavy use of social media was linked to a doubling in symptoms of depression. And social media providers will be told to introduce measures to tackle addictive and harmful behaviours and prevent under-age use of sites or face tougher laws.

Meanwhile, Asian fathers in Lancashire are organising weekend walks for teenagers to help them use their mobile phones less and talk to people more.

Sheeba Viswarajan is a senior lecturer in secondary education at the University of East London. She said: “There is a persuasive argument for schools to ban smartphones which can improve young people’s mental health, attention span and focus in the classroom.

“However, as educators, we have a responsibility to equip students with the skills of self-regulation, develop their emotional resilience and teach them about digital citizenship and the effective use of mobiles as a learning tool.”

Reena B Patel is a parenting expert and author in the US, where some schools bar phone use. She said: “How is a child to learn and attend if they are using their smart phone during class? If there is a need for parents to contact their child, they can call the school directly.

“Social media – imagine a child receiving a negative comment. This would not only interfere with learning but bring about social and emotional overlays.

“Hours on screen affect physical, emotional, and cognitive development. It’s important to have face-to-face social skills development of peer interactions. Behind a screen, kids do not look up or are aware of their surroundings.”