Echuca students are still adjusting to the tough new mobile phone ban in schools

By Daneka Hill

TO STUDENTS' horror and teachers’ joy the absolute mobile phone ban in schools has officially begun.

Coming back fresh from Christmas holidays last week, 237,000 secondary school students and 378,000 primary students across the state encountered the hard-line phone ban.

The new phone policy requires students in state schools to turn off their phones and store them in secure lockers for the entirety of their school day.

At Echuca’s only state secondary school, Echuca College, more than 800 students have been learning to accept the new school order — to varying degrees.

Echuca College acting principal Simon Wood said on Friday only three phones were confiscated.

“For a school with over 800 students, having three phones confiscated in a day is pretty good,” Mr Wood said.

“I’m not saying the ban is perfect after only a few days of seeing it in action, but it is a big improvement.”

Mr Wood said teachers had noticed more students speaking to one another during their lunch times.

“I’ve been to a lot of classrooms today and I’ve seen they are more engaged in the classroom,” Mr Wood said.

Echuca College already had a “pretty strong” policy on phone usage according to Mr Wood, but the purchasing of individual phone lockers for students to seal their devices away all day was a big step forward.

“We know what the evidence shows us; the further the phone is from the student, the better their learning,” Mr Wood said.

“Now students have their own phone lockers near their bag racks and houses (homerooms).”

The statewide school ban was announced by Education Minister James Merlino in June 2019 at Melbourne’s McKinnon Secondary College.

The large public school of 2200 students banned phone usage in 2018 and has reported positive improvements in student behaviour, study habits and socialising ever since.

Specific reasons the Victorian Government gave for introducing the phone ban were reducing distraction, tackling cyber bullying and improving learning outcomes.

Georgia Graham is a Year 10 student at Echuca College. She believes the government’s rush to cut off trivial phone usage was adversely affecting the more important reasons for carrying a phone.

“We should be able to have them, not for the social media side but as teenagers we all have personal things going on,” Georgia said.

“Say that we don’t feel comfortable talking to the teachers about it, so we need to call our parents or a sibling.

"There have been times where we have asked ‘if we need to call our parents what are we doing to do?’ and they say ‘we will let you call them on the school phone’. We all know it won’t be allowed, that is my opinion on the phones.

“I have trouble learning sometimes but I find listening to music helps and that won’t be possible anymore.”

On the primary school end of the ban there is less contention.

Echuca Primary School has required students with personal devices to hand them in to the office for some time, so the school's policies remain unchanged.

Rates of mobile phone usage in primary schools is minute in comparison to high schools, and many primary schools said they didn’t have any comments on the phone ban for this reason.

Echuca-based psychologist Dr Cara Tucker said schools could use the locking up of phones as a motivating factor.

“Children will fall into the flow once the rule is consistent and they stick to the plan,” Dr Tucker said.

Dr Tucker said it was important students had the time to learn and experience authentic relationships with their peers.

Time will tell if students come to see the ban in a positive light, but the research is already resoundingly in support of the move.