Opinion | The Government Should Not Ban Cell Phones in Schools

Opinion | The Government Should Not Ban Cell Phones in Schools

By Maggie Long

There is a stereotype that adults have a hatred towards teenagers and their phones. Whilst previously exaggerated, this stereotype is increasingly becoming a reality. Parenting blogs about ‘the dangers of screens’ and ‘how to get children off social media’ are becoming more prominent. Our society is at a crossroads with social media. People do not know whether to embrace it or see social media as the enemy. In New Zealand, the government has made that decision for us. In April, the Government officially banned children and adolescents from using cell phones in schools. This Bill was a long-standing policy of the National Party. They campaigned on it during the 2023 General Election, arguing that  the ban would “help lift student achievement (National Party).” School results in New Zealand have been dropping, with NCEA results back to pre-COVID levels (Plummer, 2024).  Literacy and numeracy rates have also been falling. In 2022, 19% of students were behind in literacy, and 22% were below in maths (Pacheco, 2023). It is indisputable that something must be done about this issue, as New Zealanders benefit significantly from a well-educated population. Will banning phones significantly improve students’ education, as claimed by National?

National’s main argument for banning cell phones is that they have a negative impact on students’ learning. A few months before National announced this policy, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) released a report explaining how technology is invasive to class environments when not used for educational purposes. Looking at non-academic material takes time out of learning and requires effort to refocus after looking at the screen. It can be challenging for teachers to manage a classroom if children look at different websites and are unengaged in their work (UNESCO, 2023). This supports Luxon’s statement that  “we want teachers to get on with teaching and students to concentrate on learning” (Clent, 2024). If the report is correct, then a phone ban may achieve Luxon’s goal of getting students to concentrate.  

However, there are costs of having this phone ban. A phone ban disregards the idea that phones can also help students learn. Phones enable students to take pictures of slideshows and quickly research information. Many educational apps, such as Quizlet, Blooket, Kahoot, and news apps, can be used on students’ phones. Furthermore, the government should also consider that students must learn to manage their behaviour around phones. When students leave school, they will always have access to their phones. If their usage has constantly been policed, they will not have developed techniques to manage their screen time independently.

Although the government has implemented the phone ban, it is school teachers who will be enforcing it. One principal said a ban created a poor relationship between staff and students (Gerritsen, 2024). Another explained that if it takes him one minute to take a phone off each student, he will waste three thousand minutes of teacher resources (RNZ, 2023). The UNESCO report explains, “the design and delivery of education technology interventions need to be tailored to local contexts” (UNESCO, 2023). This suggests that banning technology is not a black-and-white issue but instead relies upon the specific way the phones are being used and the conditions of the ban itself. The government’s phone policy ignores these nuances and enforces a universal ban that all schools must constantly follow. 

Luxon is right that our school results must increase, and he is correct that phones can distract students. However, the total phone ban the government has proposed ignores the nuances of the relationship between technology and education. Students can innovatively use phones in classrooms in many ways, but a phone ban will not allow teachers to explore these tools. The ban also ignores the high workload that enforcing a phone ban will put on teachers. Although there should be an evaluation of how constructively technology is used in the classroom, going straight to a phone ban is not the answer. 


Clent, Danielle. “School Cellphone Ban: What You Need to Know.” RNZ, 30 Apr. 2024, www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/515550/school-cellphone-ban-what-you-need-to-know#:~:text=The%20second%20school%20term%20began. Accessed 9 May 2024.

Gerritsen, John. “Sneaking Looks at Phone during School “Inevitable” but Most Students in Favour of Ban – Principal.” RNZ, 3 May 2024, www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/515835/sneaking-looks-at-phone-during-school-inevitable-but-most-students-in-favour-of-ban-principal#:~:text=All%20schools%20in%20Aotearoa%20were. Accessed 9 May 2024.

“National Will Ban Cell Phone Use at School.” New Zealand National Party, www.national.org.nz/cell_phone_use_at_school.

Pacheco, Gail, et al. “Curriculum Changes Must Tackle the Lifelong Consequences of NZ’s Alarming Literacy and Numeracy Declines.” The Conversation, 20 July 2023, theconversation.com/curriculum-changes-must-tackle-the-lifelong-consequences-of-nzs-alarming-literacy-and-numeracy-declines-209326#:~:text=A%20global%20study%20found%20a. Accessed 9 May 2024.

Plummer, Benjamin. “Disappointing”: 2023 NCEA Results Show Decline across All Levels.” NZ Herald, 9 May 2024, www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/2023-ncea-attainment-results-show-decrease-across-all-levels-government-says-urgent-changes-needed/2RF6A2Q2ZFDJNOWBBI35BVDQFQ/.

RNZ. “Principals Say National’s Plan to Ban Phones in School Is Unworkable.” RNZ, 9 Aug. 2023, www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/495411/principals-say-national-s-plan-to-ban-phones-in-school-is-unworkable. Accessed 9 May 2024.

UNESCO. “Technology in Education: A Tool on Whose Terms.” Unesdoc.unesco.org, 2023, unesdoc.unesco.org/in/documentViewer.xhtml?v=2.1.196&id=p:

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