10 October 2023

 It is good to stand up as a member of the Government that made a commitment at the election to bring a ban into schools and to talk again and remind our communities about the importance of learning, especially where such huge distraction exists. On the weekend I spent time with some young people, some of them the brothers and sisters of students I used to teach. I took the opportunity to ask those young people what they thought about the beginning of term 4 and about the policy of banning phones at school. We had that conversation and of course some of them have kept up with what is happening and some have not.

They were asking themselves whether the phones would be switched off and not available to them at recess and lunch. It was interesting to watch them interact. One of them pointed out that amongst a group of friends at recess there will be four or five young people sitting and communicating by texting one another, not eyeballing each other, not having a quick game of basketball or having a laugh over a joke, but completely immersed, head down with their eyes on the text and scrolling through social media. It reminded me of mum saying to me as a kid if I watched too much television that I would end up with square eyes.

The digital age certainly has challenges. The ban on mobile phones in schools attempts to help students navigate their way through that challenge. There is a consistent exposure to technology and oftentimes problematic content for very young minds. Inside a classroom that does not enable learning to happen. Often teachers, my former colleagues, tell me that it became a case of trying to manage classrooms and telling kids constantly to put their phones away. I think it is great that the Department of Education is working with a number of schools and offering them several options such as turning phones off and putting them away; putting them in school bags or in lockers for the entire school day; having a locked phone pouch; or handing them in to the front office and collecting them at the end of the day.

It is important to also stress the point that the student made to me and some of his friends on the weekend about how they need to learn how to engage again. Ban or no ban in a school, there is an acknowledgement from young people that they really do not know how to engage, how to look someone in the eye and ask how their weekend was or discuss a bit of music. They do not know how to live in the moment; it is someone else's moment. Members have heard that mobile phones in schools really do affect concentration and focus. The ban is about improving learning outcomes. On the weekend a young woman in year 11 said she would have liked the flexibility to discuss senior students being able to access their technology on their phones, but she also said that as a younger student she was a victim of bullying. She is weighing up what the compromise is.

Wherever we sit in the Chamber, we need to acknowledge that we should lead by example. How many times have I looked around the Chamber when someone is speaking in question time and most heads are down. We need to lead by example. I commend the Minister for working hard with teachers and students. I leave the final word, as I pick up my phone, to Ed—who I sent a message to, forgetting that his phone was locked away. Ed did work experience with me and I asked him what he thought. He said that children in junior years were too distracted by their phones and it will largely counteract that issue. Thanks, Ed.