Wauchope High School locks pupils' mobile phones in pouches as a part of a digital detox program

DIGITAL DETOX: Wauchope High School students have to lock their mobile phones inside a pouch during school hours.
DIGITAL DETOX: Wauchope High School students have to lock their mobile phones inside a pouch during school hours.

Wauchope High School has come up with a solution to the problem of students constantly looking at their mobiles.

They've introduced pouches which snap shut, making the phones inaccessible. They can only be opened at the end of the school day by a special gadget as pupils leave the building.

The Department of Education says research shows that idle screen time spent by students on mobile phones can reduce their attention span, ability to retain information and overall academic performance. Inappropriate use can also expose students to social, emotional and even physical risk.

Therefore, and following the state review of students' mobile phone use, Wauchope High School is planning to trial lockable mobile phone bags this term.

Principal Glen Sawle says the bags have a lock like those used as security tags by clothing retailers.

"The bags are being provided by Yondr for the trial, and we're asking all students to take part," Mr Sawle said.

"The bags will be the school's property, but will be kept by the students, who'll put their phones in their bag and have it locked at the start of the school day. They'll keep their phone during the day, and then have it unlocked at the end of the day.

"We'll be keeping a close eye on what effect it has, and we're hoping for a significant reduction in how distracted students are during the day, and for some more face-to-face social interaction during breaks.

"We believe this could be a big benefit for students' school work and social wellbeing."

The community support has been really gratifying - I think everyone is very aware of the many issues that come with smartphones, as well as the benefits - we want to minimise the problems and maximise the benefits.

Jayme Reid

The school's head teacher for science, Jayme Reid, who has overseen the planning, says there has been overwhelming support from the school community.

"We've held parent information sessions, worked through the P&C, and put out written information," Ms Reid said.

"The community support has been really gratifying - I think everyone is very aware of the many issues that come with smartphones, as well as the benefits - we want to minimise the problems and maximise the benefits.

"There's no question of any 'ban'. We'll still be using the phones when it's appropriate in class time, because they can be a wonderful tool.

"Every teacher will have charge of a device to lock and unlock the bags, so if there's an emergency that requires use of a phone, it can be unlocked immediately."

Mr Sawle stresses that this term's introduction will just be a trial.

"While the system seems to be working in many US schools, and is being taken up at rock concerts, we need to make sure it's doing what we want it do before making it a long-term commitment," he said.

Teachers will be able to engage more fully in the act of teaching rather than constantly asking students to put their phone away, take out their earbuds, listen to the instructions being given. We hope to gain significant teaching time that is currently being lost to the distraction caused by those students using their phone inappropriately.

Glen Sawle

"We're expecting it'll be several months before we have reliable information about how it's working out, but with such strong support from parents - who have strategies to help at home - students and staff, we're very optimistic.

"We know that for a number of students and adults, their mobile phones have become addictive. If you are already addicted to your device then you will experience stress and anxiety when you try to counter this addiction. This will be same for mobile phones with some students.

"Any change of behaviour is also stressful. So while we know that there will be some level of anxiety for many students we will try and support them through the initial period of change and hope that very quickly the new behaviours become not only the norm but also enjoyable and rewarding," he added.

Mr Sawle says it will benefit every student in every classroom.

"Teachers will be able to engage more fully in the act of teaching rather than constantly asking students to put their phone away, take out their earbuds, listen to the instructions being given. We hope to gain significant teaching time that is currently being lost to the distraction caused by those students using their phone inappropriately," he said.

The principal said that students have been more engaged and productive in their learning and teachers are experiencing less distraction. He also says there is a general feeling of improved levels of socialising and productive conversations across the school at recess and lunchtimes.

"There has been mixed feedback from students. Some of this may be linked to their feeling of withdrawal or loss rather than the longer benefits that research and case studies have indicate will flow. Overall there has been a very positive response by parents," he added.

The president of the P&C, Annette Cordell says they think it's wonderful.

"The feedback from parents and from students is mostly positive, and students are even commenting on how much work they have been able to get done in class," she said.

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