A Message From The Rector

By Richard Hall | Posted: Thursday December 16, 2021

Decision to ban mobile phone use at school from 2022.

Recently the decision to ban mobile phone use at school was announced. I wanted to take this opportunity to outline the reasons for this decision and what we are hoping to achieve.

Honestly, this decision has been coming for a while. Since I arrived in 2015, the number of and use of mobile phones has increased in the school sharply. It has become increasingly noticeable to all, just how much time the boys are spending on their phones, before school, at interval and lunch time. Basically, any chance they get.

We as a school and I as the school leader need to take responsibility for this.

Over the years the cost of phones and particularly the cost of smart phones combined with an internet access plan has dropped. This has made them more accessible. If I asked for a show of hands, most if not all parents would have bought their child a phone and phone plan in the last two years, often upgrading for Christmas or birthdays. This is not a criticism, we are all doing it. Currently my 10 year old desperately wants a phone. Her older brother didn’t get one until he was 14, so the badgering starts earlier and earlier.

Certainly, we have not helped as a school allowing students to access the internet, while in school, from their phones. Next year we are working on cost effective ways to separate their learning device, from their social device from the network. Meaning they would be using their own data, which, if I know most our boys means they won’t use their own!

The main factor in this decision is screen time. Recently the school participated in the second round of the Built Environment and Active Transport to School (BEATS) Research Programme. Led by the University of Otago, this survey looks at the physical activity and transport patterns of secondary school students in Dunedin.

I found the results of this in-school survey of our boys to be clear:

A. Almost all students surveyed at your school had a mobile phone or other portable technology (98%) and the majority of students had devices, such as a smart phone, tablet or iPad, and Internet access (79%).

• Overall, 40% of students with a mobile phone were paying less than $20 per month. One fourth of students were paying for their own mobile phone costs (27%).

• One half of students (52%) were talking to friends over the phone or Internet every day and on average, spending 2.3 days with friends after school (out of five days). Among the surveyed students at your school, 16% agreed that they saw their friends less in person because they could speak over the Internet or phone.

• Overall, one half of students (56%) thought people their age get bullied or harassed via their mobile phone or device.

On average, students reported spending 5.4 hours per day on the Internet.

• Most students reported that having Internet access (84%), a mobile phone (70%) and a computer (70%) was “very important” or “essential” to them, followed by driving a car (56%), and owning a car (45%).

B. Screen Time

On average, surveyed students at your school reported 5.7 hours per day of screen time outside of school hours (including an average of 2.5 hours per day of computer use, 2.2 hours per day of playing games on a computer, mobile phone, or games console, and 1.8 hours per day of television).

• The average screen time outside school hours was 5.3 hours per day during school days and 7.0 hours per day on weekend days.

• Overall, 14% of students met screen time guidelines for adolescents (≤2 hours of screen time per day).

The time outside of school might seem a lot, and it is, but it is worse when I factored in that they would be on their laptop in class for approximately 3.5 hours per day. Add in the 75 minutes of break time, where most are on their phones and the number becomes frightening.

The answer became easy.

What we want to create is an environment where they play, they talk, they laugh and they connect with their mates in a positive way. Phones can be good for babysitting (every parent knows what I mean), so the challenge for our staff will be to create the opportunity to interact positively. Our 2022 School Prefect team will be charged with running a sports shed, lunchtime activities and House competitions. The Library which has been phone free will continue to offer excellent service to the boys. We will also use the School Council to think of ideas.

I know this news will be a challenge for many of our boys, but I also know, from the 100% positive feedback I have had from parents, that this is the right thing to do.

As this is my last newsletter for the year, have a wonderful break and I look forward to 2022.