Controversy: No, there is no scientific evidence that proves that banning phones in class is beneficial

The recent ban of the Valencian Community linked to smartphones in class. The surprising thing is that the authorities linked to the measure point out as the reason for this, the number of hours that Minors use devices, but not their influence on school performance. And it is logical: there is none.

Recently, a team from the University of Queensland (Australia), led by education experts Marilyn Campbell and Elizabeth Edwards, set out to answer a simple question:What recent research says about banning phones in schools?

There are many countries that have made a clear decision in this regard. Even the United Nations called for its use in class to be banned. And one of the arguments he put forward was based on a study that concluded, According to the United Nations, it took 20 minutes to regain concentration after using a cell phone to respond to a message..

This, obviously, is a long time and it is logical that one thinks that phones should be prohibited in class. What is the problem? That the aforementioned study only indicates 20 minutes to say how long the interviews carried out by Zoom with the 49 student volunteers who participated in it lasted. And they were between 20 and 34 years old. Therefore, It is not a reliable reference in this sense, Since it does not clearly mention the recovery capacity of concentration, the universe analyzed is very small and the ages are not similar at all. In fact, it wasn't even done in an educational setting.

Campbell and Edwards' study conducted a review of all published and unpublished global evidence for and against banning mobile phones in schools. “Our review – the authors explain – has as its aims to shed light on whether mobile phones in schools affect academic performance (including attention and distraction), student mental health and well-being, and the incidence of cyberbullying.”

For it 1,317 articles and reports were examined, as well as dissertations by master's students and Ph.D. Despite this number, the number of studies linked to this topic is small and very recent, so much so that almost half are less than 4 years old.

The studies looked at schools in Bermuda, China, the Czech Republic, Ghana, Malawi, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The research found four studies that identified a slight improvement in academic performance when phones were banned in schools. However, two of these studies found that this improvement only applied to disadvantaged or low-achieving students.

Some studies compared schools with partial bans to schools with full bans. This is a problem because it confuses the results, according to the authors.But three studies found no differences in academic performance, regardless of whether or not there were cell phone bans. Two of these studies used very large samples. This master's thesis analyzed 30% of all schools in Norway. Another study used a nationwide cohort in Sweden. This means that we can have reasonable confidence in these results.

Regarding mental health and well-being, two studies showed no differences in psychological well-being after the mobile phone ban. However, three studies reported further damage to students' mental health and well-being when they were subjected to phone bans.

The students reported who felt more anxious without being able to use their phone. This was especially evident in a doctoral thesis completed as students returned to school post-pandemic, having relied heavily on their devices during lockdown.

Therefore, evidence in favor of banning mobile phones for student mental health and well-being is inconclusive and is based solely on anecdotes or perceptions, rather than the recorded incidence of mental illness.

Conclusion: Neither in performance nor in mental health is there scientific evidence that shows that prohibitions are effective. In fact, in the same statement that the United Nations points out the importance of banning phones in class, it also highlights that only in cases where their use is not exclusively for education. Which sums up the whole conflict: in class, any tool that is not used for education should not be used, but that depends more on the educational system and society than on government measures.