A study conducted by economists revealed that banning mobile phones, including smartphones, in schools results in benefits tantamount to extending school year by five days. In other words, banning these consumer electronic devices can considerably improve the performance of students.
Richard Murphy, an assistant professor of economics at The University of Texas at Austin, and Louis-Philippe Beland, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University, studied the impact of mobile phone usage on student performance by surveying 91 secondary schools in Birmingham, London, Leicester, and Manchester before and after the implementation of strict device-related policies.
The study specifically involved comparing student exam records and mobile phone policies from 2001 to 2013. This comparison revealed that test scores improved by 6.41% points of a standard deviation in classrooms that banned mobile phones. According to the researchers, students of schools with strict mobile phone policies are more likely to pass their required final exams by two percentage points.
“We found the impact of banning phones for these students equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days,” said Murphy.
But students who were low-achieving benefitted the most from the ban as determined by their test scores improving by 14.23% points of a standard deviation. This score improvement was twice higher than the scores of average students, thus they are more likely to pass their required final exams by four percentage points.
The ban also benefitted special education students with test scores improving by 10% and 12% points of a standard deviation.
However, the study further revealed that the ban had little effect on both high-achieving students and 14-years-old. This suggested that high achievers are less distracted by mobile phones and younger teens own and use phones less often.
“This means allowing phones into schools would be the most damaging to low-achieving and low-income students, exacerbating any existing learning inequalities,” said Murphy. “Whilst we cannot test the reason why directly, it is indicative that these students are distracted by the presence of phones, and high-ability students are able to concentrate.”
Smartphone ownership is common among students. One of the critical benefits of owning smart consumer electronic devices is productivity improvement. However, because of the multiple functionalities of these devices, they can be distracting and disruptive.
“These findings do not discount the possibility that mobile phones could be a useful learning tool if their use is properly structured, said Murphy. “Regardless, these results show that the presence of cellphones in schools cannot be ignored.”
Further details of the study are in the article “III Communication: Technology, Distraction, and Student Performance” published in 2015 in CEP Discussion Papers of the Centre for Economic Performance, The London School of Economics and Political Science.