Paris (AFP) – French lawmakers on Thursday approved a ban on the use of mobile phones in public schools, one of President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign pledges which critics say will do little to end classroom disruptions or cyberbullying.
While schools in many countries have rules limiting mobile phone use France is one of the first nations to introduce a total ban, covering primary and junior high schools.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer called it “a law for the 21st century, a law for addressing the digital revolution.”
“It’s a signal to French society of the stakes for our society,” he said in parliament. “Being open to technologies of the future doesn’t mean we have to accept all their uses.”
The bill has tapped into anxiety among many parents over the amount of time their children spend glued to their smartphone screens and the rising incidence of online bullying.
It was approved by members of the lower house National Assembly in a show of hands.
But opposition groups have dismissed it as “useless”, pointing out that a 2010 law already forbids phone use during classtime and that roughly half of the country’s junior high schools already outlaw their use.
Nearly nine out of 10 French students aged 12 to 17 owns a mobile phone, according to a 2016 survey.
The new law being proposed would require them to keep their phones in backpacks or otherwise out of sight.
“We’re not talking about a big bang, but we backed the legislative route because it reinforces the process,” Philippe Vincent of the SNPDEN union of school directors told AFP ahead of the parliamentary vote.
But the law does not set out any specific punishment for their use, and lawyers have noted that teachers do not have the right to confiscate non-dangerous belongings from students.
Critics also say the law is unlikely to wean students off their phones, saying they could easily be on Snapchat while pretending to rummage through their backpacks.
And some teachers chafe at calls for them to put away their phones during school hours as well, noting they are the main source of alerts in case of emergencies.
New York mayor Bill de Blasio cited security concerns for his decision to lift a ban on phones in his city’s schools in 2015, saying parents should be allowed to stay in touch with their children.
Defending the bill, Richard Ferrand, head of Macron’s Republic on the Move party in parliament, said the law would not just help children learn it would also improve their social skills.
“When, on a playground, you see young people next to each other all staring at their phones,” the consequence is “to break the link of camaraderie and sharing,” he said.