March 4, 2024

Telephones, smart watches and the iPad will disappear from secondary school classrooms in the Netherlands as of January 1, 2024. The measure responds to the agreement reached between the Ministry of Education, schools and parents, to avoid the harmful effect of these devices on the concentration capacity of the students. Primary schools are currently studying to do something similar, although the problem is less there given the age range of the children: between 4 and 12 years. School principals are free to apply the compact in their own way, but if they do not, the guidance may be imposed by law in the future.

The agreement contemplates exceptions for medical reasons, for example in the event that a student has diabetes and needs to consult his phone to regulate it. The three devices, telephones, watches and tablets, can also be used as support in the educational context to avoid distractions. In 2022 there were 1,450 secondary schools and 6,581 primary schools in the Netherlands, and both their managers and parent associations had requested regulations that restrict their use in the school environment. On a political level, the debate gained momentum as the Christian Democratic Party, the right-wing Liberals and the Christian Union, all members of the current government coalition, showed their support. Given the difficulties of teachers to get students to put away their mobiles, the Ministry of Education evaluated the possibility of preventing it.

For now, the centers will be free to apply the agreed guidelines. They can even decide whether to curb usage throughout the school, not just during school hours. “Mobile phones have entered our lives, but they don’t fit in the classroom. There, the students have to concentrate and have space to learn,” said Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Dutch Minister of Education. According to studies conducted by its experts, students who try to follow the teacher’s explanations and answer their phone at the same time, “have lower grades in exams, up to a point or a point and a half below the rest.” For its part, the Parents & Education association (Ouders & Onderwijs, in Dutch) considers “a support that the Government has opted for this agreement.” “Sometimes it is difficult for parents to do it alone, when there are other children who may be able to use these technologies. A collective agreement is welcome”, they point out, on their website. The teachers’ union, for its part, indicates that “73% of its members are in favor of preventing the use of mobile phones in class on a national scale.”

In primary school, the situation is somewhat different as there are fewer cell phones and it is easier to get children to stop using them. Thijs den Otter, spokesman for the association that represents 5% of the centers in this stage, says that the agreement adopted in secondary school “seems appropriate, but the children are younger in our area and have not reached the point of addiction that can end having a teenager”. He hopes, however, that a decision can be made “in the coming weeks” in this environment.

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