By Sarah Mitchell, MLC

Last week the Liberals & Nationals announced that mobile devices will be banned during school hours in NSW public primary schools and that high schools will have the choice to opt in to a ban or introduce measures to more tightly restrict the use of devices during school hours.

As Assistant Minister for Education, but more importantly as a parent of two young girls, I strongly support this decision as we have a responsibility to our children, to protect them and to give them the best opportunity to succeed.

Technology is fundamental to our lives today. Moore’s Law suggests that computers and the information technologies that use them double their capabilities every twelve to eighteen months. We live in an ever changing landscape shifting at a rate of knots. 

As a Nationals MP with a young family, I find the future for my girls is filled with both exciting technological prospects, and difficult challenges to navigate. Our children face enormous pressures growing up, the likes of which we, our parents and our grandparents never had to deal with.

When I finished school most of us didn’t have mobile phones. We had clunky desktop computers where dial up was king and speeds were snail paced.  If you’d told me I would one day get news on my phone via Twitter literally as it broke, or in the future I could connect with friends in Sydney and overseas using real time video in an instant you would have been laughed at. 

Today, one in five Australian 10 year-olds have a mobile phone. This number only increases the older our kids get. One in three 11 year-olds, more than half of 12 year-olds and three quarters of 13 year-olds own a mobile phone, by the time you reach children aged 14-17 a whopping 91 per cent have mobile phones. 

Our young people are champions of technology. They have devices in their hands that have more processing power than the computers that ferried the first humans to the moon in 1969.  

Mobile devices can be used very positively by children and young people as a way to connect to friends and family; for entertainment and education; keeping up to date with world affairs; for research, and for self-expression.  

However, with all this power there are challenges. Distraction and cyberbullying are just a few examples of where smartphones and technology have had a negative impact on young people. 

The amount of screen time young people experience is also cause for concern, and it can be a difficult habit to break. It is very hard to walk away from something that you take everywhere.  

Earlier this year the country was rocked by the suicide of 14 year old Amy “Dolly” Everett, who was once the face of iconic Kempsey and Australian company Akubra, after cyber bullying. The risks our most precious assets face in this area is real, it is particularly concerning because it can be hard to identify. As a government we want to protect our children and so we’ve taken action.

It’s a tough stance for primary schools, but we make no apology for that. It will help our children learn, and hopefully lift the invisible shackles of online bullying from an unacceptably early age.

High schools will consider a range of options to manage devices, ranging from complete restrictions to promotion of safe, responsible and informed use. The decision will be made by individual schools in consultation with their local communities.   

We have stepped in to ensure technology remains an enabler, not a detractor. We’ll work with schools to implement the changes, helping them manage the risks and rewards of using mobile phones inside the school gates.

These changes are about keeping our schools safe and protecting the welfare of our students when they’re in our care.

We are a Liberals and Nationals Government committed to listening to the community and acting. We don’t want to lose the educational benefits of technology. However, we do need to better manage distraction and irresponsible use of smartphones in our schools. This change will ensure we get that balance right.

Originally published as “Opinion: Mobile Devices Locked Out of Schools”