A Kerry primary school which banned the use of mobile phones and tablets outside school for senior cycle pupils is extending the policy to include all classes.
The withdrawal of devices at Blennerville National School, just outside Tralee, was so that sixth-class pupils could not access social media.
The school introduced the 11-week pilot programme in April after “issues” with messaging groups outside of school with children in sixth class. The content of some of the groups in which the children were involved shocked parents and teachers, and more and more school time was being spent sorting out the issues arising among the children.
Principal Terry O’Sullivan, whose school was the first in Ireland to introduce the measure to tackle problems arising out of pupils’ use of smartphones, called for a national debate on the issue, and this had now begun, he said yesterday.
The ban, introduced in April following a meeting of staff, parents of sixth-class children and the board of management, is now to continue. The word “ban” could be a bit misleading as the policy was only implemented after consultation, he said.
“The key message is consultation,” said Mr O’Sullivan. “Ultimately it was the parents. Parents have to buy into it. Schools cannot fight this on their own. It would not have worked without the parents.
“While the first week or two of the withdrawal from social media may have been difficult for the children, overwhelmingly the school found that the result is positive. Now friendships are better, the class dynamic is better and children are engaged in activities.”
Since the introduction of the pilot, Mr O’Sullivan has been contacted by several other schools.
Nora Corridon, chairwoman of the Blennerville School Parents’ Association, said it was a fantastic idea.
“It takes the pressure off parents,” she said. “Parents feel under pressure to buy smartphones if their children’s peers have them.”
At a meeting to consider the pilot scheme at the end of the 11 weeks, parents reported that their children are interacting more with their family, they are going outside to kick a ball, and going back to “old-school” activities, she said, and there is overwhelming endorsement of the ban by the parents in the association.
“The longer we can keep children away from smartphones, the better, I feel,” said Ms Corridon.
The Tralee school is being cited as an example in Department of Education circulars, sent out asking schools to engage as soon as possible on how such devices should be used in schools, with a view to drawing up protocols.
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