Kerry primary school bans smartphone use at home

Pilot programme for sixth class pupils now extended to all students as parents approve idea

A scheme by a Kerry primary school which saw a ban on the use of smartphones and tablets outside school for senior cycle pupils is to be extended to all classes.

The withdrawal of devices at Blennerville National School, the seafront village just outside Tralee, was so that sixth class pupils could not access social media. Contact with unsuitable messaging and media apps was leading to problems and was spilling over into class time, the school's principal Terry O'Sullivan said.

The school introduced the 11-week pilot programme in April after “issues” with messaging groups outside of school with 11 and 12 year old children in sixth class.

The content of some of the groups in which the children were involved shocked parents and teachers with more and more school time being spent sorting out the issues arising among the children.

Mr O’Sullivan, whose school was the first in the country to introduce the measures to tackle problems arising out of the children’s use of smartphones had called for a national debate on the issue. This this had now begun, he said on Thursday.

The ban, introduced in April following a meeting of staff, parents of sixth class children and the board of management, will now continue.

Role of parents

The word “ban” could be a bit misleading, as the “key” was consultation, Mr O’Sullivan said.

“The key message is consultation. 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,” he said.

Teachers were having to spend more and more time dealing with incidents which had arisen outside of school on social media. And while the first week or two of the withdrawal from social media may have been difficult for the children, overwhelmingly the result was positive. Now friendships were better, the class dynamic was better and children engaged in activities , he said on Radio Kerry.

Since the introduction of the pilot scheme, he had had contact from several other schools.

Nora Corridon, chair of the Blennerville School Parents’ Association said it had been “a fantastic idea.”

“It takes the pressure off parents. Parents feel under pressure to buy smartphones if their children’s peers have them,” she said.

‘Old school’ activities

While Ms Corridon’s children Emily (8) and Nicola ( 7) are in the junior classes, did not have phones and and were not affected by the smartphone ban, “the whole school dynamic” in the 182 pupil school had changed, she said.

“The younger children look up to the older children. If the dynamic is good, it feeds back down to the juniors,” Ms Corridon said.

At a meeting to consider the pilot scheme at the end of the 11 weeks, parents reported their children were interacting more with their family, they were going outside to kick a ball and going back to “old school” activities, she said. There was overwhelming endorsement of the ban by the parents in the association, Ms Corridon said.

“The longer we can keep children away from smartphones, the better, I feel.”

Ms Corridon strongly feel that parents had a role and had to lead by example.

If parents were constantly checking phones at meal times and other times, then the children would imitate this when they got phones themselves.

Child psychologists have noticed how smartphone use affected the moods of children.

Meanwhile the Tralee school is being cited as an example in Department of Education circulars.

The department has sent out a circular asking schools to engage as soon as possible on how smartphones and other tablet devices should be used in schools, with a view to drawing up protocols.