Netherlands to ban smartphones, tablets and smartwatches from classrooms

At heart of Dutch debate is desirability of government intervention in day-to-day running of schools

Dutch Minister of EducationScience Robbert Dijkgraaf: announced the ban would kick in on January 1st, 2024. File photograph: Getty Images

After a long and frequently heated national debate, the Netherlands is to ban the use of mobile phones, tablets and smartwatches in classrooms on the grounds that they impede concentration and that limiting screen time leads to improved cognition.

At the heart of the Dutch debate was the desirability of government intervention in the day-to-day running of schools. A consensus was finally reached on the benefits of the ban — while leaving individual schools to decide how exactly it should be implemented.

“Even though mobile phones are intertwined with our lives, they simply do not belong in classrooms where students need to be able to concentrate,” said minister of education Robbert Dijkgraaf, who announced the ban would kick in on January 1st, 2024.

“Scientific research shows that mobile phones are a distraction and we need to protect all students, but particularly the most vulnerable, from these damaging effects.”


The most authoritative analysis of the effects of screen time on educational attainment is a study of 4,500 children in the United States published in the Lancet Child and Adolescent Health peer-reviewed journal in November 2018.

The study showed that children aged between eight and 11 who used screens for entertainment for less than two hours a day performed best in tests of mental ability. Where this was combined with nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, it was shown to lead to the best performance.

However, researchers at the time acknowledged that the study did not distinguish between the effects of different types of screen time: for example, playing video games, watching television, or browsing social media — the latter of which is now thought to diminish impulse control.

Parental role

The lobby group Parents and Education said the ban would come as a relief to parents who had taken a stand and told their children they could not take their phones to class.

“It’s hard to be the lone voice of disapproval and saying ‘no’ when other parents and the schools themselves are saying ‘yes’.”

Teachers also support the ban. “We have never in our history had such a rapid and unanimous response to a survey asking if there were in favour of a ban. Within hours, 73 per cent answered yes,” said the teachers’ union AOb.

Even students’ representatives have bowed to the inevitable. In a statement, the national students’ action committee (Laks) said: “Phones nowadays are part of people’s lives but everyone can see they are a distraction in the classroom — most of all perhaps for those who need most to concentrate.”

Exceptions to the ban will include students with medical needs or a disability and classes that teach digital skills.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court