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Mobile ban in Swedish schools is not effective

2019-06-26


French high school students have not, by law, been able to use their cell phones at school for a year. And, since 2007, Swedish teachers, according to the Education Act, have the right to "take care of objects that are used in a way that is disturbing in class." Under these circumstances, what would a total ban on mobile phones in our schools bring about, asked Björn Tyrefors and Dany Kessel, IFN, and Hulda Lif Hardardottir, Stockholm University, in a new study. They found that a statutory mobile ban in Swedish schools is a cheap but not generally effective reform.

Researchers Beland and Murphy (2016) have shown in a study that legislation against mobiles in British schools is an effective policy for improving student performance at a low cost. They also show that the weakest students have the most to gain from a ban. Using a similar empirical setup but with data from Sweden Björn Tyrefors, Dany Kessel and Hulda Lif Hardardottir found a completely different result.

Tyrefors, Kessel, and Hardardottir explain that there are several reasons why the results differ in the two studies. Firstly, teachers might already have introduced mobile bans in the Swedish classrooms, regardless of what is statutory. Secondly, as documented by Ott (2017), teachers in the upper secondary school might allow mobiles in selected work in the classroom. Also, Swedish schools have since long invested heavily in digital technology, primarily laptops, and tablets. Both at the national and local level, this technology has been integrated into classroom practice, and in this context, the students use their mobile phones at school for school work. In other words, digital technology is closely intertwined with learning.

The Swedish researchers conclude that the results in Beland and Murphy's study cannot be transferred to Sweden and are probably not transferable to similar countries, such as Denmark and Norway. They advise Swedish politicians: although a national ban on mobile phones in school is a cheap reform, small or no performance improvements can be expected here, nor in countries with similar school systems and investments in information and communication technology.

"Our results surprise me," says Björn Tyrefors, explaining that the Swedish study shows that a statutory mobile ban in school is a cheap but not generally effective reform. Mobiles already seem to be banned in many Swedish classrooms, except in connection with school work.

Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Grevgatan 34 - 2 fl, Box 55665, SE-102 15 Stockholm, Sweden | Phone: +46-(0)8-665 45 00 | info@ifn.se