Children who are allowed to take a smartphone to school will have a lower IQ, according to neuroscience and psychology experts.
Academics have warned there is a growing urgency to ban the devices in schools, as studies increasingly show they are “extremely dangerous” for children’s learning, social skills and mental health.
Dr Mark Williams, honorary professor of cognitive neuroscience at Macquarie University in Sydney, said: “We know having a phone in a pocket or bag decreases intelligence levels, working memory capacity and you don’t learn as well.”
He said there are “zero benefits” to having “extremely dangerous” smartphones in schools.
“You don’t learn as well, you don’t think as well, and you are unable to pay attention to teachers,” he said. “I have never seen any positive educational outcomes.
“In the last two to three years, there have been a large number of studies showing links with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and body dysmorphia issues and ADHD and autism.
“There’s hundreds of papers coming out each year showing the negative effects.”
‘Overall general IQ going down’
In Spain, where phones were banned from schools in some regions in 2015, University of Valencia academics found that pupils’ test scores in maths and sciences improved dramatically.
Academics at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Ohio also found that screen time led to lower brain functioning in school-age children.
Meanwhile, a study of 120 undergraduates by Sunway University in Malaysia, published in 2020, found that the presence of a smartphone significantly decreased their ability to accurately recall information.
Dr Williams said: “In all countries where devices have been used a lot - Canada, Australia, the US - they are about a year and a half behind where they were 10 years ago.
“For the first time in history, we are seeing overall general IQ going down.”
Early last year, the Government ditched a plan to ban mobile phones in all schools in England.
The plan, introduced by Sir Gavin Williamson, was watered down by Nadhim Zahawi, his successor as education secretary.
The Department for Education said at the time that head teachers “are best placed to make decisions on whether mobile phones should be in classrooms, considering the needs of their pupils”.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “Most schools already have robust policies about mobile phones. This generally takes the form of prohibiting their use during the school day or allowing them to be used only in strictly limited circumstances.
“It can be difficult to ban them from being brought to school at all as parents like to be able to have some means of contacting their children when they are travelling to and from school, and pupils using public transport may need to use their phones as payment methods.
”The problems with mobile phones, including bullying and children accessing inappropriate material, are much more likely to occur outside of school, rather than during school hours.”
Children’s focus ‘being destroyed’
Dr Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, said it was very difficult for school leaders to enforce partial restrictions on phones at schools.
Dr Twenge, who published a book on generational changes and the pressures on Gen Z this month, added: “I think we’ll look back and wonder why we ever allowed kids access to their phones, particularly in classrooms.
“A lot of school leaders tell me that when phones are allowed during lunch, that lunch rooms are eerily quiet.
“Kids are just sitting next to each other on their phones. They need that face-to-face social interaction, both for mental health and for practising social skills.
“Especially after the pandemic, these kids are already seeing a deficit of social skills, and that’s what a lot of managers say they’re going to need for the future workforce.”
Countries that have imposed phone bans in schools include France and Israel. Most states in Australia have also banned them from schools.
Molly Kingsley, of parents’ campaign group UsForThem, said: “Our children’s focus, drive and attention is being destroyed.”
She said the Government must ban smartphones altogether from schools and restrict their supply to under-16s if they cannot be “drastically pared back to remove all addictive apps and design features”.