School phone ban aims to boost grades
Many students have welcomed the ruling after seeing their class work improve.
After confiscating three smartphones from the same student, Yu Liangliang, head teacher at a high school in Wuhan, Hubei province, decided to give the girl a twoday suspension to reinforce a classroom ban on the devices.
"The first time I took her smartphone, she told me she would not bring one to school again, but she broke the promise twice and I had to take stricter measures," Yu said.
The move is in line with a ruling by the Ministry of Education, which issued a total ban on smartphone use in classrooms at all primary and secondary schools at the start of the spring semester.
If students have a genuine need for a smartphone at school, a special request must be submitted to the authorities along with the written consent of their guardian, the ministry said.
If the request is approved, the student must hand in their smartphone upon arrival. Schools should also put further measures in place to better meet students' needs to reach their parents by phone while on campus, the ministry said.
Yu said he has brought in a number of punishments for smartphone use during class. They range from a warning to a reduction in performance scores, from calling parents into school to suspension.
"Even with the ban in place, it is hard to manage smartphone use because teenagers are not keen on following rules," he said. "Without the ban, the ringing and buzzing of phones would be commonplace during class."
Liao Yasong, a second-year high school student in Changsha, Hunan province, said excessive smartphone use during middle school robbed her of the opportunity to attend the city's best high school.
The 17-year-old first got a smartphone when she was in primary school, but when she went to middle school her grades gradually fell as she spent a lot of time playing with the device and neglecting her studies.
"I was in the top five in my primary school class, but in middle school I fell to the lower rungs as I had poor self-control and wasted too much time on my phone," she said.
The habit continued at high school. Although smartphones were banned, Liao often brought hers to class and could always find ways to play with it without the teacher noticing. Her deception was uncovered during last semester's final exams when her phone suddenly started to ring.
"The teacher called my parents and I started to quarrel with my father. One thing led to another and my father smashed the phone in front of me to show his frustration," she said. "I would not let him have that satisfaction, so I picked it up and smashed it much harder than he did."
The phone shattered into pieces, and the incident was a wake-up call for Liao.
Now, she does not bring her smartphone to school and works much harder at her studies. As a consequence, her grades have improved.
"I let my phone hinder my chances of enrolling at a good high school. That will not happen again, and I will go to my dream university," she said.
Getting used to the smartphone ban was easy for Wuhan high school student Xu Lingzhe as he does not use the device often. He said his top priority is to achieve high scores in the national college entrance exam and ensure that all the hard work he has done in preparation for the test pays off.
The 15-year-old said he brings a feature phone－which has no internet access－to school and leaves his smartphone at home.
"It would be hard to focus on studying if my smartphone was within reach, so leaving it behind is the best way to make sure I do not waste too much time on it," he said.
Leaving the smartphone at home also ensures he has more time to do other things, such as playing sports or simply hanging out with classmates, he said.
Every day, Xu spends about half an hour on his smartphone at home, mainly chatting with friends or checking news and social media platforms to stay connected with the world, he said.
"We high school students spend most of the day studying, so a small amount of screen time can help us relax," he added.
Zhou Yuehan, a high school student in Wuhan, said she also found it relatively easy to adjust to the ban. She got her first smartphone while in primary school, just as most of her classmates and friends also started owning the devices.
Now, she does not bring the phone to school. Instead she uses it on the way home when her parents pick her up after school and hand it to her.
The 17-year-old said she mainly uses the device to follow the latest updates about her pop star idols.
"I agree with the smartphone ban because it would be hard for me not to check for updates about these stars," she said.
"We can easily become dependent on smartphones, and without such strict measures it would be extremely difficult to overcome that reliance."
Zhou also considers studying to be her top priority and she wants to enroll at Fudan University, a prestigious school in Shanghai.
"If I am able to go to my dream university, not playing with my phone will totally have been worth it," she said.