The law, according to Le Figaro, stipulates that children cannot use their telephones inside school grounds (or at school based activities outside of school such as sporting events or day trips) nor can they connect via any device to the internet. There are possible pedagogical exceptions for children with special needs.
It’s up to each school to determine how to police the ban, which applies to children in école maternelle (pre-school), école élémentaire (equivalent to junior high school, up to age 10) and college, up to age 15 (ninth grade). At Lycée, which a teenager attends for the last 3 years of high school, individual establishments make their own rules regarding phone use.
Supporters of the ban cite research undertaken by the London School of Economics which shows that limited phone use in schools directly correlates to exam success, partly because of an increase in concentration. The same study also reported that “restricting mobile phone use can be a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities,” another key benefit for many schools. Advocates also believe that reduced screen time reduces the (sometimes negative) impact of social media which can lead to bullying. It also helps to reduce phone theft, which can be an issue in some schools.
The most difficult aspect of the law is enforcement. Before the French government ban, Le Figaro estimated that 30-40% of all senior school sanctions involved mobile phone use in class, so it’s clear that the school must follow through with enforcement for the law to be effective.
In many French schools, if teachers see a phone being used or hear one ring in class, the phone is confiscated until the end of the day–sometimes the week–when it must be collected from the head’s office (the principal’s office). Additional detentions are also given out. French schoolchildren are now used to making sure their phones are switched firmly off before heading into school in the morning.
However, many of the braver children sometimes use their phones in the playground where there is less supervision or in the toilets, where there is the least likelihood of being discovered. In France, it is the surveillants, and not the teachers, who are responsible for looking after children in the playgrounds or through lunchtime activities–most French school lunch breaks are two hours long, so it can be difficult in practice to police such a ban throughout the entire duration.
Additionally, many French news outlets and organisations have been sceptical about how much change has really happened since the ban, as most French schools were already banning the use of phones anyway. Since 2010, the use of phones in class has been outlawed; this new law extended the ban to school premises and wider teaching time.
Statistics on phone ownership seem comparable across most developed countries–more than 90% of French kids between the ages of 12 and 17 have their own mobile phone, which is roughly the same in the U.K. and the U.S. What’s more, surveys of U.K. parents often report a desire to see a similar ban in British schools, so there seems to be a slow groundswell of support. Other countries, such as Denmark are considering a ban and the state of Victoria in Australia has just introduced a ban for the return to school next week.
In the U.S. the situation is different. Due to the spate of school shootings, parents tend to want the inverse–the opportunity to contact their children more. The New York Times reported that this was one of the reasons why a school cell phone ban in New York was overturned in 2015.
For many, the issue is also about how far the state intervenes in decisions involving the day-to-day management of children. Currently, in the U.K. and U.S., it is up to each individual school (and parents) to set their own rules, whilst the French government sees its role as more involved. At the time of the ban, CNN quoted the French Education Minister talking about the state’s role in protecting children from too much mobile phone use,
We know today that there is a phenomenon of screen addiction, the phenomenon of bad mobile phone use… Our main role is to protect children and adolescents. It is a fundamental role of education, and this law allows it.