Distracting device use in class linked to academic decline

1/31/19 5:32 PM

Devices are turning class-time into fun-time at New Zealand’s largest secondary school - and the resulting drop in academic performance is worrying teachers and parents alike.

Students at Rangitoto College are using devices to check their social media, listen to music, play games and even shop, and Associate Principal Tony Giles attributes increasing online activity to declining test scores.

Students who wear their headphones in class are “making the least progress,” Giles observed in a newsletter mailed to parents Wednesday. “We have noted a clear correlation.”

Exactly how much grades at Rangitoto had dropped was difficult to determine, he acknowledged. Top students were performing better than ever, “but various sub-groups have shown a slight decline.”

Another concern is falling literacy rates. These “don’t show up so much in examination results, but become a barrier to tertiary success later on,” Giles noted.

shutterstock_736900960Students wearing headphones in class are "making the least progress."


To combat the problem of distracting device use, the school is

  • Cracking down its existing “no personal headphones in class”

  • Requiring students to place their phones in a box at the front of the classroom

  • Restricting WiFi use for students to BYOD devices only

Rangitoto is hardly an isolated case. Indications suggest most New Zealand schools have similar concerns - as do many others all around the developed world.

Glendowie College Principal Richard Dykes expects his school will be “going down the same path” as Rangitoto, with stricter controls around online activity, he told Now to Love.

Student use of VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, is particularly concerning, because it means kids can bypass the internet filtering the school has put in place. “Once they find a new VPN they then email that around all the students and they all go onto that. Two days later we'd lock that out and then they'd find another one so we were just playing cat and mouse.

“It’s a case of the technology having just raced away from everyone,” observes Dykes, who is also president of the Auckland Secondary Schools Principals’ Association. “Obviously devices are useful, they allow students to access information; the productivity from them, in terms of learning, is definitely advantageous, so we wouldn't want to throw the baby out with the bath water."

Dykes sees the problem of safe and balanced internet use as a broad social challenge - not simply an issue for educators.

“I’m just wary people are going to say this is a problem in schools and schools need to sort this out, when this is actually a society-wide issue which is about how do we ensure that we're protecting our students at a really key developmental stage.”

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