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PoliticsNew Zealand

New Zealand's new PM Luxon touts ban on phones in schools

December 1, 2023

Conservative Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, sworn in earlier this week, visited a school on Friday and reiterated his government's plan to ban phones in classrooms.

A student puts her mobile phone in a locker before class. Mobile phones and tablets or smartwatches will no longer be allowed in secondary school classrooms from January 1, 2024.
Several countries, including the Netherlands, France and Britain, either have implemented or are in the process of implementing similar rulesImage: Robin Utrecht/picture alliance

Cellphones will be banned in schools across New Zealand, new conservative Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said during a school visit on Friday, after campaigning on a pledge to tackle falling literacy rates in the country.

Luxon, whose government was sworn in this week following elections in October, said the move would stop disruptive behavior and help students focus. 

It's one of several components of what Luxon's government has touted as a 100-day plan for its first few months in office. 

"We are going to ban phones across New Zealand in schools," Luxon said, standing alongside his new Education Minister Erica Stanford at a school in Auckland. 

"You see good schools like this that have already taken that decision, and it's been a longstanding practice getting great educational outcomes," he said. 

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon poses during a cabinet meeting at Parliament on November 28, 2023 in Wellington, New Zealand.
Luxon told reporters his Cabinet, sworn in this week, had a similar no-phones rule for its meetingsImage: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

Study's warning on reading and writing proficiency

Luxon also praised the school he was visiting, Manurewa Intermediate, for ensuring pupils had an hour of reading, writing and maths every day — another policy his National Party plans to make mandatory. 

Researchers in New Zealand warned of falling literacy rates in schools in a report last year, with Education Minister Stanford alluding to its findings on Friday, saying that less than half of young people in the country met its reading and writing standards for their age. 

New Zealand charity Education Hub said in its report it was "clear" that "something must be done to address the distressingly low literacy rates in Aotearoa New Zealand."

Internationally, New Zealand tends to fare well in school student proficiency league tables for reading and writing, mathematics, and science, albeit with scores relatively far adrift of the top-performing countries like China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Estonia and Finland in the most recent PISA rankings for 2018

Several countries, and Bavaria, experimenting with similar rules

A similar phone ban policy is either being trialed or is set to be implemented in several other countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, France and the Netherlands

In Germany, the only state that's imposed a blanket ban on phones in classrooms is Bavaria. In the other states, it is up to schools to decide, with many electing to exclude phones. 

A student puts her mobile phone in a locker before class. Mobile phones and also tablets or smartwatches are no longer allowed in the classroom at secondary school from 1 January 2024.
Typically students are required either to put their phones in their lockers or sometimes to submit them for safekeeping in the classroom itselfImage: Robin Utrecht/picture alliance

Proponents of the scheme says phones are a distraction and point to evidence suggesting their presence in class could disproportionately affect lower-performing students.

Critics, meanwhile, ask how effective a ban can be and also question whether efforts to incorporate phone usage into schoolwork might be more effective long-term. 

Challenging first week for new government

The short- and longer-term policy focuses of Luxon's National Party and his government has faced criticism during its first week in office. 

Plans to scrap several signature policies of center-left former premier Jacinda Ardern drew particular attention. 

Doctors warned of a looming public health "tragedy" as a result of plans to scrap world-leading tobacco control measures that would have made it illegal for people born after 2008 ever to buy cigarettes. 

Luxon has also pledged to restart offshore oil and gas exploration, undoing one of Ardern's signature policies. However, his government does also pledge to double renewable energy production.

Comments from Luxon's Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, who said a 2020 government media funding initiative launched amid the COVID pandemic was tantamount to "bribery," have also prompted considerable debate and domestic media coverage. 

New Zealand's new Prime Minister Christopher Luxon (R) and New Zealand's Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters arrive to the swearing-in of the new government at Government House in Wellington on November 27, 2023.
Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters (left in photo, next to Luxon) said a 2020 government media funding initiative launched amid the COVID pandemic was tantamount to "bribery"Image: Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images

Other policy plans around ethnicity, such as disbanding the Maori Health Authority, have been portrayed by Luxon's government as measures aiming to treat all citizens equally, but have been attacked by critics as being discriminatory. 

msh/jsi (AFP, Reuters)