Smartphones divide our attention, distracting us at the dining table, during events, and on the playground. By 2012, it was reported that 90.3 percent of English teens owned a mobile phone and 73 percent of U.S. kids had one of their own as well. However, schools have been struggling to keep them out of classrooms well before then — since Zack Morris first started taking calls in class on his brick cellphone back in the '90s. So, just how much are kids studies suffering from such technological distractions?

Richard Murphy and Louis-Philippe Beland, both assistant professors of economics, sought to find the answer. They measured the impact of mobile phones on student exam performance from 2001 to 2013 by surveying 91 English schools in the cities of Birmingham, London, Leicester, and Manchester before and after strict cellphone policies were enacted.

Murphy said in a press release:

"We found the impact of banning phones for these students equivalent to an additional hour a week in school, or to increasing the school year by five days."

They found that the lowest-achieving students tended to benefit most from the policy, increasing their test scores by 14.23 percentage points of a standard deviation. Whereas the average class would increase their test scores by 6.41 percentage points of a standard deviation. However, the ban provided little benefit for the school's highest-achieving individuals.

Murphy explained:

"This means allowing phones into schools would be the most damaging to low-achieving and low-income students, exacerbating any existing learning inequalities. Whilst we cannot test the reason why directly, it is indicative that these students are distracted by the presence of phones, and high-ability students are able to concentrate."

The researchers suggest this could be one of the most cost-efficient methods of reducing education inequality. However, the researchers do not discount smartphones as a effective learning tool, but only “if their use is properly structured.”

Read more at EurekAlert!

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