Ideas@TheCentre brings you ammunition for conversations around the table. 3 short articles from CIS researchers emailed every Friday on the issues of the week.
Smart phones have become a big educational talking point. This year, the French government banned the use of mobile phones in schools, while the New York City department of education has recently relaxed its strict ban on mobile phones in schools. The NSW government announced a review on the use of mobile phones in schools late last week.
A review might be useful, but schools don’t have to wait for a government directive to set policies about mobile phones. Numerous schools already have strong restrictions on students’ mobile phone use during school hours — some do not allow students to use phones at all, while others just prohibit their use in the classroom.
There are two key questions schools need to consider when deciding on their mobile phone policy — one is the socio-emotional impact, and the other is the effect on student learning.
There are multiple studies on the link between prevalence of mobile phone use and poorer mental health outcomes for children and adolescents; with some studies showing a weak negative relationship overall, and others finding a stronger one.
Research on the effect of smart phones on educational performance also points in the negative direction. A meta-analysis published earlier this year found a small negative relationship overall between mobile phone use and academic achievement; however this included phone use both in and out of school hours. Other researchers have found that phone use in class exacerbates educational inequalities. For example, a study comparing academic outcomes over time in English high schools with differing policies on mobile phone use found a significant improvement in performance by low-achieving students in schools that introduced bans, with little effect on high-achieving students.
Several factors are likely to contribute to the negative educational impact of phones and other personal electronic devices in classrooms. One of the most powerful is distraction, both for the student and for their classmates. But even if phones, tablets or laptops are being used for educational purposes such as note-taking, there is substantial evidence this is not optimal for learning, with numerous studies showing that writing notes by hand leads to better comprehension and retention of information than typing. There is also emerging evidence that reading on screens is different in quality to reading on paper.
Students have plenty of opportunities to use their phones when they are not in class. At the moment the risks outweigh the benefits and schools would be wise to limit their use.
Au pairs represent one of the last bastions of unregulated childcare. It is therefore unsurprising to witness the latest round of criticisms of the au pair system. The Peter Dutton visa saga has offered a convenient hook to launch a fresh offensive on a system that — for now — has escaped heavy regulation.
It is also typical that calls for more regulation are not led by parents who actually use au pairs, but from other interest groups. Of course, there may be sensible reasons for changing the au pair visa system — particularly if it protects au pairs from exploitation and makes it easier for them and the families that employ them to comply with immigration laws. However, the government should remember why the current au pair system is so popular in the first place.
Firstly, it presents a substitute for the over-priced and over-regulated childcare industry. In contrast to formal childcare, au pairs can provide a cost-effective, convenient and flexible form of childcare. Their growing popularity also represents a rational consumer response to regulation. When governments regulate something, it becomes more expensive.
Naturally, consumers then have an incentive to seek out unregulated, less costly substitutes. Little wonder the number of au pairs in Australia has reportedly reached 10,000 and continues to grow.
Secondly, au pairs allow parents to exercise autonomy and choice when it comes to the type of childcare they use. Some parents, for example, may prefer at-home care to centre-based childcare. And it is certainly not just wealthy families who use au pairs, despite attempts to re-cast the debate as a class issue. If anything, they can be a practical option for some middle-income parents, who cannot afford to pay well over $100 a day for childcare.
Indeed, it is ironic that we have an over-regulated childcare sector that receives $8 billion in subsidies annually — and still fails to deliver affordable care. And yet critics claim the real problem is the au pair system — which actually provides what parents want: affordable and flexible childcare.
Airlines’ ongoing calls for greater government regulation of airport fees ignore many of the benefits these levies can bring to both themselves and their passengers.
Airlines for Australia and New Zealand (a body representing some of Australia and New Zealand’s largest carriers) says regulation will end price gouging by airport monopolies, and boost the Australian economy. While the CIS opposes greater regulation at airports, airlines too should take a step back and consider where the profits are going.
Privately owned airports can do what they wish with surplus revenue. And fortunately for the airlines, numerous airports across the country are investing these funds in infrastructure improvements that will directly benefit some of our largest carriers.
New runways, terminals and better car parking facilities will expand the capacity of the nation’s airports, allowing carriers to operate more flights and better deal with major disruptions. This will also enable airlines to hire more staff and offer an improved service for passengers — all factors that can improve performance, increase profits and boost the economy.
However, the biggest beneficiaries of infrastructure developments will be consumers — the people major airlines suggest will benefit most from regulation-derived price cuts. Greater airport capacity means a larger number of carriers can operate from a facility, introducing competition that would drive down prices.
A constant stream of new players has entered the Australian market in recent years. Airlines such as Zoot, Air Canada and Samoa Airways have all expanded in the region — offering passengers alternatives in price, service and destination. More will surely follow as the capacity of airports increases.
It is this, perhaps, that might have some of the biggest players worried. For a long time, a small number of operators have maintained relative market dominance over our airspace. As they are increasingly challenged by new competitors, Australia’s big airlines could be looking for something to win over consumers.
However, championing increased regulation isn’t the answer. It was reduced for a reason in 2002 — to realise the full benefits of privatisation for consumers and airlines. The current airport infrastructure boom is surely an example of this working to full effect.