A holistic approach to digital skills in schools – words by Gareth Stockdale, CEO at Micro:bit Educational Foundation


Children and their access to mobile phones is a topic that has always created strong opinions. The recent announcement by the British Education Secretary to ban mobile devices in schools in order to address disruptive behaviour and online bullying, has brought the relationship between technology and education back into the spotlight. 

While handheld devices can be distracting for young people, simply banning phones in schools may not have the intended effect.  



Mobile phones – a part of daily life we can’t ignore 

In the last decade, mobile phones have woven themselves into our daily lives and into every corner of society, from how we work and shop, to how we communicate and learn. And there are immeasurable benefits too – children can communicate with their parents more easily and have better access to more online resources, information and knowledge at their fingertips, than ever before. Children cannot and should not be sheltered from mobile devices – they are a central part of modern life today. 


But digital devices such as mobile phones pose unique challenges for teachers and school administrators, such as distractions in the classrooms, cyberbullying, and excessive screen time. However, the outright banning of phones without providing an educational framework to combat and address the issues caused by mobile phones risks being seen as a short-sighted headline grabber rather than a meaningful policy. In fact, it, may even drive students to significantly increase their usage outside of school hours, defeating the purpose of such restrictions.  



Digital understanding, not digital delay 

Children can’t be sheltered from the risks of technology today, and we know teachers and classrooms have a hugely powerful role in helping young people navigate the digital world.  


The ability to understand and navigate the digital landscape is of utmost importance for young people, with most jobs requiring an increasing level of digital skills. More broadly, we know technology now underpins so much of our world from politics to health, so it’s vital that children understand how these platforms and technologies work. Who creates technology, what is its impact and how can they healthily engage with it? 

By providing students with a robust digital foundation, schools can equip pupils from all backgrounds with valuable skills that are essential for success later in life, that will help them to navigate the digital landscape safely and responsibly. 


Developing 21st century skills also nurtures creativity and innovation and shouldn’t be considered simply a means of creating more coders. The ability to think critically, approach problems with a fresh perspective and come up with innovative solutions is not only beneficial in the pursuit of arts and humanities subjects, but equally as important in technology and digital applications. Students well-versed in technology are better positioned to tackle real-world problems, fostering a generation of critical thinkers and problem solvers. 



Young kids enjoy using handheld devices – how can we use that for good in the classroom? 

With handheld devices becoming increasingly accessible to kids of all ages, it is crucial to emphasise the importance of ensuring that primary school children have access to a curriculum that teaches them the value of technology. Integrating technology into education is a great way to engage students through incorporating interactive tools that teach skills such as coding, computational thinking and digital creativity or design thinking.   


The BBC micro:bit  is asmall hand-held device that serves as portal to the realm of coding and programming languages, offering an interactive and engaging learning experience. By integrating tools like this into the curriculum, a dynamic educational environment can be facilitated, empowering teachers and students alike.  

This is why, through recognising the challenges faced by teachers, the Micro:bit Educational Foundation provides primary schools across the UK with handheld micro:bit devices as well as specialised teaching resources, to help ease the burden. You can view more information here. 


Considering the benefits of handheld devices when used in education, a blanket ban of mobile phones like this is not actually targeting the source of the problem looking to be solved. Instead, a more nuanced, research-led approach that does not compromise the teaching of digital skills is needed. 



A holistic approach 

The ongoing debate surrounding the use and ban of mobile phones in schools extends far beyond devices, but rather, it is about shaping the future of education. A ban of mobile phones in the school environment without addressing the broader issue of digital skills and knowledge is a missed opportunity. 


Undoubtedly, this situation places immense pressure on teachers who must navigate the challenges of managing classrooms whilst ensuring that students are equipped with essential digital skills.  

It is more important than ever to embrace a holistic approach, emphasising education and opportunity to nurture a generation of skilled students who are ready to excel in the digital age.