School turning off wi-fi internet during lunch breaks to encourage students to talk to each other

SIMON O'CONNOR/Stuff.co.nz

Francis Douglas Memorial College is turning off the Wi-fi during breaks in the hope that students will get out and about more.

A secondary school in New Plymouth has started turning off its wi-fi internet network during breaks to encourage students to talk and play with each other.

On a sunny morning, the courtyard of the Francis Douglas Memorial College (FDMC) is a hive of activity and that's exactly what principal Martin Chamberlain wants to see.

Large groups of students at the New Plymouth school are playing handball and there are only a few youngsters on their phones.

School principal Martin Chamberlain said he wasn't banning phones, but he was  limiting their use.
SIMON O'CONNOR/FAIRFAX NZ

School principal Martin Chamberlain said he wasn't banning phones, but he was limiting their use.

"I think it's a big part of the college how we all play handball at the lunch times and it brings us closer all together as boys," 15-year-old Ethan Turner said.

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This will be music to Chamberlain's ears.

Wanting to see more students out playing in the sunshine is the reason why, two weeks ago, he started turning off the school's wi-fi most of the time during morning tea and lunch breaks.

"It's really something that I've wanted to do for a long time but it's not until recently that we had the power to be able to shut down our wi-fi at set times and yet not dislocate the staff. The staff can still have use of it," he said. 

The school operates two wi-fi networks, one for staff that stays on and another for students that turns off at certain times.

Student Ethan Turner said he thought the idea was great and it had the desired effect of getting students active.
SIMON O'CONNOR/Fairfax NZ

Student Ethan Turner said he thought the idea was great and it had the desired effect of getting students active.

Chamberlain stressed the move wasn't about banning cell phones or the use of internet, but instead about managing how both were used.

"We see phones as an essential part of modern life so students are often invited to use their phone in class and to look up things on the web, and certainly we see them as a vital parental communication tool during breaks. So no, we're not Luddites; phones are a part of modern life," he said.

"But the other side of it is when I see students fixated onto screens, generally junior students who haven't been used to having this at their primary schools but now when they get it here they tend to make a feast of it."

It's not the first time access to technology has been limited by schools, but turning off the wi-fi is a novel approach as most schools would usually ask students to hand in their phones at the start of the school day or only get them out at certain times.

Last year, Tuakau College blocked access to Facebook via the school's wi-fi after students were seen using Facebook Live during class.

The move to turn off the wi-fi at FDMC hasn't stopped students from using the phones completely - but it has had an effect.

"The difficult thing is some of the students have their own data plan anyway and some of them are playing games that live on their sim card," Chamberlain said

"There's been a little bit of student protest that we've heard through the ranks, so we know then that it's having the effect that we require, that they're not shackled to their fluorescent screen."

Students who took a few minutes away from their handball game to talk about the idea were generally supportive.

William Hadley, 15, said there used to be a lot of students  who would sit on their phones, but he had noticed a change since the wi-fi had been turned off.

"It's just real good to get exercise instead of staring at your screen the whole lunch time," he said.

The only flaw was that it stopped students from doing research outside of class, 15-year-old Matthew Sisarich​ said.

"You can't look up stuff on your phone...you just can't look up anything," he said.

 - Sunday Star Times

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