Muswell Hill teenagers to ditch phones for a week in educational experiment

Pupils and staff prepare to ditch their phones for a week, from left Juhi Ashra (15), Briony Stephen

Pupils and staff prepare to ditch their phones for a week, from left Juhi Ashra (15), Briony Stephenson (15), Maximillian Szczech (11), school librarian Gill Ward, Jo Arrowsmith head of faculty, Robyn Daniels (14) and Milica Vidic (11) bin their phones with Erin Cotter (right). Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

For most of us living in the digital age, it’s a struggle to go even half an hour without checking our phones, emails, or social media accounts.

But a group of teenagers and teachers at a Muswell Hill school are about to test themselves to the limit as they prepare to ditch screens for a whole week as part of a pioneering educational experiment.

Pupils at Fortismere School, in Tetherdown, have signed up to the six-week ReCONNECT project, a scheme to find a balance between offline and online interactions, which will encourage youngsters to try out new screen-free activities.

From Monday, they will only use their phones for calling and some minimal texting and computers for homework as they become more aware of their digital habits.

Jo Arrowsmith, head of the school’s social and philosophical enquiry faculty, said: “It will get students to think for themselves, and to think what the right kind of behaviour is for them.”

She added: “It’s not bad if they are using technology in a creative way, and it’s making them happy, but we have online bullying in school, which can start on social media.”

For four weeks in special lessons, pupils have learnt about the extremes of using technology too much and how that can impact on mental health.

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But they have also been taught to think philosophically about its omnipresence and how they would be able to cope without their electronic devices.

The idea is that youngsters become more aware of when and how they use technology, and to try out other offline activities.

In the penultimate week of the project next week, a select few will be brave enough to try and disconnect from their devices.

To help, Fortismere is running “screen-free” sessions at the library every Friday, where pupils can play board games or read.

Local businesses and community groups have pooled together to provide incentives for those who complete the challenge, such as cinema tickets.

Stressing that the project does not set out to villify technology, Ms Arrowsmith added: “We want to get pupils more engaged with what the school has to offer, than them taking the easy option of playing Flappy Bird or something else.”

The experiment is the brainchild of Erin Cotter, who is also currently piloting the six-week scheme in two other schools in the north of England.

A total of 31 schools have signed up to the experiment, which is free, and Ms Cotter hopes to roll it out in all schools eventually.

Fortismere parent Catherine Watson, 44, of Goodwyn’s Vale, Muswell Hill, said: “I understand social media is important and it’s how young people communicate, but it’s about them learning a balance. I really worry because my daughter is on social media constantly and doesn’t have any downtime, so I’m really glad the school is getting involved in this project.”

To find out more, visit the Reconnect website.