South Australian students will begin returning to school tomorrow, but for many the first day of school will also be the first without their mobile phone.

Key points:

  • Mobile phones are banned in SA public high schools, starting from tomorrow
  • Schools have until the beginning of term three to implement the ban
  • But unlike in some other states, artificial intelligence bot ChatGPT will be allowed

A ban on mobile phone use in public high schools begins at 44 sites tomorrow, with all schools needing to transition to the new state government policy by the beginning of term three.

The state government hopes the reform will help curb bullying and violence as well as reduce distractions in the classroom.

Premier Peter Malinauskas said the changes will bring SA in line with other states.

It also brings high schools in line with South Australian primary schools, which have a mobile phone ban.

“It is my firm view that mobile phones do not have a place in the classroom or in schools,” he said.

“They act as a distraction to students but at their worst, mobile phones can be used for purposes that aren’t consistent with who we are as the South Australian community.”

Blair Boyer and Seaview High School student Jess at one of the school’s phone-locking stations. (ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

At Seaview High School, in Adelaide’s south, every student will be given a lockable pouch to store their phones, smart watches and earphones during the school day.

The pouch will be locked by tapping it on one of 22 locking stations around the perimeter of the school, and unlocked the same way at the end of the day.

Principal Penny Tranter said teachers will do a “random check” of the pouches in the morning to ensure they were locked.

Education Minister Blair Boyer said the choice to buy such pouches — which cost Seaview High $30,000 — was up to individual schools, and the department would consider supporting schools who require financial assistance to implement them.

“We’re confident that whether or not it’s storing them in a bag, locking them in a locker or using these pouches, it can be effective,” he said.

Students at Seaview High will have their phones locked inside a pouch during the school day.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

SA schools to allow artificial intelligence programs

While phones will be banned, South Australian public school students will be allowed to use artificial intelligence (AI) such as ChatGPT — but not for graded work.

New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania have banned chatbot ChatGPT, which can quickly generate realistic human-like text.

But SA’s Education Minister Blair Boyer said artificial intelligence was “here to stay” and issuing a blanket ban would be “really burying our heads in the sand”.

“It can’t be used for exams, and when students are graded the technology is already in place to be able to prevent that, we’ll do that,” he said.

“But I think we need to find a way of having it embraced to an extent that we can teach kids the upsides, the pitfalls, how to work with it and also focus on the things that our graduates will be able to do that artificial intelligence can’t do.”

South Australian Department for Education chief executive Martin Westwell said AI was “going to have a big impact on all of our futures”.

“We want South Australian young people to be at the front of that, to be familiar with AI and how it can work and how it can help in their learning,” he said.

Professor George Siemens says curriculums may need to evolve to adapt to artificial intelligence.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

University of South Australia Professor George Siemens has been looking into artificial intelligence in education for years.

He said banning technology like ChatGPT long-term was “hardly going to be effective”, and SA’s decision to allow it was “forward-thinking”.

“The approach that South Australia is taking is the right one,” he said.

“Which is, recognise that this is a tool that students have access to and begin to say, ‘How can we integrate it into curriculum?’,” he said.

Professor Siemens said some students would “absolutely” use AI to cheat at school. 

“But that maybe is more of a comment on the kinds of assessments we’re using in our classrooms,” he said.

“… I think that’s the bigger question that schools and universities are going to have to face, is are we really testing things that matter in the future of a learner’s life?”