1836-9030 VOLUME 23, 2020, PP. 98-115
INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF LAW & EDUCATION 98
THE NEW WILD WEST
MARY REDMAYNE, PhD
VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OF WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND1
ADJUNCT RESEARCH FELLOW, MONASH UNIVERSITY, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA
ADJUNCT RESEARCH ASSOCIATE, VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OF WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND
Recent years have seen a headlong rush into screen-centred learning in schools along
with the installation of WiFi in most schools in Australasia. This new frontier in education
has occurred with sparse evidence of educational benefits, and health challenges have
emerged concomitant with extended screen use. These include challenges to development
of language; increased risk of short-sightedness; increasing loneliness, depression and
suicidal thoughts in line with increasing social networking; and addiction. Additionally,
there are many reported effects from exposure to the radio-frequency radiation which is
intrinsic to WiFi and mobile phone use. School boards, staff and students in Australasia
are generally unaware of these possible problems which pose legal challenges.
This review examines policy and advisory approaches taken overseas and compares
them with those in Australia and New Zealand. The scientific basis or reasons for those
approaches and some reasons, such as definitions and mechanisms, why they vary so
greatly are discussed. Suggestions are made on how to provide for the rights of those
whose health, and therefore their education, are affected and how to minimise exposure
for staff and students.
Recent years have seen a headlong rush into screen-centred learning in schools along
with the installation of WiFi in most schools in Australia and New Zealand. This new
frontier in education has occurred with sparse evidence of the educational benefits or
examination of potential drawbacks.
Caution is needed regarding the extent of and approach to screen use and internet at
school. In 2012, students from thirty-one OECD member nations took part in the OECD
Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012. The subsequent report
1 Addresses for correspondence: Mary Redmayne, PhD, Victoria University of Wellington; Adjunct
Research Fellow, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia; Adjunct Research Associate, Victoria
University of Wellington, New Zealand, Email email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
SCREEN-CENTRED SCHOOLS: THE NEW WILD WEST 99
concluded there were “no appreciable improvements in student achievement [from the
year 2000 to 2012] in reading, mathematics or science in the countries that had invested
heavily in ICT for education”.1 The study added that screen-centred learning was of little
benefit for bridging the socio-economic divide; “ensuring that every child attains a
baseline level of proficiency in reading and mathematics [without technology] seems to
do more to create equal opportunities in a digital world than can be achieved by expanding
or subsidising access to high-tech devices and services”.2
Although some early small studies found benefits, a 2017 review of multiple recent
large studies, including the OECD one, reports that overall there is “overwhelming
evidence that the frequency of educational technology use in classrooms is negatively
associated with achievement”.3
Despite the lack of convincing evidence of the academic benefit of in-class computer
use, WiFi has been installed in a majority of schools in Australia and New Zealand.
Additionally, personal screens have become the main tool used for on-line work, while
some students are already being required to use them for off-line work, too.
In a Wild West-like scramble, it seems the smell of a gold rush led to industry-backed
support and encouragement of computers in schools4 and partnerships with government
departments.5 Education Departments were sold on this concept. For example, Stephen
Wilson, the Chief Information Officer at the New South Wales (NSW) Department of
Education and Training announced in 2010 that WiFi was to be installed in all of the
State’s high schools. This was intended to comprise 22,000 access points.6
NSW had 521 high schools making this an average of more than forty-two routers
per school which was one per nine students. Wilson boasted, "It is the largest centrally-
monitored network in the world. We are constantly neck-and-neck with the US
Airforce”.7 Unless schools had very large classrooms or very few students per class, this
number is not only much too high, but likely to have resulted in poorer router performance
than the way in which the ideal number would have performed.
This paved the way very well for the introduction of Bring Your Own Device
(BYOD). By 2013, a department report titled, Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) in
Schools: 2013 literature review announced, “…all NSW public secondary school
teachers and students have Wi-Fi access to filtered internet through centrally managed
wireless access points in every learning space and library and … primary schools can
purchase a similar solution”.8 But what was driving this?
On closer examination, one can see that the NSW Education Department document
extensively relied on another document detailing benefits of BYOD, providing answers
to common objections while citing assorted early studies claiming improved learning
outcomes.9 This other document was produced by Microsoft for their Education
Department; despite also voicing concern over the care that needs to be taken in adopting
BYOD, its final words are:
100 MARY REDMAYNE
“Our commitment to schools is deep and ongoing. Through our Partners in
Learning program we’ve invested over $500 million to support the mentoring
of some 2.8 million teachers worldwide. We’ve inspired countless students
with innovative software and opportunities to work. And we partner with
governments and inter-governmental agencies to imagine, plan and deliver
next-generation learning the world over”.10
This considerable sum is commendable and was no doubt welcomed by schools
around the world, but to put it in perspective, Microsoft’s sales and marketing
expenditures in 2013 alone were 15.28 billion US$.11 Microsoft is not a charity and, as
they say, their eye is to the future. The Partners in Learning programme seems a good
way to secure future Microsoft customers. The Education Department, in turn, sold the
idea of BYOD to school authorities as a “Solution”, and indeed there are many benefits
for the school, which has seen rapid uptake.
II HEALTH AND WELL-BEING CHALLENGES
FROM DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY
What is not well known is that a range of health and well-being challenges is
becoming apparent concomitant with young people’s increasing and extended screen
use.12 These include increased incidence of myopia13; eye strain, dry eyes and difficulty
focusing after extended screen use14; obesity from snacking while using screens and from
less exercise and outdoor time15; less sleep16; fewer personal interactions such as play and
talk on the school grounds; increasing loneliness, depression, and suicidal thoughts in line
with increasing social networking17; and screen addiction.18
The last two, which can be inter-related, are urgent health challenges. In New
Zealand, anxiety and depression increased by a third in 2017 alone among 15-24 year
olds, with New Zealand having the highest suicide rates of 15-19 year olds in the OECD.19
Suicide is the leading cause of death in young Australians.20 Further, there are many
health and biological effects from exposure to the microwave radiation21 transmitted by
modern wireless communication technology.22 These have been demonstrated in many
hundreds of international peer-reviewed studies.
The most commonly found effects in research are changes in brain activity,23 neuro-
behavioural changes,24 increased production of Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) leading
to oxidative stress and induced cell-death,25 and protein,26 and DNA damage.27 Others
experience assorted symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fuzzy thinking, after
exposure to particular RF-EMF signals, including WiFi. This is called
Many studies have observed that biological effects can lead to functional changes
such as metabolic and immune effects. If one’s body does not get enough time away from
exposure in which to repair itself, these damages can lead to diseases, including cancer.29
An increased risk of specific brain tumours, especially glioma, has been found in several
case-control studies’ highest mobile phone user groups; one study found that those who
SCREEN-CENTRED SCHOOLS: THE NEW WILD WEST 101
began mobile phone use before the age of 20 were at the greatest risk of developing
astrocytoma with odds almost five times higher than that of control subjects.30
These are serious concerns. Thus, what is the international community doing about
the microwave environment in schools? The paper now looks at what standards and
policies are in place to protect us and particularly our children.
III INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL ADVICE AND RESPONSES
A International health and safety responses: Exposure standards:
Legal/official policy and advice31
The differing approaches taken by or for educational facilities internationally are
grounded in the basic approach each government takes in its own exposure standard and
additional law, advice, and recommendations around children’s radio-frequency
electromagnetic field (RF-EMF)32 exposure.33
RF-EMF exposure standards are intended to prevent adverse health effects. Yet, what
this includes varies greatly worldwide. The least stringent approach is based on guidelines
formulated by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection
These Western guidelines have a scientific underpinning. According to physics, the
only possible effects of RF-EMF radiation on human physiology is through acute heat
and shock damage, therefore the ICNIRP Guidelines only seek to prevent, “short-term,
immediate health effects such as stimulation of peripheral nerves and muscles, shocks
and burns”.35 They chose to exclude observed biological effects from less intense
exposures whose interaction with human tissue, although observed, was not understood;
they specifically exclude biological effects resulting from lower intensities. It is important
for educators to realise that this is the basis of the Australian and New Zealand approach.
Our standards in Australia and New Zealand take the least stringent approach
internationally (along with the US and the UK) and do not intend to assure us of no
biological effects, many of which are well-established and can lead to disease, as
mentioned above. The same permitted exposure parameters apply to 24/7 environmental
exposure such as from mobile phone base stations and personal devices such as mobile
phones, laptops, and tablets. The ICNIRP guidelines state that infants and young children
were taken into consideration as ‘a general variable’! However, the safety margin was not
scientifically calculated36 and permitted levels are much higher than those at which
biological effects occur.
At the other end of the standards spectrum are those nations, including the Republic
of China and the Russian Federation, whose exposure standards, which are also
scientifically based, address acute thermal and chronic ‘non-thermal’ effects. For
102 MARY REDMAYNE
instance, Russia’s standard is based on the requirement that EMF exposure should not
affect homeostasis37 or activate protective and adaptation-compensatory mechanisms
either acutely or in the long term38. In other words, the Russian Standard considers shock
and heat damage but also takes into account observed biological effects from long-term,
low exposure. This is based on findings from their own extensive research that the
threshold for harmful physiological effects in experimental animals was 3 hours per day
at 240 μW/cm2.39 With a safety margin added, this led to permitted exposure of 10
μW/cm2. This is 1% of what is permitted in Australia and New Zealand. The most
sensitive human systems identified by Russian research are the nervous, endocrine,
immune, cardiovascular and reproductive systems.
In between these extremes are two main precautionary approaches. The first is those
countries whose use the ICNIRP guidelines as their basis, but then impose a precautionary
tier which applies to sensitive groups such as children. This may apply to specified areas
such as places where children commonly spend more than, say, four hours daily.40
Various countries take an entirely precautionary approach, which is often equivalent to
the levels permitted in the more stringent, science-based approach taken by Russia and
Updated guidelines from ICNIRP have, at the time of writing, just been published.
They do not take a substantially different approach. Australia’s RPS342 is also being
updated; it is expected this will be in line with the new ICNIRP guidelines. NZ has not
announced its intentions in this regard. With the advent of 5G, including much shorter
wavelength radiation, there will be new issues to consider. One important issue will be
the risk of heat damage if devices such as laptops or phones are used against one’s torso
as all the shortwave energy is absorbed in the surface layers of the skin, thereby leaving
little room to dissipate the resulting heat.43 This will require educators and educational
facilities of minors to make this clear to students and teach good-practice user-habits.
B Other overseas RF-EMF related regulations and official advice
The standards outlined above relate to environmental, or fixed antennae, RF-EMF.
However, it would be impractical for permitted exposure levels from personal devices,
say mobile phones, to vary greatly between countries. Consequently, the ICNIRP or
equivalent44 guidelines appear to be used by most countries for portable devices
regardless of the levels of exposure they permit in their environments. The nations with
more stringent environmental allowances then impose additional regulations or official
advice to reduce personal RF-EMF exposure from devices.
These are important guidelines because they take a precautionary approach that is
warranted not only due to potentially disease-causing bio-effects briefly introduced
above, but also because children are typically more vulnerable to harm from
environmental risks.45 A sample of overseas approaches is given (Table 1). A more
extensive list of policies, by country, is available from the Environmental Health Trust.46
SCREEN-CENTRED SCHOOLS: THE NEW WILD WEST 103
Table: 1 Policies and laws aimed at minors
Policy advice / law Country / City / Organisation / Committee
Ban mobile phone advertising aimed at
Russia, Belgium, France 2015; CEHAPE1,
Law requiring SAR labelling3 Israel; Russia; India; France (including baby
monitors) (2011); Belgium (2014); Korea
Law banning sale of children’s mobile
Israel, Belgium (2014); France (2015)
Prefer wired over WiFi/WLAN in
schools and/or pre-schools
Israel, Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland (2008),
France (2014); Germany (2007); Frankfurt,
Salzburg; Council of Europe (Resolution
Law banning WiFi from nursery
France 2015; Israel
WiFi must be turned off when not in
use in elementary schools
WiFi removed Cyprus (from elementary schools)
France (National Library and Paris libraries)
Use low emission phones Switzerland, Russia
Do not use mobile except in
Russia; Toronto (<8), San Francisco;
Use headset for calls Israel, Germany, Finland, India
Have education programme
Russia, Tunisia; Turkey; CEHAPE
Take steps to minimise exposure Denmark, France, Israel, India, Finland,
Germany, Switzerland, Turkey; French
Polynesia; Toronto; Health Canada, ICEMS,
European Parliament, EEA4
104 MARY REDMAYNE
Policy advice / law Country / City / Organisation / Committee
Ban WiFi in child spaces
- centres for 0-3 year olds
- up to grade 3 school, after that limit
to 3 hours weekly
- centres for children under 3 year olds
Ghent, Belgium (2014);
France (Jan 2015)
Wireless access for internet in
elementary schools must be disabled
when not in use for teaching
France (Jan 2015); French Polynesia (2016)
Child headsets that reduce exposure to
the head compulsory accessory on
France (law passed Jan 2015)
Mobile phones banned in primary and
Personal use of mobile phones banned
in schools for teachers and educational
Mobile phones banned in schools
France (law passed 2018, coming into law
September 2018); Israel (2016)
Parental fines for any use of electronic
devices by under-2s
Taiwan (law passed Jan 2015)
Parental fines if children < 18 years
become physically or mentally ill from
extensive screen use
Taiwan (law passed Jan 2015),
Wireless banned in pre-school facilities
for <3 year olds
French Polynesia (2016)
Assorted limitations on night time use
of internet by minors (Minority Internet
Vietnam (2011), China (2016), South Korea
Legend: 1 Children's Health and Environment Action Plan for Europe (CEHAPE)
2 International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety (ICEMS)
3 SAR is Specific Absorption Rate indicating the maximum amount of energy from the
phone or other device (note: many have been challenged, see Phonegate in text)
4 EEA European Environmental Agency
SCREEN-CENTRED SCHOOLS: THE NEW WILD WEST 105
Additionally, many schools, unions, and teachers’ federations around the world have
developed their own policies to reduce children’s and teachers’ RF-EMF exposures at
school. Some of these, which are listed on the Environmental Health Trust website,47
provide helpful starting points to developing school policies.
There are many independent organisations and individual prominent scientists
actively researching in this area as well as medical research specialists who have spoken
out on the advisability of restricting children’s use of RF-EMF emitting equipment.
Others have expressed confidence that no risk to children exists within the current IEEE
and ICNIRP-based exposure limits.
C Australian and NZ advice re children’s RF-EMF exposure
Let us then compare the approaches presented in table 1 with advice in Australia and
New Zealand. The paper then examines what legislation is in place to enable and even
require a more rigorous approach.
New Zealand’s government is in denial. Its latest advice regarding children’s
exposure to RF-EMF, whether in the environment or from devices in or out of schools, is
dated August 2019.48 It states that “It’s your choice whether to let your children use
cellphones… If you want to reduce your exposure to radiofrequency energy from your
mobile, it’s easy to do”.49 This is followed by suggestions.
The advice for children also states that “The research that has been done hasn’t shown
any harmful effects at the levels generated by cellphones. Neither has laboratory research
on young animals.”50 This is plain wrong if one includes damage to DNA, cells, and their
function, and the many others biological impacts that can lead to disease. Yet, even
limiting this to the last claim and cancer, it is no longer accurate as two very large
laboratory studies have been published recently demonstrating the same and similar
tumours in animals as those seen in humans with ongoing phone exposures. 51
Regarding WiFi, another document published by New Zealand’s Ministry of Health
in January 2018 states bluntly that “WiFi signals won’t harm your health”.52 However a
review paper published in March 2018 by a well-established researcher in the field
concludes that “there are seven repeatedly found Wi-Fi effects which have also been
shown to be caused by other similar EMF exposures. Each of the seven should be
considered, therefore, as established effects of Wi-Fi” being “oxidative stress,
sperm/testicular damage, neuropsychiatric effects including EEG changes, apoptosis,
cellular DNA damage, endocrine changes, and calcium overload”.53
Australia takes a slightly more guarded approach in its advice regarding use of
devices by children. The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), a
regulatory body, does not comment on RF-EMF exposure. At the same time, though, the
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) recommends
that parents should limit their children’s mobile phone RF-EMF exposure and provides
106 MARY REDMAYNE
suggestions on doing this.54As for WiFi (and therefore school laptops),55 the current
advice says, “There is no established scientific evidence of adverse health effects from
the Wi-Fi RF-EMF exposure”.56
Both NZ and Australia word their advice carefully – each word counts, as witnessed
by new versions of online documents sometimes having just one or two words changed,
usually towards being less definitive in assertions of safety. Remember, in the Australian
and NZ Standards biological effects and cancers from on-going low exposures such as
from WiFi are not counted as “established scientific evidence” and only heat and shock
effects over six to thirty minutes were included when setting the exposure limits. This
also applies to the revised ICNIRP Guidelines.57
It is understandable that school Boards of Trustees (BoTs) will assume the safety of
properly installed digital technology being recommended by the Education Department
or Ministry for use in their facilities. Because most are unlikely, therefore, to explore this
aspect for themselves, school BoTs, staff, and students in Australia and NZ are generally
unaware of possible health and well-being problems which pose several legal challenges,
unless they themselves develop related health problems. But, as discussed in the next
section, some legal sources have highlighted that legal implications do exist.
IV INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL LEGISLATION
A Relevant Australian legislation for Boards of Trustees
Australia’s RPS358 is not enforceable by its creators, the ARPANSA, but is so
through other bodies including the Australian Communications Media Authority
(ACMA) and WorkSafe. Moreover, each Australian State has its own WorkSafe Act and
other legislation. Requirements laid out in these Acts and other legislation are obligatory
Various actions on ‘smart’ meters and WiFi were filed in Victoria in 2014 but the
situation was, and still is, difficult to fight legally because most exposures fall within the
levels permitted by RPS3. Health evidence including GP or specialist evidence is
necessary for human rights action to proceed, and action on health impacts of WiFi taken
with the State Workcover Authority needs to account for why effects are not safe despite
being well within the RPS3 standard. This appears to be the case regardless of the
standard specifying that it assesses acute, very short term, thermal harm only.
Nevertheless, a scientist at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research
Organisation (CSIRO) won a case in which he claimed that he was injured by RF-EMF
exposures in the course of employment and compensation from his employer59.
Compensation was at first denied, but a claim under the Safety, Rehabilitation and
Compensation Act 1988 the scientist succeeded with the Administrative Appeals
SCREEN-CENTRED SCHOOLS: THE NEW WILD WEST 107
B Relevant NZ Legislation
Compliance with the New Zealand Standard on Radiofrequency Electromagnetic
Radiation (RF-EMR) NZS 2772:1 (1999) is required for cell sites61 by virtue of the
national environmental standard for telecommunications facilities (NESTF).
There are serious discrepancies between the criteria used to define health effects in
NZS 2772.1 1999, those used by government advisory committee on RF-EMR exposure,
and the requirements of legislation such as the Resource Management Act and Health and
Safety legislation to address all “effects” and “risks”. The Standard enunciated in NZS
2772.1 1999 is based on “established health effects,” regarded by those setting the
Standard only as those that cause heating and shock. At the same time, the Resource
Management Act (1991) (RMA) and Health and Safety at Work Act of 2015 regulations
require all health and safety risks to be avoided including biological effects, possible
disease outcomes, and possible risk of harm, and may include perceived harm.
At present, the government’s RF-EMR advisory committee62 does not identify or
offer advice on effects as defined by the RMA. However, such identification is necessary
since the New Zealand Environment Court has made it clear that if an international body
recognises a possible effect it triggers the RMA.63 This threshold occurred in 2011 with
the decision of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that RF-EMR is
possibly carcinogenic to humans.64
Other international bodies have recognised possible effects of RF-EMR. Among
these are the Parliamentary Council of the Assembly of Europe which concluded in 2011,
“There is sufficient evidence of potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic fields on
fauna, flora and human health to react and to guard against potentially serious
environmental and health hazards”.65
This brings the possible carcinogenic and other biological effects of RF-EMR within
the definition of effect in the RMA (1991) which includes, “any potential effect of low
probability which has a high potential impact” (Part1 s4 3f).66 This leaves schools
between the proverbial rock and a hard place. The Ministry of Education is following the
advice of the Ministry of Health based on the advisory committee and the NZ RF-EMR
exposure standard. Yet, areas of BoT responsibility and possible liability regarding WiFi
and BYOD in schools under the Health and Safety at Work Act (2015) are more
C Relevant International Legislation
Other legal obligations that should be considered are the Human Rights Act and the
United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCROC). Both New Zealand
and Australia have ratified these documents.
108 MARY REDMAYNE
UNCROC’s Article 23 requires special disability care for children. Additionally, the
Human Rights Act (1993) Section 21 (1)(h) “prohibits discrimination on the grounds of
any disability, which includes any physical disability or impairment, physical illness,
psychiatric illness or any intellectual physiological disability or impairment or any other
loss or abnormality of psychological, physiological, or anatomical structure or
function”.67 There is currently no agreement among experts as to whether ill-health
characteristics of EHS are due to effects of RF-EMF exposure or a nocebo effect. Yet,
either way it clearly falls under the definition above and therefore requires the government
to take steps to ensure all those falling under this description are not disadvantaged in any
Depending on the severity, school authorities could take steps to assist these people
by installing switches to enable teachers to turn off routers in classrooms when the
internet is not required; asking students to put their devices in flight mode, as the highest
exposure to the child is from their and neighbouring devices; disallowing mobile phones
in class; and positioning students away from the routers and the devices of peers. It is also
advisable to provide study space without WiFi reception in schools that have internet so
as to enable minimum exposure where needed or wanted. This would need to be some
distance from the nearest router and as far as reasonably possible from nearby mobile
phone base stations. School authorities are advised not to allow base stations to be erected
within the school grounds. Additional steps may be required to meet obligations to staff
who are electro-hypersensitive.
V DISCUSSION, INSTITUTIONAL, AND PERSONAL WAYS TO REDUCE
EXPOSURES IN SCHOOLS
A central tenet of technology in schools has always been the importance of addressing
health and safety concerns. Safety in Technology Education, published by the NZ
Ministry of Education in 2017,68 Section 8, Safety in digital technology, spells out
obligations in this field. This section opens with the statement that “Each school is
required to develop, implement, and manage health and safety policies and procedures
that are approved by the Board of Trustees”69 who ultimately carry the responsibility.
Unfortunately, almost no BoTs or teachers are aware of health and safety risks related
to RF-EMF exposure from either the students’ equipment or the routers. Nor are most
aware how to minimize classroom exposures to RF-EMF. Of course, although “teachers
can also seek advice from a specialist,”70 one has to be aware of a need before seeking
Having noted this, there is the beginning of awareness in both Australia and New
Zealand around problematic screen use in school, although generally in relation to the
pressing concerns with respect to focused learning, healthy interpersonal development
and, increasingly, mental health. For example, in 2016, Dr Vallance, the Principal of
Sydney Grammar, banned laptops at school because he considered them a distraction in
SCREEN-CENTRED SCHOOLS: THE NEW WILD WEST 109
classrooms that inhibited discussion and conversation between students and teachers. He
emphasised the importance of personal interaction in classrooms.71
This is also important outside the classroom. At Perth College, Principal, Jenny
Ethell, banned students having their phones during school in early 2017 after consulting
with senior students and staff. The aim of banning phones, which was to help develop
authentic relationships, was triggered by research about “young people not being able to
read body language, not being able to pick up on social cues etcetera” and many were
obsessed with screens.72 Reportedly, girls are now playing more active games during
breaks, are taking opportunities for other activities, and are talking with each other a great
deal more. The goal of the Principal, which was to provide opportunities for the students
to build meaningful relationships and a sense of purpose in their lives, has seen an
increase in wellbeing and resilience among them since the ban on phones was enforced.
Further, during the first term of 2020, four Australian States, Victoria, NSW, South
Australia, and Tasmania have banned students from using mobile phones during school.73
While many schools in New Zealand now work entirely on BYOD, some are
recognizing the benefits of not allowing mobile phone use during school hours. Educators
in some schools are introducing well-being programmes to address the mental health
crisis among young people. Including discussion on several unhealthy outcomes of
extended gaming and social media on phones and larger devices, is recommended,74 along
with discussion of the benefits of a balanced lifestyle.
Evidence supports the need for caution regarding the extent of and approach to screen
use and internet at school: The academic benefits are limited, and the OECD research has
shown the importance of giving students a solid foundation in the basics before
introducing computers. “In the end,” the report states, “technology can amplify great
teaching, but great technology cannot replace poor teaching.’’75
Additionally, there are multiple health and well-being risks related to exposure to
radiofrequencies, and because extended screen use can lead to mental health problems
and poor general health from missing out on a well-balanced daily routine. Further, there
are legal risks for BOTs related both to students’ and staff health if suitable steps have
not been taken to inform and care for those who are sensitive to RF-EMF exposures.
Therefore, rather than continuing into the digital Wild West at a gallop, it is important to
hold our horses, get a firm grip on the reins, and develop plans from the ground-up. It is
our duty of care to teach young people how be in control of the technology instead of it
controlling them; how to make wise choices in using it, not using it and how to use it; and
how to develop into well-rounded adults, interacting holistically and face-to-face with
friends, colleagues and society.
110 MARY REDMAYNE
Important exclusions from this paper
There are serious concerns about online bullying, harassment, violence, child abuse
and neglect. These are addressed by most schools. They are well acknowledged in
Australia and NZ with policy development and teaching materials available online.76
Lawmakers are unable to keep up with addressing these issues (Personal communication,
The Rt Hon Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd PC, 16 Sept 2019, during public lecture at
Victoria University of Wellington).
These aspects are vital for schools to address and educate students about but fall
outside the scope of this paper.
A Some in-class solutions
1. Teach basic Tech-Aware practice to students, staff, and BoTs and offer this to parents.
2. Develop age-relevant Science and Health lesson plans to engage students in learning
about the electromagnetic spectrum and its use for technology.
3. Develop Health and Safety training in reducing RF-EMF exposure for teachers and BoT
4. Develop school policies accordingly; ensure teachers, students, and parents are aware of
them; enforce it as some methods have been shown to work better than others.77
5. Develop school policies with environmental limit of 3 µW/cm2 on-campus; see the ample
at Victoria University of Wellington, NZ. Have levels measured annually.78
B Basic best practice in class if there is WiFi and BYOD
1. Have a limited, specified daily period with the WiFi enabled.
2. Ban mobile phones during the school day; this includes enforced hand-in of switched off
phones from arrival at school to the end of the day, preferably with the buy-in and help
of seniors who have been educated in the ‘whys and hows’ first.
3. Turn class routers off when not in use by providing accessible classroom switches.
4. Teach students to use devices on desks, and not against their own or near other students’
bodies. This drastically reduces individuals’ RF-EMF exposure.
5. Have students put all devices in flight-mode when not using them online and switched
off when use not planned for that half-day.
6. Provide WiFi-free study areas in schools (such as, by having a wired computer room or
7. Teach the benefits of well-balanced daily routines and good sleep habits in screen-free
SCREEN-CENTRED SCHOOLS: THE NEW WILD WEST 111
My sincere thanks to Sue Grey, environmental lawyer, for her suggestions and review
of the relevant NZ and international legislation. Victoria University of Wellington and
Monash University are acknowledged for the availability of the library services.
DECLARATION OF INTERESTS
Mary Redmayne is a Participating Member of Standards Australia Committee on
Human Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields, Technical Committee TE-007, which is
responsible for Standard AS/NZS 2772.2:2016, and is an advisor for Oceania Radiation
Scientific Advisory Association (ORSAA), the Physicians' Health Initiative for Radiation
and Environment (PHIRE), the Environmental Health Trust (EHT), and NZ Building
Biology and Ecology Institute.
Keywords: BYOD; screens in school; health effects; well-being; policy; international
1. OECD. Students, computers and learning: Making the connection, p.15. PISA, editor: OECD
2. Ibid. p.3.
3. Petko D, Cantieni A, Prasse D. Perceived quality of educational technology matters: A secondary
analysis of students' ICT use, ICT-related attitudes, and PISA 2012 test scores. Journal of
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