December 10, 2023

High School Students Use Cell Phones in Class—but not for Schoolwork, Says Study


Just as many high school teachers are becoming comfortable with incorporating smartphones and other digital devices into classrooms to aid with learning, a new study finds that a majority of high school students are already using cell phones in class—to text, send emails, and browse social media sites.

Photo: Jupiterimages, Brand X Pictures.

The study, from researchers at the University of Haifa in Israel, focuses on 9–12th grade students at three different high schools. Out of the 591 students surveyed, a whopping 95 percent said they regularly sent emails or texts during classroom lessons, while 94 percent said they browsed file-sharing sites or social media sites like Facebook. Listening to music is another popular classroom activity, according to 93 percent of students, while 91 percent admitted to actually talking on their phones during class. Overall, 60 percent of students use their cell phones in class, with 10th graders the most aggressive cell phone users and 12th graders picking up their phones the least, according to the survey.

This may present a sobering reality check to many educators in K–12 schools who have been looking for the best ways to incorporate digital tools into their classrooms. Already the number of Web-connected computers per student is increasing rapidly across the country. In 2000, the ratio of students to each Internet-connected computer was 6.6 kids per every device, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (; by 2008 (the latest year for which complete statistics are available), that number had jumped to 3.1 kids per device.

Successful school programs utilize digital devices in ways that keep kids engaged, such as conducting polls during civics lessons or searching for materials on a school library site. But in practice, there can be a big difference between the efficacy of using school-issued laptops and tablets compared with students’ own devices, at least among the older grades, according to the study.

With personal devices, students have more control over their own tools—and the ability to hide their online activities, particularly on phones with small screens.

“Students use their mobile phones in various ways—to surf the Internet and access social media, to listen to music, take photos, play games, and send text messages and photos,” say the researchers. “Based on our findings, there is almost no moment during any class when some pupil isn’t using their cell phone.”

Lauren Barack About Lauren Barack

School Library Journal contributing editor Lauren Barack writes about the connection between media and education, business, and technology. A recipient of the Loeb Award for online journalism, she can be found at


  1. Mysterion says:


  2. puppylover#1 says:

    not cool to use it for unschool like things!!

  3. Bill From Consulting says:

    i think kids should be allowed to use it in school

    • I agree with you!

    • SoniaSky says:

      I dont think so. Kids need to be focusing on school work.

    • To SoniaSky, This article is incomplete, they never state whether or not the students were permitted to use the phone in class. Some teachers don’t find it a problem and let us have it sit on our desk and we can ask permission to use it. In my computer graphics class we can’t use phones, yet we can listen to music while working on a project. Many students are typically respectful enough from my experience to at least not talk on the phone or listen to music during instruction. They also never state here out of the 591 people actually use cell phones and they could bend the data to look worse than it actually is, what if only 50% of the 591 used phones and that 95% were the users, that’s only 47.5%, not 95%. We obviously don’t know that, but keep that in mind when you read articles, the explicit data is required to post results.

  4. Cellphones are a huge problem where I teach. They’re also being stolen at an alarming rate.

  5. I think cellphone should be use in school for emergency only

  6. i think they should because if somone is hurt and if they have a phone and they copy just take a picture

  7. I think that kids shouldnt use cell phones if they dont want it taken away and actually pay attention to school and not to senseless things like Facebook.

    • Well you see, you have to think of the upsides to haveing technology in classrooms. I go to an early college high school where we were given iPads. It eliminated the amount of books that we had to carry, and they let us take them home so we can work on homework assigned to us. Also, we can further our eduction with them. Not everything is bad. I may only be a freshman, but please hear me out. It’s not a bad thing because I have witnessed firsthand the advantages of having technology in classrooms.
      Thank you,

  8. cell phones can be a distraction depending on the student, but can at the same time be a helpful tool in the classroom.

  9. grandpa Gregggg says:

    i love this ! jk i hate it

  10. There is nothing as insulting to a teacher who spends hours planning their lessons than to be teaching and seeing a kid with earbuds in his ears or watching students as they scroll their phones during class or watching the reflection of the phone screen light in a students face while you’re trying to teach. Children are not supposed to use phones in the classrooms of my school district yet they plug them in around the room (or try) and then someone steals it. Then they come to us, the teachers to try and find their phones. I’ve had 7 phones stolen in my 6 classes this year. Give me a brake. There are apps that are free to load on your phone to track it. I teach, I’m not the cellphone police. Now I know why the teacher on a You Tube video took a cellphone and smashed it on the floor during class. WE’RE SICK OF CELLPHONES! SIGNED A TEACHER

    • A random student says:


    • Thank you for finding that spelling mistake :) haha you’d think that a TEACHER would know how to spell.

    • Haha IKR!! You’d think a TEACHER would know how to spell -_-

    • A Random Kid says:

      Man I’d hate to be in this guy’s classroom. It would be like the Charlie Brown teacher, BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH…… BBBBLLLLLLLLLAAAAAAAHHHHHHH. Signed, someone who has nothing better to do.

  11. Y’all are all so stupid ! Students should have cell phones in school

  12. A Random Person says:

    I was doing a research paper for school on cell phones in school, and this article helped a lot.

  13. John Smith says:

    I’m looking at this in class :)

  14. Samuel Peterson says:

    What If u break a leg and ur parents aren’t home or don’t answers the school but they answers u so u need ur phone to call someone for emergencies at least

  15. Random says:

    Cell phones should totes be used in school cuz they make kids look totes awesome

  16. Cynthia says:

    I think cell phones r awesome… And if kids wanna throw away grades and play their phones all through class they should be able to. But the smart kids who want to go to college and get a job could be smart and listen.

  17. Cynthia says:

    That’s what I think.

  18. They should have phones be able to use phones need to text parents maybe.

  19. Cells are the best it don’t matter I got all A’s and B’s.

  20. They trip-pin

  21. I think kids should use their phones and be able to do whatever they want because kids have just the Same amount of rights like adults have. We are human beings too!!!!!

  22. Haha yeah I am southern xD lol y’all are all pretty awesome :) y’all got contacts?

  23. Haha yeah I am southern xD lol y’all are all pretty awesome :) y’all got contacts? -_- er met gerd why you no send comment?

  24. DON'T READ THIS!!! says:

    I LIKE PIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Another teacher says:

    As a teacher, I am apalled at the number of students that use their cell phones in the classroom. It has definitely become a huge problem.

    What’s apalling is the fact that many students today are so far behind academically; as unprofessional as it may sound, they’re so stupid, they don’t even realize how stupid they are. Most kids today (I imagine those of you who are on this board supporting cell phones in class)
    cannot write a single sentence without any errors in it, much less an essay. And when they’re taught how to write, they absorb very little of it- probably because during most of the lesson, they’ve got their noses in their cell phones. And they’re doing the same thing when you’re reading a story with them in class. High school kids’ reading and writing skills today are generally about what 3rd grade level used to be. Without ever reading anything besides text writing, they will never develop competitive reading or writing skills. In addition, they’re no better in math. Many kids are getting up into high school now, to the shagrin of their algebra teachers, not even knowing their multiplication tables. At the top of the list of the ignorant students are those who constantly have their noses in their cell phones. I notice that students who learn a lot and make good grades never use their cell phones during a class lesson- they pay attention.

    And then the argument about “emergencies” comes up. Cell phones have redefined what we choose to call “emergencies”. Many so-called emergencies are things that could have been pre-arranged before the kid even got to school- such as dressing appropriately and how they are going to get home- and other messages to and from parents. As for true emergencies, they existed long before there ever were cell phones, and people still managed to get the help they needed.

    We can’t blame kids alone for their cell phone usage in class. After all, someone is paying for them to text in their classes. Probably the same individuals who are calling and texting them while they are sitting in a class- yes, the parents. Gone are the days when most kids would come to school with a notebook, paper, pencils, and pens. Some kids (i.e. those who don’t use their phones in class) still do. What’s amusing is those who come to class with nothing but a cell phone- and quite a fancy one at that. It’s “too expensive” to buy their child school supplies, but quite affordable to pay a bill every month for their child to text in his or her classes. Go figure. And I just love the students who are failing all or most of their classes, perhaps even failed a grade level, and are walking around with cell phones as fancy as a working professional adult can afford. So much for parental discipline, hunh? I cell phone should be a luxury for a child.

    I surely would welcome anyone who has kept his or her nose out of his or her cell phone enough to be able to correct my spelling. It was a pleasure.

    • #Ottawastrong says:

      Sometime the emergency is real like what happened in ottawa yesterday. You think emergencys are not real they are.

  26. i agree with the teacher on the phone study

  27. My sons teacher makes everyone hold up their cell phones at the beginning of class and then has the children turn them off for the duration of the class.

  28. I don’t think it’s too much to ask students to turn off their phones for the duration of the class. Any text messages they receive will be there for them at the end of class. They can check their messages in between classes.

  29. As a student I believe that its fine to have your phones in class because its a helpful tool and not all of those numbers are correct. Not all students are like that. If you really want to find out about cell phone use at school the just ask your kids if you don’t want them to use them at school then don’t buy a phone for them. Maybe you are just not able to cope with the fact that technology is making its way into schools and thats how some learn. It’s not fair to students if you go and rant about on the internet instead of asking them first. It’s not fair to not ask them you’re not talking to them. You’re just taking something that an adult has said and not asking the students. Sometimes we need to have them. Sometimes people don’t learn the same at you. Sometimes we are unique.
    Plus you are ones to talk you use them every day at work. You talk on the phone you text and use tecnologie. do people go online an do surveys on you? NO! So why are you doing it to us. It’s not fair to us and its not fair to you either.