Use of Digital End User Devices as a Pedagogical Tool in Schools – An international review



In addition to blackboard and chalk, school books and notebooks, many schools around the world have chosen to integrate digital technologies (like laptops, tablets and smartphones as pedagogical tools) as a part of "E-learning" programs. One of the most popular models for these programs is  "Bring Your Own Device", in which the pupil uses his personal device in his studies.

Alongside the advantages of using technology as a learning tool and in light of the widespread use of digital devices by children and youth, careful consideration of the possible health and welfare effects of this usage is necessary, especially in light of the fact that children and youth are considered population at-risk.




The Tnuda Center conducted a comprehensive review to examine whether there is a national policy for "E-learning" programs in various countries, and whether there is any reference to the possible health effects of implementing the programs. To this end, a special survey was prepared and sent to ministries of education around the world and in addition, policy documents were reviewed.


The survey indicates that while various organizations express a certain concern regarding the possible health effects of using end-user devices emitting non-ionizing radiation for educational purposes, there is – in general - lack of national policy on this topic. In practice, most countries choose to leave the responsibility of implementing "E-learning" programs to the school level.

There are several possible explanations contributing to this phenomenon. One of the explanations is the scientific uncertainty regarding the health risks which makes it difficult for countries to translate this risk into guidelines.


In this article, you can read about the survey and its results, the possible health effects of using end user devices as a learning tool, and the Tnuda Center’s recommendations, whose main thrust is the need for considering educational and health perspectives when formulating policy for school usage of end user devices in general and of cellphones in particular.


Schools around the world are adopting computerization programs ("E-learning) integrating information and communication technologies as learning media in schools (use of devices such as smartphones, tablets etc. for educational purposes). The integration of technology in schools was set as an educational goal throughout the world by the International Telecommunication Union (a branch of the United Nations).


According to UNESCO report (2013) the two most popular models of digital learning in schools are:

  • 1 :1 “A device for each student”, in which the school provides each pupil with a device free of charge
  • BYOD – Bring Your Own Device – the pupil uses his personal device for learning


As the 1:1 model involves high costs, interest in the BYOD program has increased, and in recent years more and more countries allow pupils and teachers to use personal end user devices for learning purposes. The goal of integrating technology into learning is to supply the children with skills for living and working in the digital age, amongst other things.


Alongside the advantages of digital technology use for educational purposes and given the widespread of use of digital devices by children, careful consideration of the possible health and welfare effects of this usage by children is necessary.


The following review will evaluate whether a national policy exists in various countries regarding use of end user devices emitting non-ionizing radiation for educational purposes, and whether possible health effects are considered when implementing E-learning programs.

To this end, the Tnuda Center conducted a survey that was sent to ministries of education in a number of countries that run E-learning programs, and in addition policy documents from countries around the world were reviewed.


The Tnuda survey questionnaire was sent to 29 states.


Information was received from 17 states in the world; 15 states answered the survey questionnaire - Ireland, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Canada (Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta), the United States (Washington, Texas), New Zealand, Britain, Australia, (including Victoria ,Australian Capital Territory, South Australia).In 2 additional states – Sweden and Canada (Manitoba) the information was compiled using policy documents.



  Survey Results



Computerization Program in Schools and National Policy

  • For the most part, there are no national programs for use of end user devices in schools
  • The decision on using end user devices for learning is made at the level of each school or municipality


End User Devices Used in the Programs

Programs are not usually limited to specific devices. For the most part, the school decides which devices may be used. A number of devices were noted, like laptop computers, iPads, smartphones, Chromebooks and tablets.

Which end-user devices are being used in schools?

It is noted that these answers were given by the ministries of education, but in actuality it is the schools that determine which end user devices may be used. Therefore, even in the instances where smartphones were not noted as an educational medium, this does not necessarily mean that these devices are not used, and vice versa, in the countries that replied that smartphones are being used it is possible that certain schools prohibit this.


Age Restrictions on End User Devices

No age –specific restrictions were found except for:

  • Washington State (USA) – in certain places use of end user devices is permitted only in middle school or high school
  • Norway – the BYOD program is implemented mainly in high schools. There is more use of tablets in primary schools and laptop computers in middle schools


Guidelines for Educated Use of End User Devices (such as keeping a distance from the device, turning off the device when not in use, turning on flight mode, time restriction)

Guidelines, if they exist, are determined at the local level (municipality / school). Schools have the authority to make their own policy on technology use (it is important to emphasize, that this response was given by various education ministries and in order to check the existence of guidelines on educated use of end user devices, investigation needs to be conducted at the level of individual schools).

?Are there any guidelines for educated use of end user devices


Guidelines for Wi-Fi Use in Schools

?Are there Guidelines for Wi-Fi Use in Schools


Parental Opposition due to Concerns about Students’ Health

It was found that there is minimal opposition amongst parents to using end user devices in learning. That said, when parental concerns do arise, they are usually directed to health ministry publications to receive information on the subject.

Below are examples of subjects that bothered parents about using digital learning devices in schools:

  • Norway –A number of parents’ inquiries on the subject of radiation exposure were reported, also some concerns arose regarding ergonomic problems
  • Ontario (Canada) – The Ministry of Education occasionally receives responses from parents concerned about use of Wi-Fi or mobile devices in schools
  • British Colombia (Canada) –A few parental concerns regarding BYOD in schools were reported, which had been referred to the ministry of education.

Also Alberta (Canada), Washington State (USA) and New Zealand noted that they occasionally receive inquiries from concerned parents or teachers.


Apart from the survey, Tnuda has identified references to possible health effects of digital learning use, among various policy documents published by organizations and states:


The UNESCO Policy Guidelines for Mobile Learning (2013) document notes that:

  • Safe, responsible and healthy use of digital learning should be promoted
  • A strategy should be clearly formulated to strike a balance between online communications and wired communications, in cases where there is concern about increased screen time and over usage of ICT (Information and Communication Technology)
  • Scientific studies should be performed to investigate health risks related to use of wireless devices, especially those resulting from prolonged use.


Specific references to the use of cellphones:

  • European Commission, 2016 – when implementing BYOD, the small screen size, which constitutes a limitation, especially when the device is used for content consumption, needs to be taken into account
  • AAP – American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013 – The organization’s recommendation to schools: educate and provide information on the subject of health risks associated with unsupervised and unlimited use of media by children and adolescents. Parental guidance should be encouraged for the restriction and supervision of screen time according to age. Regarding schools that are already using technology, strict rules about the pupils’ browsing options should be made
  • ANES, 2015 (The French National Agency for Health and Food, Environment and Workplace Safety) – Children should be encouraged to moderate their use of cellphones
  • BYOD, A guide for school leaders, European Schoolnet, October 2015 – (document by European Schoolnet, a non-profit organization uniting 34 ministries of education for advancing innovation in education and teaching) – the health concerns from using personal devices at home and in schools is from the effects such as eye problems, sleep problems and other problems related to exposure to cellphones and Wi-Fi networks

References to health effects in policy documents in Canada and the United States:

  • Manitoba (Canada) - (There is a BYOD program in schools)
    The schools must take into account the health effects related to ICT use such as: eye strain, ergonomic problems, sleep problems, addiction etc. It is also important that teachers discuss the importance of breaks or disconnecting from devices from time to time, in order to minimize possible health risks
  • USA – Departments of education and health (guidelines for use of technology by young children, 2016)
    Educators are supposed to consider technology use – amongst other things, does the device have characteristics that will cause distraction from learning. Furthermore, educators of young children need to consider the child’s total time spent using technology during the day and the week.




Summary of the Survey Findings

  • In the past few years education systems in various states are integrating digital learning in schools
  • The survey presents the position of ministries of education that for the most part placed the operational responsibility on schools
  • In general there is no national policy for integration of end user devices as educational tools. The policy is set at the local level (each municipality / school)
  • End user devices for educational purposes are varied
  • For the most part, there are no age restrictions for digital media use in schools
  • There are no guidelines for educated use of end user devices for educational purposes on a national level
  • Recommendations of ministries of education rely mainly upon documents from health ministries (general statements)
  • A number of organizations and states have referred to possible health effects of using digital learning (such as exposure to radiation, ergonomic problems, eye strain resulting from working with a small screen etc.)


Possible Health Effects of Using End Users Devices as Educational Tools in Schools



1. Exposure to Non-Ionizing Radiation

The subject of health effects of exposure to non-ionizing radiation, such as that emitted from wireless networks, cellphones and other end user devices, is widespread and complicated. In 2011, The World Health Organization classified radiofrequency radiation emitted from cellphones as a “possible carcinogen in humans”.

Because of the scientific uncertainty about the health effects of the radiation emitted from cellphones, many organizations around the world, including the Israeli Ministry of Health, have recommended adopting the precautionary principle – especially regarding children and adolescents, considered population at risk.

According to this principle, reasonable measures to reduce possible risks should be taken, even in the absence of sufficient scientific evidence of health damage liable to be caused by a certain factor. The most important rule for reducing exposure to non-iodizing radiation is distancing the source of radiation from the body, based upon the fact that the radiation decreases the more the distance grows from the radiation source.


2. Additional Health Effects

2.1. Health Effects associated with increased screen time

One of the results of implementing a BYOD program and the use of end user devices at school is a significant increase in pupils’ screen time, in school and at home. From a health perspective, different states have recommended limiting children’s screen time during the day (usually reference is to screen time for entertainment purposes, and screen time for learning purposes is not taken into account). An article from 2016 that investigated the health effects of BYOD program implementation in Australia, recommended that schools identify and supervise the risks associated with increasing screen time. The article pointed out that although Australian schools focus on internet safety regarding risks resulting from use of information technology and communications, limited attention has been given to health effects related to increased screen time. It suggested checking how much screen time will be added as a result of the program before its implementation, and whether health effects of program implementation exist.

Increase in screen time is associated with various health effects, such as:

  • Weight gain
  • Addiction
  • Depression
  • Sleep disturbances in a survey conducted by the Tnuda Center on the subject, it was found that there are studies demonstrating a significant association between digital media use right before lights out time and at night and sleep disorders
  • Behavioral problems (distraction) - the introduction of the cellphone to the classroom is liable to cause distraction, which is an “acquired” attention deficit disorder

The UK Ministry of Education appointed an external expert consultant to evaluate the association between using cellphones, distraction from studying and disruptive behavior. The conclusions of the consultant’s report, published in March 2017, were, amongst other things, that smartphones should be used only in circumstances where the teacher has explicitly defined a specific educational purpose that the phone can provide. It was noted that school principals need to be aware of the possible adverse health effects and to consider the advantages versus the disadvantages. In addition, most of those interviewed (teachers and school principals), noted that distraction resulting from use of technology constitutes a disadvantage whose importance outweighs the advantages of using it. In addition, many of them noted that use of technology is not essential most of the time.


2.2. Health effects related to cellphone screen size

Using cellphones is liable to cause various health effects related to the size of the device and the manner it is held while in use:

  • Visual problems
  • Cognitive effects
  • Orthopedic effects (ergonomic problems)


Conclusions and Recommendations





The survey indicates that while various organizations express a certain concern regarding the possible health effects of using end-users devices emitting non-ionizing radiation for educational purposes, there is – in general - lack of national policy on this topic. In practice, most countries choose to leave the responsibility of implementing "E-learning" programs to the school level.

Therefore, the question arises: why do health concerns are not translated into practical actions, such as guidelines for program implementation and for educated technology use, especially given the fact that children and youth are considered a population at-risk?


There are a number of reasons for this gap. Firstly, radiofrequency radiation has been classified by the World Health Organization as possible carcinogen. This lack of scientific certainty on the question of health risks makes it difficult for countries to translate this risk into guidelines. This difficulty increases with the rapid pace of technological development and its increasingly pervasive presence in everyday life including in schools. In addition to this, research does not manage to keep pace with the rate of development and to either confirm or refute the possible risk.


In Israel, unlike many countries, there is an attempt to consider the health aspect with the cooperation of the ministries of Education, Health and Environmental Protection and to implement guidelines, accordingly.


Inter-ministerial cooperation gives rise to balanced solutions to technology integration within the school framework taking into account the health aspect. An example of this cooperation can be found in the case of Wi-Fi use in schools, where a General Director Statement was published by the  ministry of education (“The integration of communications equipment and end devices in schools – health and safety effects”, 5773 / 3.6-11 10).  In this statement,  different options for reducing exposure to radiation are noted (such as age restriction, limiting time of use, installing wired access point at the teacher’s station, and giving a priority to teaching computer applications that do not require using a wireless network).


This cooperation was also noted regarding the issue of cellphone usage as an educational tool in schools. General Director Statement 3.6-12 “Use of end user devices for educational purposes” determines that pedagogical activity in computerization programs takes place only using computers or tablets. At this stage, pedagogical activities using other end user devices such as smartphones are not allowed. As stated, the decision is based upon health considerations relying upon the fact that cellphones are a significant source of radiation located adjacent to the user’s body, and the precautionary principle (distancing the phone from the body) cannot be applied while using this device for learning purposes.


It is noted that regarding public concern, Israel is a unique case where the issue of Wi-Fi use in schools reached a High Court decision because of parental protest (in contrast to the states investigated in the survey where only minimal parental objection was found to introduction of this technology to schools).


Given the widespread use of digital devices by children and youth and their introduction into school settings, our position is that possible health effects of this usage on children’s health and welfare must be considered, and the full scope of educational and health aspects should be taken into account when making policy regarding the use in schools of end user devices in general and cellphones in particular.



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Updated: 9.7.2018