Jewish schools in London are to play a leading role in the largest ever investigation into the effects of mobile phone use on the cognitive abilities of children.
Immanuel College in Bushey is one of only two schools — the other is non-Jewish Kingsmead School in Enfield — that will take an active role in the research being conducted by Imperial College London.
In addition, Charedi girls grammar school Beis Yaakov in Hendon will be used to provide a control group because its children do not use mobile phones.
160 secondary schools in London have been invited to take part in the study for 11 to 12-year-olds.
Chief researcher Dr Mireille Toledano said: “Immanuel College will take a key role as a partner in helping us shape all the materials, tests and surveys we are going to show the children. This will ensure that there is a strong educational component to the study and we can also bring the life sciences into the classroom.”
On the participation of Beis Yaakov school, she said: “Strictly Orthodox families are usually not that keen on their children having access to a mobile phone.”
By having the school involved in the three year stduy, she said, “It will be easier to compare any differences in their cognitive development.”
Dr Toledano said that the study, commissioned by the Department of Health and a number of mobile phone operators, will be the largest of its kind ever conducted, but will be limited to schools in London.
“Practically it would be quite hard for us to go to schools across the UK, she said. “Also because London is so large and has such as diverse ethnic and socio-economic mix, it should be a good representation of the whole country.”
The Imperial College health expert said she was reserving judgment on whether the effects of mobile phones were detrimental or could even be beneficial for children’s mental health.
“Prolonged exposure to radio frequencies could be damaging as the child’s brain is still developing,” she said. “But other factors such as texting and gaming actually involves using your cognitive functions a lot and your attention is very focused. So actually it’s possible that these children might have ‘brain training’ which allows them to perform better. We need to untangle these two very different aspects.”