Mixed reaction to Ontario cellphone ban in classrooms

New proposal for students in primary and secondary schools to take effect in September

Student uses a cellphone on the way to class. Its use will be banned in primary and secondary school classrooms starting in September. Jack Adams/Toronto Observer

Reaction to the province’s ban on cellphones in classrooms, starting in September, is split among educators, parents and teachers.

Some are questioning the claims that banning cell phones would improve education in elementary and high schools, and they think phones can be useful in class.

“I have kids use their devices — whether its laptops, cellphones, or tablets — I let them use it to do research during class and I think they actually really like it,” says John Dawson, a department head at a York Region high school. “Kids are typing notes now on their technology more and more which is really awesome. If you use it where it’s connected to your curriculum, it’s engaging and fun.”

However, the Ontario government claims most people in the province support the ban.

“Last fall, we launched the largest-ever consultation on education in the history of Ontario,” Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement released in March. “During this consultation, we heard that 97 per cent of respondents support some form of a ban on cellphones.”

The ban is intended to let Ontario’s student “focus on their learning — not their cellphones,” she said.

The Progressive Conservatives first proposed the ban in their platform during the 2018 provincial election. The ban will not apply to the use of cellphones for educational, health and medical purposes or as assistance for students with special needs, they have said.

An educator who supports the ban is Brett Caraway, assistant professor of communication and technology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. He says it would improve student engagement.

“When I’m standing at the front of a lecture hall or classroom looking at the students, all I see is the back of their devices,” Caraway said in a telephone interview.

Another associate professor at U of T, Jeffrey Boase, who specializes in new media, is doubtful about the decision of banning cellphones in classrooms. 

“I don’t think the approach of just banning them completely is necessarily positive,” Boase said in a telephone interview. “It would be nice if there was some opportunity for teachers who do use them, to justify the use.”

A student perspective leans even further towards not banning cellphones.

Clement Cheng, a student organizer at U of T, said he believes students should have cell phone rights. Cheng said in an interview that banning phones in schools stigmatizes students as irresponsible.

He gave the example that students could be coping with anxiety, or contacting people for emotional support with their cellphones. He discourages making assumptions about what phones are being used for.

“Hiring more educators and education assistants, decreasing the class sizes —that’s actually what makes a better learning environment, not a blanket prohibition on students personal devices,” he said.

Shortly after the announcement of the proposal, Statistics Canada released information on electronic use.

According to a survey completed in 2018 by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Ontario has 89 per cent smartphone penetration, and the largest number of wireless subscribers in Canada.

MediaSmarts, a Canadian non-profit organization based in Ottawa,  revealed in a 2014 survey, that about a quarter of grade four students have their own cellphone.

The same survey revealed that by grade seven, about 52 per cent of students have their own cellphone.

Although, many educators say teaching proper technology habits in classrooms is crucial.

Similar to educators’ opinion, the TDSB encourages technology in classrooms.

“It may make sense to use a cellphone in one class, but not make sense in another,” said Ryan Bird, a TDSB communications spokesperson. “That is why we leave the cellphone decision up to individual schools and classrooms to do what works best for them.”

‘Impossible to enforce’

The Toronto District School Board plans on teaching students the importance of efficient technology use in and outside the classroom.

Dawson has seen a variety of restrictions being imposed on students during his time at York Region high school.

He was not shy in expressing his opinions on the matter and just how difficult a task this ban would be to enforce.

“To me it’s like a smokescreen, I wonder if anybody who tries to create these new rules is somebody who’s ever actually been in a school,” said Dawson. “It’s totally impossible to enforce. You’re telling me a kid walking in a school with 1,700 people, who has his whole life on his cellphone is going to be banned? How are you going to enforce that? Its stupidity.”

According to a release statement from CBC News, a 2015 London School of Economics and Political Science paper found that “student performance in high stakes exams significantly increases” with a ban on mobile phones. The improvements were largely seen among the students who were normally the lowest achieving.

“This suggests that restricting mobile phone use can be a low-cost policy to reduce educational inequalities,” the study found.

If there’s one part of the educational system that isn’t up in arms over the bans, it’s the provinces elite private institutions.

Such schools are not part of the ban as they fall outside the provinces jurisdiction. Each private school has its own policy on cellphone use in the classroom, sometimes banning them, sometimes not, and often leaving that decision with instructors.

A 2016 general survey from Statistics Canada revealed that nearly all Canadians under the age of 45 use the internet every day. According to Judy Arnall, a Calgary based parenting expert, the average age when kids gets their first cellphone is 10.   

The ban takes effect in the coming school year, beginning September 2019. Then new protocol will be announced by faculty to their students in the first week of school.

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Posted: Apr 4 2019 12:48 pm
Filed under: Education News