Province has no place in classroom cellphone policy

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Cellphone use in classrooms should be controlled by experienced teachers and school boards, not a government playing politics with regulation.   

Nonetheless, Premier Doug Ford campaigned on a promise to introduce a blanket cellphone ban in elementary and high schools across the province to “maximize learning time.”  

As students head back to school this month, the Premier’s statement has rekindled the debate surrounding phones in classes.

The fact remains: as a partisan government with no collective hands-on classroom experience, Ontario isn’t the right regulator of student activity. Rather, parameters for cellphone use in classes should be left to school boards and the educators within them. 

Cellphones are a ubiquitous part of life in 2018, and classrooms are no exception.

They’re commonly leveraged in schools as a resource for easy research and communication. They can promote accessibility and facilitate various creative education models. They are calculators, fact-checkers, encyclopedias, word processors and communication tools—all in the palm of your hand. 

Teachers sometimes need students to use their phones for these reasons. Cellphones must be integrated into our lives, and their recreational use managed case-by-case. They shouldn’t be banned across schools as if they don’t exist.  

Furthermore, regulating one’s own behaviour once in high school teaches students responsibility and minimizes student resentment toward authority figures like teachers.  

While it’s true not everybody owns or needs a phone—let alone the same technology standard across all phones—cellular devices are tools to be accommodated in places of learning. 

It’s productive for schools to assess the impact of phones on students, and to consider them as alternative learning tools. But a government seeking partisan support is not productive in regulating phones. 

There are numerous practical benefits to regulating phone use in the classroom. Some policy regarding cellphones in class is necessary and a reality in most schools. The question is not whether policy should exist—but rather, who makes that policy.

Until 2009, most Ontario school boards banned cellphones in class. As technology-based learning developed, that ban became redundant. Since then, teachers and school boards have worked hard to develop their own strategies tailored to each school. The provincial government’s attempted intervention invalidates their efforts. 

The Ontario government’s attempt to regulate student behaviour oversteps the boundary of school boards’ jurisdiction and undermines their authority. 

While a strict ban isn’t necessarily the answer to cellphone use in classes, it may benefit certain schools. No matter the cellphone use policy, it should be developed and applied by educators and their institutions—not by the province. 

 

Journal Editorial Board

 

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