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Local school divisions not following Ontario lead on cellphones

Posted on April 11, 2019 by Vauxhall Advance

By Cole Parkinson
Vauxhall Advance

With Ontario banning cellphones in classrooms starting this September, discussions around whether the province should be the one to set these rules have been happening in local jurisdictions.

With both Horizon School Division and Holy Spirit Catholic School Division present in the Taber area, they have discussed the changes made in Ontario even though Alberta’s education minister David Eggen has said Alberta is not considering implementing a similar ban.

“With regard to cellphones in schools, I can certainly understand where Ontario is coming from. Cellphones are a major tool for cyberbullying. The issue I have with simply removing them is that you do not change student behaviour as they can still engage with the technology outside of school in a negative way. I’d rather take a more proactive approach and focus on proper digital citizenship,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of schools for Horizon.

Similarly, Holy Spirit Ward 5 trustee Pat Bremner doesn’t think the ban in Ontario is a good idea moving forward.

“I personally do not agree with Ontario’s position. I believe that teaching kids to use devices (phones, tablets, laptops, etc.) responsibly is preferable to banning them,” she explained.

Both believe the banning of these devices should fall in the hands of individual schools after consulting with both staff and parents.

Having a blanket ban across all schools of a province could also hamper plenty of learning opportunities that teachers may want to use in their classrooms.

“School council meetings are a perfect avenue for school administrators, parents and the trustee to discuss the problems and advantages of devices in classrooms. All parents/guardians in Alberta are automatically part of the council and a meeting with this topic on the agenda may well attract many diverse ideas and thoughts about the benefits and problems of cellphones in the classroom. The conversation will likely vary from school to school,” said Bremner. “My thoughts are grounded in the fact that we do not know what technology is coming our way. Who of my generation could have predicted the cellphone? Who imagined a PVR 30 years ago? Given the speed of change, I believe we should learn to meld cellphones with instruction before the next electronic tool arrives. It is only through proper usage that cellphones can be learning tools and not distractions.”

Tymensen sees a provincial-wide ban as a way of sweeping the issue of cellphones in classrooms under the rug instead of teaching kids of when and where to use their devices.

“Provincial bans ignore context and force schools where the issue is not present to alter their practice. (e.g. schools, where phones are used properly as powerful learning tools, can no longer employ that tool). It’s kind of like saying ‘driving carelessly kills people so lets ban cars’ when the better solution might be ‘careless driving kills people so lets put proper training in place and provide a gradual release of responsibility when people show they can drive responsibly’,” he explained. “Having said that, D.A. Ferguson has decided to ban cellphones. This decision was made in consultation with staff and parents, and their context was not used to make decisions at other schools.”

With technology advancing quickly, the need to incorporate it into the classroom varies between not only schools, but from classroom to classroom.

Though they can be used as learning tools, there will always be a distraction present.

“Cellphones can be used to help kids research during discussions, fact find, check the validity of a statement and so on. The phones, when used as a learning tool, can be very powerful and helps the student direct his or her own learning. However, having said that, I recognize that personal calls, texts, social media sites and the like will distract the student,” said Bremner. “In Holy Spirit, each teacher and every school has rules to help ensure the phones are used appropriately. Students sign a Student Responsible Use Agreement and, if required by the school, a Personal Digital Device Responsible Use Agreement.”

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