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Canadian Province to Ban Cell Phones from Classrooms

Education experts are cautiously hopeful about reducing distraction and cyberbullying

In the largest Canadian province, Ontario, the government is banning cell phone use in school system classrooms, with limited exceptions, starting in November. In adjacent francophone Quebec, some schools are also getting tough about the bop!bop!/taptap/yapyap/um, sorry, sorry, just a minute… of cell phones in class.

The province said the restriction applies to the use of cellphones during instructional time at school. Officials said exceptions will be made if cellphones are required for health or medical purposes, to support special education needs or for educational purposes allowed by the instructor.

According to the provincial government, 97 per cent of the parents, students and teachers to whom they spoke during consultations in the fall of 2018 said cellphone use should be restricted in some way.

Gabby Rodrigues, “Cellphone ban to take effect for students in Ontario classrooms by November 2019” at Global News (August 29, 2019)

And in Quebec:

Cellphones are forbidden in the classroom at Collège de Montréal, a private high school downtown with 1,500 students. “During the school year, phones are supposed to be left in students’ lockers, not carried on their person. I won’t say it’s a perfect system,” said Nathalie Lemelin, the school’s director of pedagogical development and innovations.

Most students at Collège de Montréal bring an iPad to school. During next week’s orientation days, incoming Secondary I students will learn how to set up their iPads for classroom use, including how to turn off distracting notifications.

Monique Polak, “Quebec schools give cellphone use a mixed reception” at Montreal Gazette

Meanwhile, St. Thomas High School (Pointe Claire (Montreal), Quebec) bans cellphone use on school property—even during recess and lunch (Jennifer Yoon, CBC News) Devices could be confiscated if students use them at the school.

Many education experts are cautiously hopeful:

Cellphone proliferation has affected student behaviour and compounded the very real challenges of class management. Tom Bennett, the author of a 2017 independent report on student behaviour for the British government, identified cellphones as the source of constant “low-level disruption.” Mr. Bennett, the founder of the global researchED movement of teachers demanding evidence-based teaching practice, recently likened the devices to “kryptonite in the classroom,” sapping the time and energy of classroom teachers.

The spread of mobile phones is intimately connected with cyberbullying in and around schools, as well. A pioneering 2012 Nova Scotia study of bullying produced by Dalhousie University’s Wayne MacKay, one of Canada’s leading law professors, highlighted that link and recommended a classroom ban on a trial basis long before such an idea became a hot-button issue.

Paul W. Bennett, “We should ban cellphones from classrooms. The research backs that up” at Globe and Mail

Paul Bennett goes on to point out that France and a number of jurisdictions in Britain, as well as some American ones, have already instituted such a ban and that several studies have identified improved scholastic performance as a result of such bans.

Critics have started a petition against the new Ontario rule because, they say, “Cellphones also help students focus in classrooms, especially if they were finishing assignments, they can listen to music which makes them focus on the work.”

Further reading on cell phones and students:

The Prof Banned Phones in Class. What Happened? Not a walkout. No riots. No revolution. Some insights though, that match up with other research

Nigerian Teens Create Sci-Fi With Cracked Smartphone. They love sci-fi and, well, if you are going to start, you have to start somewhere. (But this was an extracurricular activity.)

Scientific American: No Consensus on Smartphones’ Effect on Teen Brains. Others continue to wonder why teens seem comparatively fragile in a smartphone age.

The smartest phone is silent in class While academics debate smartphones’ effect on teens, some hard facts begin to emerge

Research: Kids’ phones steal sleep How important might 21 minutes less sleep a night be to a child?

Smartphone 10 Conversation 0 We need to be more honest about the addictive nature of the device, for some. Sherry Turkle, an MIT social scientist who has spent thirty years studying people’s relationships with technology, finds that the immediacy of the digital culture is exacting a steep toll.

Maybe iGen really is fragile. id social media’s trolls’ frenzies trigger the campus war on ideas? What happens when orcs burst suddenly through the virtual gate?


Quell the cell and the kids do well? That sounds simplistic but it worked at a girls’ school in New Zealand A small New Zealand boarding school for Maori girls has shown that wealth and color are not necessarily decisive factors in academic achievement. High goals, discipline and, perhaps most critically, a ban on cellphones, have seen St Joseph’s Maori Girls College reach the top 10 for University Entrance in this year’s high-school league tables, the NZ Herald reports.

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Canadian Province to Ban Cell Phones from Classrooms