UCP government mulls Ontario cell phone ban, asks parents for input

Medeana Moussa, spokesperson for the parent advocacy group Support Our Students, says schools need to do a better job of teaching students about responsible cell phone use.

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As Ontario Education takes the bold step of banning cell phones in all K-12 classrooms by this fall, the UCP government is surveying Albertans on the same issue, asking them how to best manage cell phone use in the schools.

But parents and teachers say the issue is more complex than an outright ban, arguing that responsible use of cell phones (including better digital literacy and online citizenship taught in younger grades) is the best solution.

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At the same time, the Alberta Teachers Association will present a resolution to its annual meeting later this month, asking that teachers not allow cell phone use during instructional time.

“I’m concerned about a general policy,” said ATA President Jason Schilling.

“When the government creates a policy that must be implemented in schools, that policy is simply downloaded to teachers, administrators and other staff.

“And we know that school staff are already facing many challenges in terms of large class sizes and complexity.”

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Last weekend, Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced strict new measures aimed at reducing distractions and improving learning in K-12 schools.

The new policy means that for the 2024-25 academic year, all Ontario students under grade six will be required to keep their phones out of sight during the school day. Students in grades 7-12 will not be allowed to use cell phones at all during class time.

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‘We have to learn to be responsible’

A growing body of research and evidence shows that increased cell phone and social media use in young people can contribute to lower self-esteem, depression, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts. Young people may also be at risk of temptation, trafficking and other types of online abuse.

Medeana Moussa, spokesperson for the parent advocacy group Support Our Students, says the growing evidence is a big part of the reason why schools need to do a better job of teaching students about responsible cell phone use.

“The use of these phones is omnipresent in our society, we have to learn to be responsible,” he said.

“But as many children get older, social media becomes another part of their lives that they have to manage, especially in high school, where they have to navigate this new social order.

“And there is also the addictive element, which is built into social media platforms. “We know it is intentional and can have a big impact on vulnerable children.”

A recent student survey released by the Calgary Board of Education showed that the majority of students admit that they do not limit screen time responsibly.

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According to 2022-23 data, only 43 percent of students in grades 5-12 felt they “didn’t get much screen time during the day.”

CBE and CCSD allow schools and teachers to create their own policies

Moussa argued that as Alberta Education is in the midst of a curriculum revamp, it must take a closer look at how to teach digital literacy, ensure online safety and recognize misinformation, as well as digital citizenship, to prevent online harassment.

But CBE officials say that while they don’t have a specific board-wide cell phone policy, they are already ensuring students learn those strong digital skills.

“Our schools can create their own cell phone use policies that work for their school communities,” said CBE spokesperson Joanne Anderson.

Several schools have phone policies that limit the use of electronic devices during school hours, Anderson added, including “day absence” policies that require students to keep phones and other devices in their lockers unless permitted by the teacher. specific learning purposes.

“We support and protect students as they develop online safety skills and learn to be good digital citizens in an environment that is safe, but gradually broadens their experience.”

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Cell phones in class
File photo: Frontenac High School students store their cell phones in cans in classrooms, an initiative started in March 2018, to help students disconnect from cell phones during class time. Julia McKay/The Whig-Standard/Postmedia Network

Calgary Catholic School District officials also don’t have a blanket policy on cell phones, and say teachers can allow their use at their discretion.

“CCSD believes that cell phones can be used positively in schools when specifically incorporated into lesson plans,” said spokesperson Joanna French.

Alberta ‘closely watching’ Ontario politics: education minister

Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said all avenues will be explored through the provincial-level survey, which asks a variety of questions about what is and is not appropriate cell phone use in schools and classrooms.

“We are taking a close look at the new rules the Ontario Government just announced to better understand how they will be implemented,” Nicolaides said.

“Earlier this year I made a commitment to talk more to parents, teachers and others about cell phone use in Alberta schools and I am happy to make good on that commitment.”

Nicolaides added that while educators have said mobile phones can be used to support learning, there are areas of concern.

“Several studies suggest that smartphone and social media use can negatively impact mental health, affect teens’ self-view, and more,” he said.

“It is imperative that we look at all possible measures to combat the growing mental health issues among our young people and ensure we reduce the number of distractions that could impede their learning.”

Parents, students and interested Albertans can find the survey, available online until May 3, at this link: https://your.alberta.ca/cellphones-in-schools/survey_tools/en

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