Last month, an Ontario high school teacher wrote an anonymous open letter denouncing violence between students and teachers. In outlining specific actions the educator wanted the school board to take, one point stood out: a complete ban on cell phones.
It’s a tall order, but it’s an assignment some schools across Canada are asking their teenage students to do to reduce bad behavior, remove distractions and improve quality of life in the classroom.
Cell phones have a major impact on student mental health, said Sachin Maharaj, assistant professor of educational leadership, policy and program evaluation at the University of Ottawa.
Schools don’t just teach content, Maharaj told Breaking:, they also teach “habits of mind,” including the ability to think deeply, concentrate for long periods of time, and listen attentively and empathetically to others.
“I think when students are faced with this constant distraction from their phones, it diminishes their ability to do those kinds of things,” he said.
Some schools are seeing success with phone bans
From St. Thomas High School in Montreal to Elk Island Public Schools in Sherwood Park, Alta, school administrators are enforcing cell phone bans requiring students to lock their phones at the start of the day or turn them off during class. leave.
Teachers opposed to a ban say phones could be included in education, but at least one school That tried that ended up banning the devices when those plans fell apart.
Others say phones are an important link between school and home, especially for students at risk of violence.
Ontario is the only province in Canada with an active ban on mobile phones in the classroom. A similar proposal in Quebec was shot down last month, while others in Nova Scotia and BC met the same fate.
But a few individual Canadian schools and school districts have taken it upon themselves to ban students from using their phones. Chatelech Secondary School on BC’s Sunshine Coast banned cell phones six months ago, and the result has been remarkable, according to school counselor Tulani Pierce.
“We’re seeing improved mental health, we’re seeing less bullying, we’re seeing more engagement in the classroom, we’re seeing more social interaction,” Pierce said in an interview last month.
“Kids are playing instead of on their phones again and we’re seeing more academic success.”
Call a “lifeline” during bullying
Not everyone agrees that banning cell phones would be helpful to students, let alone enforceable.
Tony Djukic, a parent from Brampton, Ont., told Breaking: that his daughter, Karen, was using her cell phone to communicate with him when other kids started attacking her at her former school. She was a new student at the time, and he said the administration’s efforts to contain the bullying fell short.
According to Djukic, Karen’s phone was a life saver during a year of constant torment. It was both a faster path to physical safety and an emotional support tool — she had permission from the deputy principal to FaceTime her father on bad days.
“There was very little they could do to protect her, and access to her cell phone was kind of a lifeline because she could message myself or Mum, and we could then go to the school and get her out of situations where she was felt unsafe.” ,’ said Djukic.
“Without her phone, she would have spent many days anxious and worried at school without really being able to reach anyone.”
While the mobile phone ban in Ontario has been active since November 2019 – with an exception for devices used for learning purposes — Karen Djukic told Breaking: that, as far as she knows, the ban is actually rarely enforced.
“Anyone who has a cell phone brings it and uses it whenever they want in class,” she said.
“Some teachers have a trash can where they can take the phones for a period of time and then return them when we move on to a new class,” but she said if a student wants to ask for their phone to call their parents, the teacher will usually give them to leave.
Her father wondered how school staff could regulate the use of mobile phones in the classroom in addition to their other responsibilities.
“If they can’t enforce that students don’t attack each other, students aren’t aggressive or disrespectful, or even go as far as attacking teachers…how are they going to enforce that they don’t have phones?”
Bans should be comprehensive, says an expert
Katie Yu, a 17-year-old student in Iqaluit, said mobile phones are important for security reasons, but they also have practical uses in the classroom, making them a necessary tool during the school day.
She uses her own for research, taking notes, and planning extracurricular activities, but mostly keeps it under lock and key during class. It should be up to students to manage their own phone use, she said.
“Phones are an inevitable part of our daily lives,” she told Breaking:. “So I think it’s best to just make the most of them and be responsible while using them in school.”
According to Maharaj of the University of Ottawa, the mere presence of a phone in the classroom can be distracting for students who wonder what they’re missing if they don’t use their device. Jobs are especially hard to maintain when adults similarly depend on their phones, he said.
Therefore, a successful ban should be comprehensive — one that applies to the entire school with an established set of rules that don’t differ between classrooms, he said.
While some students can be disciplined by not using phones while a teacher is speaking, according to Maharaj, students should also learn to deal with silences in their day without pulling out their phones to check social media or play a game.
“A lot of creative thoughts come when we think we’re bored or not actively involved,” he said.
“As a society, we need to be able to create at least some space where teens can be more or less free from all those distractions, and I think schools should be one of those places.”
Connor Merson-Davies, a 15-year-old student from Saskatoon, told Breaking: that he often uses his phone during class. Sometimes he says he will grab his phone and before he knows it a whole period has passed. He said he would support a mobile phone ban.
The 10th grade student said his health sciences teacher built a wooden box for students to drop their phones into during class. He noticed more involvement and focus in himself and his classmates during class.
“I know my teachers get pretty annoyed and just feel really disrespected (when) people’s phones are off and we’re… not concentrating and really listening to what they’re saying.”