Cellphones in the classroom

By Jenn Watt

Published Sept. 3 2019

As we head into the new school year the Ontario government has announced it’s going forward with its classroom cellphone ban to take effect in November. The new rules will allow the devices for instructional purposes and during the students’ personal time but not during instruction.
This makes good sense but has been criticized by some as unenforceable and heavy handed especially in a world that is increasingly reliant on technological literacy.

What we should all be able to agree on is that students need to learn without unnecessary distractions. There’s already enough going on in any given classroom for both teachers and students without also adding cellphones or other devices. Measures should be taken to ensure a stable learning environment.
However just because cellphones are the current classroom menace we can’t forget that distractions have always been around. For those who remember a time before smartphones there was a little thing called a “note” that provided plenty of diversions in the classroom.
When you were bored you wrote notes to your friends concocting a way to get them across the classroom delivered through a network of allies you hoped wouldn’t flub the pass-off. The information was mostly unimportant and certainly not instructional – you could say it was a distraction.
Teachers who were on the ball and concerned about maintaining order were alert to note passing and would confiscate – and read aloud – those notes as punishment. And we students learned when it was not worth the risk. Their intervention probably helped us learn more too.
Although not as flashy and mesmerizing as a cellphone notes certainly filled that role which is to say that students will always find something to be distracted by whether it’s a new piece of technology like a smartphone or an old one like a pea-shooter.

The issue is enforcement and that’s when what is presented as a provincial directive will really come down to individual teachers.
Could a province-wide ban have been imposed on note passing? We will never know but likely no matter the rules some students would continue finding ways to pass their time while some teachers would be sure to crack down on those who did.
To all of the teachers who will be responsible for enforcing the ban the best of luck. Hopefully it proves easier than critics have predicted. Whether this is the remedy or not it’s undeniable that cellphones can be a barrier to learning. We just need to learn how to best control them.

Bye Vanessa
Our thanks to Vanessa Balintec our summer reporter who this week returns to her studies at Ryerson University in the journalism program. We’re sure that all of the Echo readers enjoyed Vanessa’s coverage of community news and events over the summer and we appreciated the enthusiasm and fresh perspective she brought to our office. We wish Vanessa all the best as she continues working toward a career in journalism.