B.C. won’t follow Ontario in banning cellphones in class

Ontario schools will soon say “c u l8r” to cellphones in class but don’t expect British Columbia to pick up on the trend.

Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement Tuesday that a cellphone ban during instructional time would be coming to public schools for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Exceptions would be made for when teachers want to use cellphones as part of their lesson, for medical reasons and students with special needs.

But B.C.’s Education Ministry said in a statement it was not considering similar provincewide restrictions.

B.C.’s Ministry of Education said it prefers to leave decisions about cellphone use up to individual school districts. (Martin Diotte/CBC)

“School districts are responsible for setting local policy that meets the unique needs of their student populations,” a statement from the ministry said.

“This includes developing policies addressing the use of wireless technology, including cellphones, in schools and implementing the appropriate technology necessary to support the education needs of their students.”

But those on the front lines of education are not unanimous on whether that approach should change.

‘It’s just exhausting as a teacher’

In Victoria, substitute teacher Holly Brinkman says at least two middle schools have put heavy restrictions on cellphones: Central Middle School and Shoreline Middle School.

Brinkman has worked at schools in the city with and without cellphone bans and for her, the difference is striking.

“Telling kids to get off their cellphones was the phrase that I got the most sick of saying the fastest,” Brinkman said. “It was constant, and it’s just exhausting as a teacher.”

“It’s allowing kids to be really distracted during moments when they should be focused.”

Brinkman believes the schools with cellphone bans are on to something.

She says students without phones are better at following lessons while those who use them often have to ask for information to be repeated.

Challenge to engagement

In Surrey, B.C.’s largest school district by enrolment, there are no cellphone bans and spokesperson Doug Strachan said that the district looks for ways to incorporate them into learning.

“These are the tools that our kids are growing up with. They’re connected all the time,” Strachan said. “It’s really a question of encouraging students to use them properly and appropriately and at the right times.”

Surrey district principal Antonio Vendramin said the more important issue is how to engage students in the classroom. (CBC)

District principal Antonio Vendramin said the challenge for educators is to find ways to keep students engaged and not looking for their phones at every opportunity.

“They enter kindergarten wide-eyed and curious and wanting to learn and that doesn’t always stay alive in a lot of learners.

“So, I think that that is the bigger question: how to engage learners so that they’re not distracted by technology and it’s not something that I think banning [a] device will do.”

The Vancouver School Board, in a statement, said it was not considering a district-wide ban either and instead leaves the decision up to each school.

Cyberbullying potential

Matt Westfall, president of the Surrey Teachers Association, however, thinks the province should consider following Ontario’s lead of banning cellphones in most situations.

He echoed concerns about the distraction potential of the devices. but also raised concerns about cyberbullying.

Matt Westfall, president of the Surrey Teachers Association, said among teachers, there’s no unified sense about whether or not cellphones should be banned in class. (CBC)

“We’ve seen cases where cellphones are used to take surreptitious videos or photographs which can be then used to target teachers or other students,” Westfall said.

“Totally unbeknownst to the teacher, students are being bullied right in the class through their cellphones through various online platforms.”

He acknowledges that many teachers use cellphones in lessons but suggested this may be a necessity because of a lack of tablets or computers in the classroom.

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