July 22nd, 2024

Province to ban cellphones at K-12 schools

By ANNA SMITH on June 18, 2024.

Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides makes an announcement Monday about cellphone is grade schools starting next fall.--SCREENSHOT

asmith@medicinehatnews.com

On Monday the province announced new incoming standards, restricting the use of personal electronics and cellphones within the classroom environment.

“I’m sure we all know, cell phones are an ever present feature of our daily lives and Alberta’s classrooms are no exception,” said Minister of Education Demetrios Nicolaides. “Cellphones can be used as a research and learning tool to stay up to date on other activities, practice schedules, club activities, a way to be connected with family and stay connected with loved ones.”

However, said Nicolaides, they can also be a destruction that can prevent students from reaching their full potential, and in some cases even put the mental health of the user at risk.

Feedback from more than 68,000 parents, teachers, education partners and students, identified that personal mobile devices and social media can negatively impact student achievement and mental well-being, and based on this information, they “must take steps now to combat these effects,” said Nicolaides.

“A 2017 study linked minors’ use of social media enabled in school by smartphones to depression and an increase risk of suicide. A 2016 study showed that smartphone use in school correlates to reduced educational success,” said Nicolaides. “Another study found that eighth graders who are heavy social media users increased their risk of depression by 27 per cent. The risks to students’ mental well being and academic success are real.”

These new standards will require personal devices to be both powered off and out of sight during instructional periods, as well as restrict social media site access in schools.

“I am confident that these restrictions will reduce restrictions, maximize learning time, support student mental health and reduce opportunities for cyber bullying,” said Nicolaides.

There will be a few situations when students can use a phone during class time, if needed for medical or health reasons, if needed to support special learning needs, if directed by a teacher, or any other reason as determined by a principal on a case by case basis, said Nicolaides. Every school authority will be required to create and implement policies in regards to these standards, including outlining enforcement, how exceptions will be managed and what the consequences will be for non-compliance.

Nicolaides was joined during the press conference by Dr. Michael Boyes, a developmental psychologist at the University of Calgary, who stated that while the effects of social media and smartphone usage are still being examined, it is “very clear that smartphones in the classroom negatively impact students’ abilities to focus and sustain their attention on their learning, but also on important developmental things like critical thinking, problem solving and planning skills.”

“I think the strategy of moving to limit access to smartphones in our schools is an important step towards helping our students focus their attention on the learning and the development they need to do, in order to flourish in the world that they’re going to move into when they go to school,” said Boyes.

The standards will be in place for Sept. 1 to coincide the beginning of the coming 2024-25 school year.

“As the current school year draws to a close, I know that many parents and students will have questions about what these restrictions will look like at their local school,” said Nicolaides. “To reiterate, at the beginning of the upcoming school year, all personal mobile devices will not be permitted during instructional time.”

He added that his team will be working closely with divisions to assist in implementation, and encouraged parents to stay tuned to their local school authority for the specific enforcement rules in their area.

In May, members of the Alberta Teachers’ Association voted in support of restricting smartphones in classrooms during instructional time.

President Jason Schilling said in a statement posted to social media the association is encouraged by this first step but cautioned there’s work to be done.

“There are still many lingering questions as to how this new ministerial order will be set up, and how teachers and school leaders will be supported when it’s rolled out this fall,” said Schilling.

Two overarching provincial organizations welcomed the change.

“Standards for mobile device use during instructional time which acknowledge exceptions and school authority autonomy will ensure a focus on learning,” Kerry Bodell, president of the Alberta School Councils’ Association, said in a statement.

Andrea Holowka, president of the College of Alberta School Superintendents, said, “Respecting the flexibility of school authorities to meet the unique learning needs of students within a regulatory framework is practical and greatly appreciated.”

Opposition NDP education critic Amanda Chapman said they are cautiously optimistic the change will balance learning with access to technology.

“What we have not seen from the government today is a commitment that students will learn about digital literacy,” Chapman said.

–with files from The Canadian Press

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