What role do cellphones play in Canadian classrooms?

Matthew Coutts
What role do cellphones play in Canadian classrooms?

There's much ado about the cellphone's role in modern society and, save for a handful of traditional holdouts, we have all pretty much agreed that the devices fall into the same category as wallets and house keys.

When you leave the house, you bring them. And if you realize you've forgotten it or lost it somewhere, the reaction is most commonly to stare at a wall until the sense of vertigo subsides.

Which is what makes a recent decision by a group of Ontario teachers so notable. CBC News reports that at its recent general meeting, the teachers' union did not ban student cellphones from the classroom.

But they did order then to be turned off and stowed away, unless a staff member authorized its use.

[ Related: Elementary teachers' union updates electronic device policy ]

Debate over the cellphone's role in classrooms — are they a distraction or a potential learning tool? — is nothing new.

But this nugget from that recent teachers' union meeting is worth noting. The union in question was the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario (ETFO).

Elementary school teachers. Up to Grade 6. Children, the youngest of them.

The ETFO voted to adjust their personal electronic device policies (so, they're not even new) to state that such devices be stored and "turned off" during the instructional day.

It also notes that the unauthorized use of electronics "including cyberbullying and harassment of school staff and students and the inappropriate or unauthorized use of photos, video, or audio" be addressed in the school code of conduct policies.

The former policy stated that devices should be stowed away, not necessarily turned off, during class.

While the new policy isn’t exactly swinging the doors open for cellphones to be used as a learning tool, as some would recommend, it pretty much maintains the status quo. Meantime, there has elsewhere been a trend toward more acceptance of cellphones in school.

[ More Brew: Canada’s wireless war of 2013: Whose side should we be on? ]

The Upper Canada District School Board in southeastern Ontario introduced a "BYOD" (or "bring your own device") policy at area schools this year, a change meant to embrace the learning potential of electronic devices.

The Toronto District School Board voted two years ago to abandon a cell phone ban in its schools. The former policy, intended to avoid inappropriate use of the device, was rescinded and replaced with a policy that recognized the "evolving nature of such technology."

The new policy leaves it to teachers to determine the rules in their classrooms.

In most jurisdictions, the final decision is left up to the schools themselves. But where it was once inconceivable to consider that a student would have a phone in school, it is now more prevalent, even with rules stating when they are to be shut off.

And even when the students are still in elementary school.

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