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Nova Scotia has no plans to follow Ontario's classroom cellphone ban

On Tuesday, Ontario's Conservatives announced that cellphones will be banned in classrooms starting in the 2019-20 school year
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On Tuesday, Ontario's Conservatives announced that cellphones will be banned in classrooms starting in the 2019-20 school year, fulfilling one of Doug Ford's election promises from last year.

The author of a 2012 report on cyberbullying in Nova Scotia schools is speaking up again to advocate for a provincial cellphone ban in this province as well.

Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law, says cyberbullying is just one of the concerns surrounding cellphone use in classrooms.

"In the seven years that have passed, I haven't changed my mind on that," says MacKay in an interview with NEWS 95.7. "I think many teachers would agree that it can be a major distraction in classrooms,"

But MacKay says there would be exceptions to the policy for students with disabilities, and for teachers who want to incorporate phones into their lesson plans.

"If it were in some way being used for educational purposes, then that's fine for that particular class," MacKay says.

The report has grown even more relevant since 2012, says Paul Bennett, lead education consultant with Schoolhouse Consulting.

"What we've learned over the past decade is it's become an unmanageable problem, and teachers everywhere are reaching out for help," Bennett tells NEWS 95.7's Rick Howe.

Bennett says an overarching ban would be hard to enforce, and that students should still be able to use their phones during lunch and between classes.

"Cell phones (should be) checked in student lockers, so parents can be assured they can reach their students at breaks," he says.

Bennett points out three main benefits to restricting cellphone use during class: improved student performance, preventing cyberbullying, and better concentration among students.

"Cellphone use is more prevalent among kids who can least afford to miss time," Bennett says, citing a U.K. study where struggling students' test scores improved by 14 per cent when phones were banned in the classroom, and improved six per cent among students overall.

However, the president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU), Paul Wozney, says blanket cellphone ban policies don't take into account students' unique needs. He gives the example of his experience teaching high school students who were newcomers from Syria.

"The cellphones that those students had and the cellphone that I had empowered us to use Google Translate so that we could do our jobs," Wozney says in an interview with NEWS 95.7's Sheldon MacLeod.

The NSTU President also feels the new announcement is a "bait-and-switch" from the Conservative government.

"This is a buck-a-beer stunt, a distraction from the mess he's making of public education," Wozney says.

Nova Scotia's Education Minister did not support a phone ban back in 2012, and current minister Zach Churchill says there are still no plans to make it provincial policy.

"We're not entertaining a cellphone ban right now. There's good examples of teachers using smartphones and digital technology to enhance the teaching and learning experience and we want them to be able to do that," he says.

Currently, it is up to individual schools -- and often even individual teachers -- to enforce electronic device use in their classroom. The Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) has no official policy, but several schools list their regulations in student handbooks and on their websites.

"It is not acceptable to have these devices out during instructional time for non-academic use," reads the policy at Sir John A. MacDonald High School in Tantallon.

Halifax West High School lists teaching "responsible digital citizenship and the appropriate use of technology" as one of their goals, but still says students using devices during class time without permission from a teacher could have the device confiscated.

Churchill acknowledges that new technology is always developing, and that we should embrace change rather than reject it.

"Trying to ban cellphones and new technology is like trying to stop the tides," he says. "We have to figure out how to harness this technology to enhance the learning and teaching experience as best we can."

Churchill says he's not aware of any requests for a ban from teachers at this time.




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Victoria  Walton

About the Author: Victoria Walton

After graduating from journalism at King's, Victoria Walton now works in the film industry and as HalifaxToday.ca's weekend editor.
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