Students Laura Tremeer and Mia Colangelo demonstrate how they might—only theoretically, of course—pay closer attention to their phones than their teacher during class. MEGAN METLER PHOTO

Aims to disconnect from distraction, reconnect with classrooms

An Ontario-wide school cellphone ban comes in to effect this September. The ban covers cellphone usage on school property and during instructional time. Out of 70,000 who voted in a provincial consultation, 97 percent voted in favour of restricting cellphones in schools. This has led to a controversy among students across the province. Students have organized walkouts to protest the recent educational changes that the government of Ontario has recently implemented.

The Ministry of Education has not defined the repercussions if students disregard the cellphone ban, but it relies on the schools and school boards to enforce strategies to prevent cellphone usage at school.

“I think what will happen is that different schools will enforce it in different ways and that could lead to a lot of confusion,” said Maria Tremeer, a teacher at St. Ann School in Fenwick, and a parent of three.

“I think it will be very difficult for schools and school boards to all get on the same page because it’s a difficult thing to control.”

This is an issue that is causing doubt about whether the ban will achieve its goals. Cellphones have been around for decades, and some believe that taking them away now would be unproductive and an implausible solution.

Many students bring their phones to school, but not all of them use them appropriately, which is one reason for the ban. This may lead to poor grades and a minimal understanding of the curriculum. During lessons, students shouldn’t be on their phones. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Communication Education concluded that students without access to their phones wrote down more study notes, were able to remember what they learned in class easier and scored higher marks than students with access to their cellphones.

“Cellphones should be banned at school because most people, when they have their phones on them, can be more distracted and cause interruptions in the classroom,” said student Abbey Rittner.

Technology is an important tool when used for the right reasons, but can be negative when it becomes a distraction or disrupts others. Proponents of the ban say that phones shouldn’t be used during class time to converse with friends or visit social media sites. Teachers will still be allowed to incorporate phones into lessons and students with special needs will be able to access the technology they need to be successful.

“I have mixed feelings because I think that technology can be very useful in the classroom,” Tremeer continued. “But I also think that it is used inappropriately by students.”

Rittner adds that with this ban in place teachers won’t have to compete to be more interesting than what’s going on on their phones and students will be able to focus on what’s happening in class.

Ontario isn’t the only jurisdiction that has banned cellphones in school. The United Kingdom started to ban them in 2007, in which 50 percent of the nation’s schools participated, a figure that had increased to 98 percent by 2012. In 2018, Australia banned cellphones at school as well. Both United Kingdom and Australian statistics indicate that academic skills have improved since the bans.

In 2015 the London School of Economics performed a study on the cellphone ban and how it affects knowledge. They compared exam scores from cellphone-banned schools to schools with cellphones. Students at cellphone-free schools got higher marks and previously low-graded students improved significantly.

The outcome of the Ontario cellphone ban is yet to be seen.