The challenge with cellphones in schools.

I can’t imagine the challenges teachers face in educating students, given the ubiquity of cell phones these days. It is hard enough trying to have an adult-to-adult conversation without someone responding to a text, reading a Tweet or posting their latest thoughts to Facebook. But to be responsible for catching and keeping the attention of those under 18 in order to teach them and prepare them for their future, with the constant lure of technology surrounding us, is a Herculean task.

The reach of technology has expanded to the point where essentially everyone is carrying it around in their pocket. As of January 2017, 95% of Americans 18 years and older own a cell phone and 77% of those are smartphones. But it’s not just adults tethered to these devices. In 2015, almost three-quarters of teens aged 13 to 17 reported having or having access to a smartphone and another 30% to a basic phone. Only 12% of teens said they don’t have any kind of cellphone. And it doesn’t stop there. In 2016, the average age for a child to get their first phone was reported to be 10.3 years old. These are kids in elementary school or starting middle school, who are beginning to become self-aware and can be more difficult to deal with.

It is obvious parents have become quite comfortable supplying their children with the latest in hand-held technology. But how are schools and teachers managing this rising tide of device-equipped students? For the most part, they have been tackling this challenge on a school-by-school basis, as they see best, across North America. The result is a range of approaches from no limits whatsoever, to no use of cell phones during class, and now an all-out ban.

Last month, a Canadian middle school for grades 7 and 8 (in Victoria, BC) announced a complete ban on cellphones and Internet-connected iPods, starting with the new school year in September. Currently their students can bring cell phones to school but they are not allowed to take them to class. However, that policy has not been working as well as hoped. The school is finding that students are unable to manage the distractions of their phones, resulting in some conflicts with each other and with teachers. Hence the decision to proceed with a complete ban. There will be a few exceptions allowed but those students will need to hand in their cellphones at the start of the day and will only get them back when the school day is done.

Parents’ reactions to this new policy are mixed. Some argue that technology should be used as a learning tool. But this particular school already has many computers and tablets that they use to facilitate education when appropriate. The school sees the ban as the only way to reduce unnecessary distractions and improve the learning environment. And there many other parents who agree with that thinking. Right or wrong, the ban will definitely impact parents, teachers and kids alike when the next school year begins. 


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