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EDITORIAL: Cellphones not a class act?

It’s hard for anyone of any age to ignore the persistent distractions of cellphones, let alone kids in a classroom. — SaltWire file photo

It’s a harsh solution for an all-too-common problem.

But it’s worth watching, if for no other reason than to see if it actually might work.

Tuesday, The Canadian Press reported that the Ontario provincial government is planning on introducing a cellphone ban in that province’s schools. When Premier Doug Ford’s Tories held consultations on education last year, a ban on cellphones was one of the few things that received near-unanimous support, with 97 per cent of those who responded to the consultations agreeing with the plan.

It would mean cellphones would have to be shut down from the start of the school day until the end of classes, unless they were being used as part of a classroom lesson plan, or were being used by special needs students, or in the case of medical emergencies.

In this province, the English School District attempts to control cellphone use through its Acceptable Use of Technology Agreement, a document that parents are expected to sign.

The district says it doesn’t allow personal electronic devices in kindergarten to Grade 6 classrooms, and for other grades says, “The use of personal devices (e.g., student-owned iPads, cellular phones, laptop computers) during class time should be for educational purposes only, in accordance with consistent, school-wide guidelines and practices as determined by the school administration and staff. Please note that school trips are considered class time.”

After all, even adults can’t leave their cellphones alone when they are doing something as important as driving — so why would we expect children and teens to be able to leave them alone in the classroom?

The agreement also spells out that phone charging is to be done at home, and ringers are to be turned off.

But you have to wonder how effectively that works, especially when faced with the pernicious distractions that cellphones have. Dogs used to salivate when Russian psychologist Ivan Pavlov sounded a buzzer, because they knew the sound meant food was coming. The reaction of Pavlov’s hounds has nothing on the twitchy reaction of a teen whose phone has just signalled an incoming — and no doubt critically important — instant message.

Is it hard to keep kids and teenagers from their electronic devices? Of course it is.

After all, even adults can’t leave their cellphones alone when they are doing something as important as driving — so why would we expect children and teens to be able to leave them alone in the classroom?

But one thing we’re learning about the multitasking that comes with near-constant electronic stimulation is that it does nothing to help us concentrate, especially on complex subjects. In fact, there’s plenty of research that suggests being constantly wired is actually destroying our ability to concentrate on things that need careful and nuanced thought.

Maybe, except in special circumstances, it’s time to take the most powerful tools of distraction out of the learning environment, at least while the learning part is going on.

But don’t expect that kind of decision to be welcomed by the students involved.

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