Back to school – cell phone free

Lynn JataniaMy two oldest kids started grades 10 and 11 in September. As usual, they took their smartphones with them the first day.

When they arrived home, I asked them how their classes had went, and they said that every single class had talked about the Ontario government’s new policy about cell phones in school – that is, that cell phones are to be used only for educational purposes, or health or special needs, during class time.

I thought the kids might be concerned, or angry, but actually, there was mostly just a lot of eye-rolling. Their teachers, to my kids at least, didn’t seem too worried about it. Some already had a no-phone policy; others considered phones critical for in-class use, encouraging kids to take part in group online quiz competitions and using their phones to do research for in-class projects and assignments. Since the new policy includes an “at the teacher’s discretion” rider, we’re expecting to maintain the status quo at our school – each teacher will set the rules for their class, but the school as a whole will keep a fairly relaxed attitude about them.

Although a full ban on phones does sound like a good idea on the surface, after thinking it over, I’m not sure I’m really in favour of it. I don’t want teachers to have to be put into any difficult or physical situations while trying to strip a kid of his phone. I don’t want teachers to have to worry about policing or punishing kids for infractions when really, it’s their own education on the line, and ignoring the lesson will likely turn out to be punishment itself. Teachers have more important things to do – and I trust them to run their classroom the way that works best for them and for their students.

The high school has already sent home a notice explaining that there is no funding for computers or portable Chromebooks for the school, and begging parents to please buy their children some sort of smart device that they can bring in and use at school. If keeping their smartphones for research, when there’s no budget for anything else, is the only way to help them complete assignments, then I’m definitely all for phones in class. I don’t see any need for me to buy my kids a Chromebook on top of the already fully web-functional phone that they carry around all day, every day.

Still, the new policy and the repeated discussions at school led us to have a refresher talk on what respectful use of a phone at school should look like. We expect our teens to:

  • Never check their phone for social, game, or entertainment reasons in class
  • Never pull out their phone in the middle of class unless instructed by the teacher
  • Always respect the teacher’s local classroom rules, and if they request for phones to be put away or even checked at the door, that our kids do so (and then try hard to remember to PICK UP their phone on the way out, sigh).

What are your rules for phones at school?

For teachers, the Digital Literacy 101 Classroom Guide provides tips for integrating and managing student devices in the classroom.

Finding Balance in Our Digital Lives