OPINION: Restrict student cell phone use at school? Absolutely

Marg Johnson

Ontario took the bold move on Nov. 4 of restricting student use of mobile devices in the classroom.

Going forward, cellphones and tablets can only be used during instructional time when approved by the teacher, or for health and medical purposes.

It’s a solid strategy, and if it manages to withstand a full-out fight from parents we’ll be on our way to a school system in which teachers can actually teach.

Most children have a cell phone. When you ask why, they say they’re for emergencies. Which makes sense on the surface. Who wants their child out in the world without some way to call home when they get in difficulty?

Parents give their kids permission to keep their phones with them at all times to stay in touch. But do parents really, desperately need to be in touch at school? No. They can leave a message at the office. And how much trouble can they get into at school that would qualify as an emergency?

But we live in the real world, and children now carry this wonderful, Internet-connected device on which they can check their Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter accounts, play games, and text their friends, who are often sitting in the same classroom.

Are they listening to the teacher, even remotely? No, they are not.

As a Child & Youth Worker, my other concern is the illicit use of cell phone cameras at school. Such as in gym dressing rooms (where photos are taken of peers changing from gym clothes), the washroom (where privacy is violated), and in the corners of the schoolyard, where a vulnerable kid can be plucked from the herd, surrounded, abused and ridiculed.

Images and video of victims are often posted on the Internet. This is bullying at its most lethal. We know, as adults, that once something is “out there” you can never get it back, no matter how hard you try.

But the perpetrators don’t care. Given “video assignments” by teachers, they film friends, then edit out the “nasty parts” and post them online. I have seen the results of this.

Wonder why the suicide rate is so high? Once a compromising image of a child is online they fear that everyone in the world will see it and make fun. And children do see it, and they do make fun.

“It’s just a joke,” the videographers say. “Nobody takes it seriously,” they say. The real reason they don’t care is because it’s not being done to them.

I applaud Education Minister Stephen Lecce for restricting the use of personal mobile devices in classrooms. I would urge him to go a step further and place all technology at school — laptops, Apple watches, etc. —under the most severe scrutiny of teachers.

I would also recommend that each time a student is caught using a cell phone in class it be taken to the school principal, where the parent would have to retrieve it.

After two or three trips to the principal’s office by the parent, the problem would resolve itself.

 

Sarnia resident Marg Johnson is a retired Child & Youth Worker who worked with behaviour children as an educational assistant for 15 years at the York Catholic District School Board.