Good call


When word got out the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) had passed a resolution to change its school cell phone policy at its annual meeting last week, media across the province got their lines all crossed.

Their initial message: The ETFO has banned cell phones!

After parents and a few school boards stepped in to calm everyone down, the truth came out: Students will simply have to put their lol’ing on hold while they’re at school. Cell phones have not actually been banned. Unlike the old policy which allowed them to keep their cell phones on in class, students will have to switch them off and stow them during school hours unless they have special permission from their teacher.

Really, why should it be any other way?

When I’m engrossed in a particularly juicy text message or playing around in app-land, I’ll admit I’m good for little else, and I’m an adult. I can’t imagine a teen or pre-teen able to properly focus on math equations and Canadian history with a cell phone buzzing away impatiently in their pocket or desk.

And while I’m sure few school boards and individual teachers ever actually tolerated the rings and buzzes of cell phones interrupting their lessons, I can’t believe it’s taken until now for the ETFO as a whole to make this call.

But still, the notion of banning them all together is a little extreme. Todays’ cell phones are multipurpose. They’re calculators and calendars, dictionaries and encyclopedias. They have a place in the classroom if they’re used with permission from school staff to aid in education.

The Peel District School Board (PDSB), for example, implemented a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy in recent years that’s had many positive affects on both teaching and learning.

“The reality is, many students have devices that are more current, powerful and flexible than those offered to them in their schools,” says a PDSB promotional video on the subject. “BYOD provides access to content that’s current, relevant and often more engaging and interactive. BYOD encourages new ways to create and share work and ideas with a broader audience. BYOD can promote co-construction of knowledge through social learning. Research has shown that students learn more when they are actively collaborating and cooperating with their peers, teachers and experts…BYOD shifts instruction towards a more student-centered learning where inquiry and authentic learning are emphasized.”

Here at home, teaching and learning in the Keewatin Patricia District School Board has also been enhanced by the introduction of iPads over the last school year.

Cell phones and other devices have become more and more a part of our daily lives (an extra limb for some of us) and we should welcome them as a tool, not as a nuisance.

PDSB Director of Education, Tony Pontes got it just right: “In global communities that are linked so closely through the Internet, it’s critical that we provide our students and our staff with the tools they need to build 21st century learning skills. It’s a well-accepted point of view that only schools that normalize the use of technology in everyday teaching will be able to meet society’s ever-growing, more sophisticated expectations.”

Teachers and parents will have to put their foot down and arrange acceptable times for cell phones and other devices to be switched on and in use during school hours and students must be ready to understand their use in the classroom is a privilege, not a right.

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