Back-to-school students in Peel Region were putting down their pencils and picking up electronic tablets today, as educators kicked off the academic year by embracing next-generation teaching tools.
All 240 elementary and secondary schools in the Peel District School Board are now wired with Wi-Fi connectivity and children are being encouraged to participate in BYOD (bring your own device) learning. It's part of a $7-million investment in technology being pushed by the board.
"Coming into the 21st century, it's really a way of life. It's what the children are used to," said Serge Pascucci, a teacher at Marvin Heights Public School.
"They come in and very little instruction is needed with how to use a device like an iPad because it's so intuitive."
Instead of writing on chart paper, Pascucci writes on an iPad and displays the screen to his young pupils.
Grade 1 student Mannat Vashisht, among several students asked to use tablets to capture images for storytelling, said his dad has an iPad at home.
"I use it many times," he said.
But while teachers like Pascucci say placing technology in kids' hands is a smart way to engage young minds in the classroom, some concerned parents aren't so sure.
Wendy Cockburn said her son suffers from electro hypersensitivity — an adverse reaction to over-exposure to wireless signals. The symptoms can be painful for her child.
"Migraines and vomiting from wireless radiation," she said. "It takes a couple of hours to have that effect."
Frank Clegg, with the group Canadians For Safe Technology, has campaigned against wireless routers in schools, citing 2011 research from the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The agency, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified wireless radiation as possibly carcinogenic.
Health Canada has said that low-level Wi-Fi exposure is "not dangerous to the public."
Clegg said there are ways to limit exposure to wireless signals at schools to lower possible health risks.
"You can have an on off switch on the routers that are in the classroom, you can have certain areas designated that don't have wireless," he said. "So we're not saying no to technology; we're saying safe technology."
The Peel Regional School Board says it's following public health guidelines when it comes to Wi-Fi technology, and the principal at Marvin Heights says she hasn't come across any complaints from parents so far.
The board is also looking at making in-class mobile devices more accessible to students, and is in talks with a supplier to sell basic tablets to students for $55.