The Catholic director of education says the board needs to change it's direction when it comes to digital learning. (CBC News)

The Catholic school board says it was wrong to keep personal digital devices out of the classroom, and will recommend a change of policy, said said the director of education on Tuesday.

Paul Picard, Director of Education for the Catholic board, said they weren't doing a good job of equipping students for the digital world. Picard said students need more access to digital technology and digital learning and that's what revamped libraries, called learning commons areas, will address in the future.

"That's how kids learn," said Picard.

Those comments came the day after hundreds of high school students walked out of the classroom to protest budget cuts affecting libraries and library technicians. On Tuesday, the board tried to stem the wave of criticism over the plan to move books into classrooms and lay off library technicians.

The board said it wants to change traditional library facilities into something more "21st Century", but hasn't released a plan outlining what would replace the current library delivery system.

Change of heart

Picard admitted that he originally thought that cell phones and iPads would undermine classroom learning, but said he sees things differently now and would recommend the board change its policy to allow digital devices in the classroom.

Picard referred to a time in a coffee shop when a student explained to him how she was using Facebook to get help from friends on how to complete an assignment, which prompted him to see the benefits of new media technology.

The board feels that cuts to libraries will have "minimal" impact on students, because much of the literacy components in the curriculum take place within the classroom these days.

"We are not closing libraries, we are retooling," he said.

Learning commons areas will have more computers

The goal, Picard said, is to have 1,000 books in every classroom. Teachers will still preside over learning commons areas, and access to those areas would increase, not decrease, he said.


Paul Picard says the board wants to model its learning commons areas after the library at the University of Windsor. (CBC News)

Picard said the board wants to model learning commons areas after the University of Windsor student centre or the main floor of the campus library where students work collaboratively on computers doing research.

Parents and students have been critical of the board's plan to reduce the number of teachers versus board administration staff.

Picard said because the cut is so substantial, people at all levels, from teachers right up to administration, will be affected. But Picard said the government reporting on special programs has increased the board's administrative workload, making it hard to cut administrative staff.

Elementary school libraries have already made the shift into the classroom, and one secondary school learning commons had to shut its doors recently because the library technician found another job and wasn't replaced. That has put some student's noses out of joint.

Parents were also reeling from not being consulted on the sweeping changes. Many plan to attend next week's public board meeting to have their say about the cuts.

Picard admitted that the plan is done, but not set in stone — discussion with various bargaining units still needs to take place, and teachers would require some training to deliver technology-based learning. Picard said details of the board's plan for libraries wouldn't be unveiled until the May 24 meeting.

Mario Iotona, Superintendent of Business, said enrollment has been in decline since 2003, and the board was expecting 800 to 1000 fewer students next year. That amounts to an $8 to 10 million funding cut from the province.

The 39 library technician layoffs represent a $2 million dollar savings to the board, Iotona said.

"It is a concern for us that the enrollment is going down more significantly than was projected," he said.