British Columbia

School cellphone ban ill-advised, expert says

Students should be taught how to manage new technology, including social media, and not be banned from it, says University of Montreal professor Thierry Karsenti.

Victoria middle school will ban cellphones at school starting in September

Thierry Karsenti, a professor at the University of Montreal and the Canada Research Chair on information and communication technologies in education says teachers should help student learn how to manage their technology and social media habits. (Shutterstock)

A professor who specializes in technology and education says Victoria Central Middle School's cellphone ban won't make a significant difference.

Central Middle School principal Topher Macintosh said the school — which has students from Grade 6 to 8 — currently allows students to bring cellphones to school as long as they are kept in their lockers.

Macintosh says more often than not, students would simply sneak off to their lockers during a bathroom break and use their phones during class time.

Starting in September, he says all students will be prohibited from bringing cellphones into the building.

But Thierry Karsenti, a professor at the University of Montreal and the Canada Research Chair on information and communication technologies in education, says the ban won't work.

"They were already not allowed to bring it to class and they brought it to class," he said.

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"I think they'll still bring them to school."

A wedge between students and school

Antonio Vendramin, a district principal for the Surrey School District, agrees with Karsenti.

"By banning anything you turn something that is such an important part of a student's life ... into an underground activity," he said.

"It's a wedge that already exists between students and their schooling experience."

Cellphone bans often don't work, says University of Montreal professor Thierry Karsenti. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

Karsenti, who has conducted research on cellphone use in schools, says students have a very tough time managing cellphone use.

"Only 12 per cent of the 4,000 participants in our study said they do not use it in class. In all the schools that we surveyed, they had similar rules [banning cellphone use]," he said.

Karsenti said while cellphone use is a challenging issue for schools, it's important to remember students in middle school are very young and need guidance on how to use and manage new technology.

Listen to the interview with Thierry Karsenti on CBC's On The Island:

Meaningful learning experiences

There are ways technology and education can work together, Karsenti says.

He described one teacher in his study who knew students were bringing their phones to class, despite the rules banning them.

"He was asking students to bring it and put it upside down on their desk [on silent] but he was also using it at times to search on the Internet for some information or if they had to respond to a question using their cell phones. He was giving the idea to kids that it's also a tool to learn at school."

This is a more effective method of managing cellphone use than an outright ban, he said.

"Education should be the key." 

Vendramin said the student-teacher relationship is also important in creating meaningful learning experiences. 

"When there's that respect there, the two can coexist and technology can be leveraged in powerful ways to benefit student learning."

With files from The Early Edition