Nova Scotia

Cellphones won't be banned in Nova Scotia schools, says education minister

The province's education minister says he's considering ways to better regulate cellphone use in schools but will not ban the devices outright.

Provincewide school mobile device policy recommended by mental-health expert Dr. Stan Kutcher

Education Minister Zach Churchill said he will not consider an outright ban on cellphones in schools. (CBC)

The province's education minister says he's considering ways to better regulate cellphone use in schools but will not ban the devices outright.

Zach Churchill said Wednesday his department will support a recommendation by mental-health expert Dr. Stan Kutcher to develop a provincewide policy on responsible use of student cellphones in schools.

Kutcher made the recommendation as part of a report to the province on youth mental health following a review he conducted in the wake of three youth suicides in Cape Breton this year.

"It's the 21st century and I think we need to harness the power of 21st century technology to enhance the educational experience," Churchill said.

Herring Cove Junior High has a drawer for student cellphones. (CBC)

Churchill said the department is also looking at the existing network policy about internet in schools to see if changes could be made there. But he said he is unsure if schools have the ability to control students' use of the internet through technological means. 

"A deeper question for me is, if we cannot control the technology or how it's being used, as an Education Department can we do a better job teaching our kids to be more resilient in dealing with conflict or better managing situations of stress or bullying online," he said. 

"Can we do a better job teaching our kids about responsive use of these technologies?"

Variety of approaches

School boards around the province have a variety of policy approaches towards cellphones, tablets and other personal devices. 

The Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board's policy says the devices are "not permitted within the school unless permitted by staff/administration for programming and/or school events."

"Staff and students must use mobile devices for educational purposes only in the classroom," it says, but notes that mobile devices "are permitted for instructional purposes, under the supervision of a teacher."

The Halifax Regional School Board's policy says it will "support and encourage the appropriate use of student-owned devices in the learning environment."

It says teachers have a responsibility to educate students on the use and misuse of devices, and that students are responsible for using the devices in a "meaningful, responsible, and respectful" way. 

The Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) board's policy says it's too difficult to regulate phones, and therefore students are not allowed to use the devices inside CSAP buildings during the school day, except for technologies that feature services for students with special needs.

Phones used in lessons

At Sacred Heart School of Halifax, the administration has a policy of no visible cellphones in class, except at the invitation of the teacher. But phones are not banned, and sometimes they are used in lessons. 

Jenny Wright is senior school principal at Sacred Heart School of Halifax. (CBC)

"We're sorting it out as we go along. But we recognize that by banning a device, any device, and not allowing a student to have access to it, we're not enabling them to build their skills," said Jenny Wright, the senior school principal.

"So our program and our policy helps them to learn to use technology appropriately."

The Department of Education said it is already working on updating the school code of conduct policy, after it was asked to do so by the Commission on Inclusive Education. Kutcher's cellphone recommendation will become part of that work.

The commission gave the department until Jan. 31, 2018, to come up with a plan.

With files from Michael Gorman


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