Distraction or learning tool? Cellphones in the classroom on the chopping block

The PC government is planning on banning cellphones from the classroom in the new school year, but a superintendent of education says they can be a great learning tool.

Superintendent of education for school board says phones can be a great tool

The Ontario government is planning to ban cell phone use in classrooms for all public schools starting in the 2019-20 school year. (CBC News)

Greater Essex County District School Board is waiting for the Ontario government's full policy on how it plans on banning cellphones in classrooms starting in 2019-20.

Education Minister Lisa Thompson said in a statement that a formal announcement is coming soon.

Even once the full plan is released, John Howitt, superintendent of education for GECDSB doesn't foresee much change in how the schools will be run.

"We've had a policy in place since 2010," he said, specifically to address use of personal devices in classrooms.

Teachers are also well-equipped to handle inappropriate cellphone or smartphone usage by students, according to Howitt.

How distracted are the kids?

A number of students who spoke to CBC News support the ban, saying they've observed cell phone use as a regular distraction in the classroom.

"I usually find [other students] using social media or watching YouTube videos," said Helen Li, an eighth grader, who doesn't have a cellphone.

Even in elementary school, fifth grader Cinrey Zhang said students don't do their work in class.

"Most of them get distracted because they would put on songs and they wouldn't pay attention to their work," she said.

And Keira Paling, in Grade 7, said her class already has a ban in effect.

"If you have your phone out when you're not supposed to, they just take it away," she said. She does have a cellphone but said she wouldn't use it unless the class requires it.

Use for education

As for when teachers might actually ask students to take out their cell phones for a class activity, Howitt gave an example — Google Earth.

"A smartphone is a computer," said Howitt. The device allows students to access the most updated information, instead of something like "a printed atlas that could be outdated as quickly as it's printed."

The key is to strike a balance so phones don't become distractions, according to Howitt.

"We need to help students to learn to put it down when it should be down, and to use it when it should be used," he said.

With files from Sanjay Maru

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