Letting kids use cellphones in class could be good for them, Premier Dalton McGuinty says.
Asked about the possibility that the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) may allow hand-held electronic devices in class, McGuinty said Wednesday that there may be a “right” way to use them in an educational setting.
“I think we should be open to that,” McGuinty said. “Telephones and Blackberries and the like are conduits for information today. And one of the things that we want our students to do is to be well informed.
“It’s something that we should be looking at in our schools,” he said.
TDSB spokesperson Kelly Baker said the board’s information technology staff is in the preliminary stages of reviewing the ban on hand-held devices in light of their potential positive use in the classroom.
The board’s current student code of conduct spells out that kids must power off their phones and store them away during instructional time or face possible discipline.
But with students routinely bringing the devices with them to school, and their ever expanding capabilities, TDSB staff thought it was time to review that policy, Baker said.
New generation cellphones or Blackberries with browsers for surfing the Internet could be used for research, or with an added keyboard, allow kids to type up their notes in class.
Any new guidelines would continue to ban the use of cellphones to chat or text friends in class, she said.
“That’s probably what the kids want but that’s not the idea behind this,” Baker said.
A majority of school trustees on the TDSB board would have to approve any changes to the student conduct rules before cellphones would be welcomed.
“We’re a long way away from that at this point,” Baker said.
Ken Coran, president Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), said more than 500 representatives from across the province debated the cellphone issue at its 2007 annual general meeting.
The OSSTF passed a policy that did not support cellphone use during the school day, and has not changed its position since that time, he said.
”It really does pose a discipline problem — it certainly provides many options for cheating and for other distractions in the classroom; not everyone can afford a cellphone nor can everyone afford the different levels of service providers,” he said.
Individual school boards across the province have different rules for student cellphone use, Coran said.
But teachers find the hand-held devices are a distraction for students and also create the potential for conflict when enforcing guidelines, he said.
“And, in fact, we have had issues where a teacher would ask the student to put their cellphone down and they would refuse...should the teacher have the right to remove the cellphone from the student?” Coran said. “It just became an awkward, awkward, ugly situation in many circumstances.”
Late in the day, McGuinty felt so strongly about his position that he sent out a message on Twitter.
“BB’s/cell phones in classrooms: if they’re used to help kids learn, great. If not, they’re a distraction and don’t belong,” McGuinty tweeted.