Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has promised to ban smartphones in the classroom. It is right to. More vexing than the question of whether the government should go ahead is the question of how these devices were allowed free rein in classrooms in the first place.
iPhones and their like are carefully engineered to consume the maximum possible portion of their users’ attention, and are crammed full of apps designed to do the same. In many Canadian schools, students are currently entitled to have them turned on all the time.
Predictably, this has led to widespread reports of students texting, using social media and surreptitiously watching video in class, to the frustration of their teachers and the obvious detriment of their educations. It would be like students of an earlier generation having land lines and TVs fastened to their desks.
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Some teachers now let students keep their phones in the classroom but only if the devices are contained in special bags that block WiFi signals. Why bother with half-measures? Far better just to confiscate phones at the start of every school day, to be returned at the final bell.
Smartphones have no place in schools; whatever perks they offer as teaching tools are vastly outweighed by their power to distract and socially alienate.
That’s the conclusion the French government reached when it banned smartphone use on school property for primary and junior school pupils. The new law, passed in July in time for the school year, is meant to curb digital distraction, encourage students to be active and combat cyberbullying.
Ontario and other Canadian jurisdictions should follow suit. The evidence suggests students could thrive in their new phone-free environments. A 2015 study by the London School of Economics found that British schools with smartphone bans saw student performance improve by six per cent on average.
That finding is hardly a surprise. Does anyone really think it’s a good idea to send children into schools with the most potent entertainment technology ever invented in their pockets? The wonder is that we have let it happen this long.