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'Minimum standards': Alberta Education bans personal mobile devices in classrooms

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Starting next school year, students will have limits placed on their personal mobile devices, which officials say can harm student achievement and their mental health.

"The use of cellphones is of significant concern and additional measures should be taken to limit cellphone use in our classrooms," said Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides during a conference in Calgary on Monday.

"Students will no longer be permitted to use personal mobile devices during class time and I am further announcing that access to social media sites in schools will be restricted."

Officials say the changes after it spoke with parents, teachers, education partners and students.

Nicolaides said he's "confident" that the changes will reduce distractions, maximize the use of class time, support student health and cut down on cyber bullying.

The devices included in the ban are:

  • Cellphones;
  • Smart phones;
  • Smart watches;
  • Headphones; and
  • Other personal electronic devices.

There will be situations where students will be able to use those devices, Nicolaides said, but those will be limited to medical or health reasons, special learning needs or if directed by a teacher or principal on a case-by-case basis.

"These rules represent minimum standards and a board has the autonomy and flexibility to implement additional restrictions if they so choose," he said.

"During class time all devices must be turned off and stored out of sight."

The province will leave enforcement up to school boards, but parents must be notified if their children violate the new rules.

"We recognize that personal mobile devices can be an important research and learning tool. That is why personal mobile devices will also be permitted for educational or other purposes as determined by a principal or equivalent on a case-by-case basis."

Grade 11 student Ashita Chouhan moved to Calgary from India, where cellphones were completely banned in her school. She says she notices the difference in distraction having them in class but also isn’t sure how beneficial it would be to remove them in Alberta classrooms.

"In Canadian education, it’s very technology focused because apps like D2L and Powerschool are based on technology so it would be very hard to operate without technology to be honest," she said, but added the devices are also being misused.

"People are on their phones playing games in the back of the class, snapping each other, texting each other and taking pictures of each other. So, I’ve seen it be more of a distraction than more of a helpful thing."

Another senior, Noah Bakana, admits he can be guilty of using his phone in class but thinks school will have a hard time enforcing the new rules.

“It’s kind of an addiction too so I’m not sure how they would keep it in order but I don’t think the students would respect it either."

Ryden Luc doesn’t like the idea he can’t keep his phone on him in class.

“Kind of makes me feel iffy. I feel like my cellphone can be used for studying and educational purposes too but it’s also a distraction for me, so I see the good and bad.”

The Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) said it supports the new rules.

“CCSD wants all our students to be successful. As such, we support the government’s direction regarding the restricted use of personal mobile devices and social media platforms in schools,” the statement reads.

“CCSD will review this new information and share further details with staff and families moving forward.”

“The Calgary Board of Education supports the government’s intention of creating quality learning environments that support the health, wellbeing and academic achievement of students. We will be taking time to review today’s provincial policy announcement and what it will mean for CBE schools next year,” the Calgary Board of Education said in an emailed statement.

“We will share more information with staff and families in advance of the 2024-25 school year.”

Nicolaides said approximately 68,000 responses were collected during the survey and 90 per cent of respondents were concerned over the proliferation of devices in classrooms.

The rules apply to all public, separate, francophone, public charter and independent school authorities.

(With files from Teri Fikowski)

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