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Province surveying Albertans about student cellphone use in schools

Alberta's government is taking a renewed interest in student cellphone use within the province's schools. Alberta's government is taking a renewed interest in student cellphone use within the province's schools.
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Alberta's government is taking a renewed interest in student cellphone use within the province's schools.

The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) sent an email to parents Thursday afternoon, inviting them to participate in an online survey, on the provincial government's website.

"In Alberta, and in many other places across the world, student cellphone use is increasing. Cellphones have the potential to be powerful teaching aids that, when used appropriately, can improve learning outcomes. But there are risks and concerns with inappropriate cellphone usage," the CBE's email said.

"Minister of Education Demetrios Nicolaides is interested in hearing from parents and families about cellphone usage in Alberta schools.

"You are invited to share your views in an Alberta Education online survey. Feedback will help inform any potential next steps about the future of student cellphone use in schools.

Questions focused on when, where and under what circumstances students should be allowed to use cellphones at school.

The United Conservative Party (UCP) asked whether there should be designated areas at school for students to use cellphones.

And whether students of different ages should have different rules, covering from kindergarten all the way through Grade 12.

Also asked was whether it's believed cellphones at school impact students' academic achievement.

And whether it's believed cellphones at school increase incidents of bullying.

The UCP asked about participants' overall level of concern regarding cellphone use within the province's schools.

In a statement to CTV News, Nicolaides said the survey is following through on a previous commitment.

"Earlier this year, I committed to talking more with parents, teachers and others about the use of cellphones in schools and I am happy to follow through on that commitment," the education minister said.

"Cellphones can be used to support learning, however, there are some risks that are of concern to the government.

"Several studies suggest that smartphone and social media use can negatively impact mental health, affect adolescent self-view and more.

"It is imperative that we take any and all measures possible to combat growing youth mental health concerns."

The survey is open to any interested Albertan.

Parents, teachers and school staff will receive a link to the survey from their local school authority.

And the survey will remain open until May 3.

There will also be virtual engagement sessions for education stakeholders.

"Alberta's government will have more to say in the future, after we have finished talking to parents, teachers and other partners," Nicolaides said.

The CBE also provided CTV News with a statement.

On the survey specifically, the CBE said:

"Alberta Education has asked school boards to share their survey on the use of cellphones in schools. ... We have shared this survey with our school communities and will await their next steps on the matter."

On cellphone use in schools in general, the CBE said:

"The CBE does not have a system-wide cellphone policy but our schools are able to create their own cellphone-use policies that work for their school communities. A number of schools have phone policies that limit the use of electronics during school hours. These 'away for the day' policies require students to keep phones and other devices in their lockers unless permitted by the teacher for specific learning purposes.

"We support and safeguard students as they develop online safety skills and learn to be good digital citizens in an environment that is safe, but that gradually broadens their experience. Schools, in collaboration with students and parents, establish guidelines for appropriate use of the internet through their school's digital citizenship plan and the appropriate filter level for the school context."

In January of this year, Nicolaides told CTV News the province had no immediate plan to follow others in banning cellphone use in schools.

That was when he said he planned to "talk more with teachers, parents, students and staff about cellphone usage in our schools and use their advice to help inform any potential next steps."

That was in response to questions about Alberta's stance after Quebec barred cellphone use in classrooms unless approved by a teacher for educational purposes.  

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