Satheesh: Banning cellphones in schools sends wrong message
On March 12, 2019, the Ontario government decided to ban the non-academic use of smartphones in schools. The only exception is in an emergency, or for academic use in the classroom.
The education minister of Ontario, Lisa Thompson, said, kids “need to be able to focus on their learning, not their cellphones.” To that I say that kids need to focus on their learning, but this law will only be counterproductive, because the solution to the distraction epidemic lies solely with the youth themselves.
It is estimated there will be 7.2 billion cellphone users around the world by 2023, the vast majority of the world’s population. The stated goal of education has always been to prepare students for the future. Therefore, it makes no sense to ban cellphones, because they are going to be an integral part of our future world. Of course, students using social media and texting during class time is not a good thing. However, policing the matter is not going to help.
It is very hard for teachers to enforce such a rule. In an average class of about 30 students, the teacher cannot simply go around policing students on their internet use. That would be a waste of their time and expertise. Also, it would cause resentment among the students.
Secondly, it will not help curb smartphone addiction in students. It is a well-known rule that alcohol and drugs are banned on school property, yet it has been reported that 86 per cent of students know someone who smokes or drinks during school hours. In other words, more rules will only provoke students to break them.
There are two possible solutions. First, if one is going to ban cellphones from schools, ban them outright. Don’t say, “use it only for academic purposes.” That is like giving an addict a bag of drugs and telling them not to take it. Even the presence of phones is dangerous for learning. Studies show that even when students don’t use their devices, having them on their person can reduce their performance by as much as five per cent on average. If smartphone addiction is such a problem (and it is), then don’t let phones into the classroom at all. They can be informed of emergencies through school officials, as has been the norm in the past.
Secondly, teens get distracted by phones and other things because they feel that there is nothing more interesting in school. The best way to get rid of distractions is to immerse youth in what they want to do, so that the distractions naturally fall away. This is a process that all parents, teachers and youth themselves play a part in.
Teens should be aware of the importance of their education and be encouraged to design their lives as they see fit. They should also be educated about the dangers of distraction, such as the fact that multitasking leads to poor retention, and attention problems in the future. Parents and teachers should serve as guides in this regard so that the teens themselves are motivated to focus on their education. Once this happens, the distraction epidemic as it is now will be a thing of the past.