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Alberta adds new restrictions to smartphone use in K-12 schools

Smartphones must be turned off and out of sight during class, said Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides
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Next school year cellphones will have to be “off and out of sight” during class time at K-12 schools, Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

Social media use in schools will also be “restricted,” Nicolaides said.

He pointed to research that suggests smartphones can impede young students’ ability to focus and that students with more access to the devices performed worse on tests.

Over 68,000 parents, teachers and other school administrators responded to a survey from the province about the issue, he said. “I'm told it's the highest respondents survey ever,” he said.

Some 90 per cent of respondents were “generally concerned” with cellphone use in school, 85 per cent believe the devices have negatively impacted student achievement and 81 per cent believe that the phones increase bullying, according to Nicolaides, and

Parents and teachers were very aligned in their concerns, he said.

Phone use will still be permitted outside of class during breaks.

School divisions will decide how to implement the change, Nicolaides said. For example, some schools may allow students to keep their phones with them in class but demand that the phones are turned off, while others might require that students keep their cellphones in their locker during class. Schools can also decide on penalties for using phones in class.  

Students will be allowed to use cellphones in class “if needed for medical or health reasons,” to support special learning needs, if directed by a teacher or “any other reason as determined by a principal on a case-by-case basis,” Nicolaides said.

“I don't believe it's very helpful or beneficial to students to just create an environment whereby we say, ‘It's totally banned, you can't use it, can't touch it, don't look at it,’” he said. “They're going to experience technology use, smartphone use, social media use, as they become adults. So having them kind of graduate into that, I think is [responsible].”  

Nicolaides said he would be speaking with school boards and teachers in the coming months and years to determine whether the new rules should be “tweaked.”


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