With the rise of smartphones, questions about how tech is used and where are flaring up across the country. In Ontario, Premier Ford sparked debate by banning cellphones in classrooms. As experts trade barbs, the voices of young people are missing—those that researchers say are most at risk. We decided to go to the source and have two young Canadians tell us how they feel about phones in class. When the dust settled, Katie Grettum from Camrose, AB was a strong no, while Jahmaal Branker from Kingston, ON was all for it. We’ll let you decide.
19 years old
I still remember my first phone. I was in Grade 7 when I got it—it was one of those phones that you had to flip and slide upwards.
We’ve come a long way since then. I used that flip phone solely for contacting my parents when I was away from home. Now, phones are used for almost anything, and just about anywhere.
Which is great … except when that anywhere is a school classroom.
Self-control has shown to be the strongest predictor of future success—even more critical than socio-economic status or IQ. But when it comes to phone use, self-control is extremely difficult. Most teens check their phones 86 times a day! I’m not super big on social media, but I still find myself easily distracted by my phone.
The classroom is one place you don’t want to get distracted. According to Abacus Data’s recent youth survey, the majority of young Canadians agree that it is harder to get ahead today than in the past. In this competitive economy, success in the classroom is more important than ever.
There is no reason for elementary school students to have phones in their classrooms. This seems like common sense, of course, but there is research to prove it—studies show that screen time affects brain function development in early ages.
Determining phone use in middle school and high school is a little trickier. When studying for Alberta’s Provincial Achievement Tests (PAT), smartphones were helpful in-class devices, especially when accessing online resources such as Exam Bank.
Unfortunately, the PATs were a one-off. From personal experience, phones are most often not being used for educational purposes in class. Students may say they are using their phones appropriately, but they’re mostly just flipping between “research” and social media.
I know of one local high school teacher who allowed her class to use their phones during a final exam. Most of the kids ending up cheating, using the internet to look up answers.
Through working with youth, I’ve seen noticeable differences between generations, especially when it comes to technology. Kids younger than me seem to use their devices whenever they want, with no consequences. I think this makes the issue of phone use in school that much harder to tackle.
Phones are powerful tools, but in the classroom I think they do more harm than good.
21 years old
In the immortal words of Kevin Gates, “I got two phones!”
One of my phones serves as my personal phone; the other is for work.
Now I’m sure I don’t use my phones in the same way a multimillionaire rapper might. But for Kevin and I—and the billion other phone users in the world—our phones are essential to our everyday lives.
I was my given my first phone in Grade 12. Because of my busy schedule during senior year—I was always out doing activities at my local Boys and Girls Club—my mom needed a way to coordinate with me. And because I now had a quick way to communicate with others, I was also able to pursue many extra-curriculars. But the icing on the cake? The phone helped me in the classroom.
Typically, it’s assumed that phone is synonymous with distraction in a school setting. And in many cases, this is fair. I can recall many instances in high school where I would be watching videos on my phone instead of paying attention to the lesson.
But for the most part, when used appropriately and responsibly, my phone positively contributed to my learning in the classroom.
The biggest way? Accessing information.
Instead of going down to the library to open up books, with my phone and the internet, I could do research in an instant. Instead of handwriting my notes, I saved time by taking photos of the blackboard and instructor presentations. I was able to get work done faster and more efficiently.
We are just scratching the surface of mobile and e-learning, but already we know that supporting the development of digital literacy skills motivates and engages students.
Instead of banning tech, educators could try teaching students how to use phones to boost their learning—like this teacher.
There’s no getting around it. Technology and my two phones have helped me navigate the modern world, find success in the classroom, and connect me to the larger community.
Maybe I can write a song about it too …
See how Boys and Girls Clubs tackled this issue at unplugtoconnect.ca