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Dominic Cardy. Image: CPAC video capture

Former minister wishes he’d banned smartphones in schools

By Brad Perry May 2, 2024 | 4:00 PM

A former education minister under Premier Blaine Higgs said one of his biggest regrets is not banning smartphones in schools.

The Department of Education told our newsroom this week that it is working on updates to Policy 311, which defines the minimum standards for appropriate use of information and communication technologies in schools.

A spokesperson said the changes, which will be brought forward in the coming weeks, will address cellphone use “in a more stringent way.”

Dominic Cardy, who is now an independent MLA, said he is pleased to hear that the government is looking to tighten the rules.

“It’s very clear from the evidence that keeping screens out of the hands of kids during school time, unless it’s under the active supervision of a teacher, is a good idea,” Cardy said in an interview.

RELATED: N.B. looking at school cellphone rule changes

During his time as minister, Cardy said he thought we needed to teach kids to handle these “incredible tools.”

But the MLA believes that coupled with a decline in discipline, smartphones are “destroying classrooms.”

“We have seen in a couple of years since the worst of the COVID pandemic, a slowly growing body of evidence that’s really saying that we’ve got to look at the dangers of smartphones in particular in schools,” said Cardy.

A recent study out of Norway found banning cellphones in classrooms led to fewer cases of bullying and higher grades.

Meanwhile, a report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) showed it can take students up to 20 minutes to refocus on what they were learning once distracted.

Over the weekend, Ontario announced plans to limit cellphone use in classrooms starting in September.

Students in kindergarten to Grade 6 will be required to keep phones on silent and out of sight for the entire school day unless otherwise permitted by an educator.

For students in Grades 7 to 12, cell phones will not be permitted in class during class time instruction unless permitted.

Cardy said he sees a lot of positives in the plan that the Ontario government has rolled out.

“There’s some classrooms where you get teachers reporting over 300 interruptions caused by cell phones to 30 odd students in the space of one period. It’s just crazy,” said the former minister.

If the province were to ban phones in schools, the former minister said there should be exemptions, such as for those who require the devices for accessibility or medical reasons.

In addition, Cardy said it is important for the province to strengthen its critical thinking training for kids from the youngest possible age.

“We have got to have a sensible conversation about how we have free speech and an internet that both isn’t distracting our kids and isn’t exposing them to dangerous misinformation.”