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Quebec to ban cellphones in elementary and high school classrooms

QUEBEC — It’s the final bell for cellphones in Quebec classrooms as the province’s education minister plans to ban the devices in most teaching settings, calling them a distraction for students.

Bernard Drainville said Wednesday he intends to bring the issue before the provincial cabinet, with a directive going out to schools “as quickly as possible” thereafter. It would then be up to the schools themselves to enforce the rule, the minister explained.

The directive would only apply to public elementary and high schools and would still allow teachers to use mobile phones for lessons.

“Cellphones are taking up more and more space in the lives of our young people,” the minister said at a news conference. “What we want is for our children to be 100 per cent concentrated in their classes.”

A spring survey of 7,000 teachers conducted by Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement, an association of 34 teacher unions, found that 92 per cent of respondents were in favour of a cellphone ban like the one Drainville proposed Wednesday.

Federation president Josée Scalabrini said at the time that teachers wanted to reduce distractions in the classroom and were increasingly concerned about being filmed without their knowledge.

Ontario has restricted the use of mobile devices in classrooms since 2019. However, students are still able to use cellphones to complete lessons with teacher permission, “for health and medical purposes” and “to support special education needs,” according to a 2019 notice sent to school boards.

But Karen Littlewood, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation — the union that represents English-language public high school educators in the province — says the rule has had little effect.

Though Littlewood says teachers do employ mobile devices in some lessons, unauthorized personal cellphone use is still common among students.

“I think if you were to walk into any school in Ontario you would not know that there was a ban,” she said in a phone interview.

From her perspective, teachers’ ability to enforce the rule has been the main issue.

“It’s kind of like a game of whack-a-mole, because there’s a cellphone here and a cellphone there, and then you don’t see it, and then you do. And it’s really hard to to manage because everybody has one.”

Littlewood said some schools have resorted to blocking cell signals, but she admitted such a measure can pose problems in emergency situations.

“What (the Ontario policy) really led to most of all is frustration on the part of the teachers,” the union leader said.

Drainville said Wednesday the details of Quebec’s cellphone ban still need to be “worked out.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2023.

— With files from Caroline Plante in Quebec City.

Thomas MacDonald, The Canadian Press


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