Fort McMurray public, Catholic schools prepare for classroom phone ban

The Alberta government announced Monday that, with few exceptions, smartphones and social media will be banned in classrooms across the province.

Article content

Students across Alberta will no longer be able to use their phones, tablets, headphones, smartwatches, social media accounts and other technologies in classrooms. Exceptions can be made if teachers feel the technology is needed for learning, or if students need help with specific health, medical or special needs.

Advertisement 2

Article content

Fort McMurray’s Catholic and public school leaders say they will spend the summer coming up with policies for when this technology will be allowed during class time. The restrictions were announced Monday by Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides.

“I’m confident that together, these restrictions will reduce distractions, maximize learning time, support student mental health, and reduce opportunities for cyber bullying,” said Alberta Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides at a Monday press conference.

Natasha MacArthur-Poole, superintendent of the Fort McMurray Catholic School Division (FMCSD), said school leaders will spend the next few weeks developing their policies for the 2024-25 school year.

Advertisement 3

Article content

“Student learning and safety is always our first priority in Fort McMurray Catholic Schools,” she said in a statement. “We will continue to advocate for, and show leadership in, responsible use of technology and social media in schools.”

Linda Mywaart, board chair of the Fort McMurray Public School Division (FMPSD), said the board was already discussing the role of personal devices in schools with the student advisory council and how they impact student life. Mywaart said the response was mixed, but the announcement from Nicolaides will kickstart a discussion on its use.

“It’s not technology in and of itself, it’s how and when it’s being used. I think that is more of the growing concern,” Mywaart said in an interview. “We’ve seen great things in terms of both literacy and numeracy using technology, so it’s absolutely a critical tool. But its use needs to be managed to keep it from becoming a distraction.”

Advertisement 4

Article content

Nicolaides said schools will decide enforcement and punishment for the policy, but parents and guardians must be told if a student violates the new rules. The policy is based off a survey from parents, guardians and educators. Nicolaides said more than 68,000 people responded, which is a record for the Alberta government.

People were unanimous that this technology was distracting students and hurt development across all grades, he said. The survey included direct questions over whether these devices should be banned from classrooms.

The vast majority of respondents indicated that they never, if very rarely, direct students to use cell phones at schools, and did note that they are significant sources of distraction,” said Nicolaides. “I think there needs to be more work done. We haven’t even gotten on the topic of artificial intelligence and ChatGPT and other things, so I think we we need to just be responsive to changing technology.”

Advertisement 5

Article content

ATA welcomes announcement, NDP ‘cautiously optimistic’

Jason Schilling, president of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, welcomed the announcement in a statement. He said it reflects the union’s policy on keeping students focused while “balancing situations” where technology can be helpful for medical and learning needs.

“Teachers and school leaders look forward to having the support of government and school boards as they implement this new policy,” he said.

Amanda Chapman, the Opposition NDP’s education critic, said in a statement after the press conference she was “cautiously optimistic” with the policy’s educational and social goals within Alberta’s schools.

She criticized the province for not committing to teaching “digital literacy.” Learning about healthy relationships with social media, she said, could help students. Chapman also challenged the Alberta government to release the survey’s full findings.

“The pressures on our classrooms go much further than cellphones. The UCP’s dramatic cuts to funding for public education have resulted in overcrowded classrooms, overworked teachers and simply not enough resources for a growing number of students with individual learning needs,” she said.

Get the news and events of Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo in your inbox every Friday morning by signing up for our newsletter.

[email protected]

Article content