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N.B., Nova Scotia governments to review school smartphone policies

Click to play video: 'N.B. and N.S. examining school cell phone bans'
N.B. and N.S. examining school cell phone bans
WATCH: Both New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are taking a look at their school cell phone policies following restrictions being imposed in other jurisdictions. And while the idea of a ban has support from some quarters, others urge caution. Silas Brown reports. – Apr 30, 2024

Governments in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are reviewing their school smartphone policies, as other Canadian jurisdictions move to restrict their classroom use.

A spokesperson for the New Brunswick education department told Global News that Policy 311 is being updated and that the department “will be bringing forward those modifications in the coming weeks.”

Nova Scotia did not respond to a request for comment by deadline, but has previously told Global News they are keeping an eye on the issue.

The update in New Brunswick is being cheered by former education minister Dominic Cardy who says that failing to implement a ban on smartphones is one of his biggest regrets from his time as education minister.

“The downsides were ever-growing and apparent when I was minister, but the scientific evidence wasn’t really conclusive. It now really is,” he said in an interview.

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“I would argue we need to press pause because in addition to the distractions in schools that are caused by cellphones, we are now seeing clear evidence of the dangers.”

That evidence includes a new paper out of Norway that found banning smartphones in schools reduced bullying and improved mental health outcomes for students. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and Harvard School of Education have also produced reports that led Cardy, who didn’t support a ban during his time as minister, to change his position.

Ontario recently announced it would tighten its smartphone ban, which was previously at the discretion of school boards. Now phones will be banned during class time. Similar measures have been adopted by British Columbia and Quebec.

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Pressure has begun mounting for changes in the Maritimes. New Brunswick’s child and youth advocate Kelly Lamrock told lawmakers in February that a ban was worth considering, due to the technology’s impact on youth mental health.

“In every jurisdiction advocates are saying, ‘Wow, the social media use is going up, right at the same time and at the same pace as mental health indicators are collapsing,'” he told reporters at the time.

“I don’t think the two are unconnected anymore.”

Click to play video: 'UN report calls for global ban on smartphones in schools'
UN report calls for global ban on smartphones in schools

However, organizations representing teachers in both provinces urge caution. New Brunswick Teacher’s Association president Peter Lagacy says that they have no official position on smartphone bans, but said it will be up to the province to properly consult with all stakeholders to chart a workable path forward. The NBTA has yet to be consulted by the province on the upcoming updates to Policy  311.

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“There are times when they’re being used for educational purposes which have some benefits as well. It’s really what’s going to work best for your school and your community,” he said.

“Looking at it through that school community lens is probably a good start and consulting with teachers and community members and parents to help find that solution would be beneficial.”

In Nova Scotia, Teacher’s Union president Ryan Lutes said he’s seen the distracting influence of smartphones first hand and says there is general support among teachers for restrictions.

“I found that they were definitely a distraction in my classroom,” he said.

“I heard from the vast majority of my colleagues, who would also say that, for the most part, the majority of the time, they were a distraction.”

But, Lutes adds that there shouldn’t be a blanket ban, allowing time for teachers who choose to make the technology part of their lessons to continue doing so.

Cardy says that was part of the reason he didn’t support a ban during his time as minister. But now he’s come to believe that, like any tool, students need to be prepared for how to use smartphones. That may mean a broader conversation about the impacts of social media on western society and ensuring teens are armed with the critical thinking skills to navigate an increasingly confusing and divisive online landscape.

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“Until we can give kid training in critical thinking and explicit instruction in how to use this technology, I argue now the evidence is clear that they should not be in our schools.

“The goal needs to be to reduce the amount of screen time to the bare minimum until students are given those tools to be able to use the tech.”

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