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Elementary students in N.S. must soon store their phones for entire school day

Click to play video: 'N.S. restricting cellphone use in schools beginning this fall'
N.S. restricting cellphone use in schools beginning this fall
WATCH: This coming September, Nova Scotia will be limiting the use of cellphones and other mobile devices in public schools. As Megan King reports – Jun 6, 2024

Nova Scotia is “limiting” the use of cellphones and other mobile devices in public schools once the new school year starts in September.

The new directive was announced Thursday by Education Minister Becky Druhan — and is aimed at helping students “stay focused and support teachers.”

Elementary school students will have to store their phones during the entire school day.

Older students, however, may have the option to use cellphones during lunch and other breaks depending on “individual school rules.”

“These devices are the biggest distractions that we have in classrooms right now,” Druhan said during a news conference.

“The purpose of our classrooms is really to focus on learning and student development of achievement and their wellbeing. And having cellphones and other devices present and distracting during those times really takes away from that goal.”

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N.B. and N.S. examining school cell phone bans

The province notes that processes will be in place so that parents and students can reach each other, including in cases of emergency.

The decision was made after consultation with school advisory councils, ministerial advisory councils, the teachers’ union, and IWK public health experts.

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‘Getting back to developing the social skills’

Over at Clayton Park Junior High School, the new policy won’t actually change anything.

The school has already been cellphone free all year. Phones are stored in lockers throughout the day, including at lunchtime. Devices can only be turned back on when students are off school premises.

“It’s getting back to developing the social skills, with students of every age from primary to 12, that we need to get back to,” said Trina Canavan, the school’s principal.

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She says she has noticed an increase in student engagement in the classroom, as well as a drop in “social media incidents” among students. All this, she says, fosters a safer school environment.

“Prior to this year, they would be walking down the hallways, getting into classrooms on their cellphones. Not even talking to each other, not talking to our staff,” she said.

“Now, we’re getting ‘Good mornings,’ It’s allowed our staff to even develop stronger relationships with the students. And develop a relationship, not only as learners, but to get to know them better as students and people.”

Grade 8 student Deveshwar Sivarajkumar agrees there’s been a positive change in the school and among the student body.

“I see that there’s been a better classroom environment and there’s more student focus and achievement. And I also see that students are not on their phones all the time and students can actually listen to what they’re doing in class,” said Sivarajkumar.

Fellow Grade 8 student Lujain Elbatie says there’s even more physical activity happening.

“This year, when you go outside at lunch — because they’re not allowed to have their phones obviously — they have to do something, so they play basketball, they play soccer, they play volleyball, even if there is no volleyball nets,” said Elbatie.

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“It’s really, really nice to see them actually playing.”

Other provinces already have restrictions

Currently, individual schools have their own policies on technology use. This new directive will be provincewide and affect all students.

Nova Scotia is joining three other provinces in restricting cellphone use in schools.

Ontario introduced cellphone restrictions in 2019, making it the first province in Canada to take action against personal device usage in a classroom setting.

Quebec followed in 2023, and British Columbia announced similar rules in January of this year.

New Brunswick is also rolling out restrictions this September — requiring students to put their cellphones in silent mode in a designated area of the classroom. The policy says cellphones can be used at the discretion of the teacher for educational activities, or for medical reasons.

Experts have been taking a closer look at cellphone and social media use in schools in recent years.

Simon Sherry, a clinical psychologist and professor at Dalhousie University, has been calling for a ban on phones in schools across Atlantic Canada.

“Excessive screen time, cellphone use, social media use, links up to anxiety, depression, bullying. On the physical side of things, are links to inactivity, obesity, and diabetes,” he told Global News Morning last month.

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“In the classroom in particular, these devices are associated with problems of distractibility. You want to bring your best attention, concentration and memory to the task of learning and it’s hard to do that when you’re exchanging Snapchats with your buddy at the back of the room.”

Globally, UNESCO has also been pushing for classrooms around the world to ban smartphone use, arguing the devices distract from learning and affect students’ mental health.

— with files from Global News’ Megan King and The Canadian Press

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