TDSB app ban is the latest puts in Canadian schools curbing phone use

Students using their smartphones. Photo from Getty Images
Students using their smartphones. Photo from Getty Images

The Toronto District School Board’s decision to ban social-media and entertainment sites from its in-school networks appeared to take many by surprise on Monday, but it’s a move that has already taken by schools across the country.

The policy change—which temporarily blocks wifi access to Snapchat, Instagram, and Netflix over its networks—was announced by the board in a release on Monday. Students can still access the sites using their own data plans, CBC News reported.

“These sites account for more than 20% of our daily network activity and, on our older, slower network, make many necessary operational tasks, such as attendance, registration and report cards, nearly impossible to complete,” the release reads. “This interim measure will help alleviate congestion and boost network capacity while minimizing the impact on teaching and learning.”

The move was also announced on Twitter, where the response was quick—and sometimes defiant.

Others were surprised to learn that students could access the school wifi networks at all.

The TDSB isn’t the first school board in Canada to implement a social-media ban. In 2015, some high schools in Manitoba tried to ban the app Yik Yak, which allows anonymous comments, because of cyberbullying fears.

Other Canadian schools have skipped the middle man of wifi and banned cell phones altogether. George Lee School in Regina went “device free” last year, and said in a newsletter released shortly afterwards that the policy had reduced issues with social-media use. In February, a Toronto middle school banned cell phones in classrooms, and introduced restrictions like no social media and no photos for when students are allowed to check their devices on campus.

Other Canadian schools are embracing smartphones and finding ways to incorporate them in educational environments. Research released earlier this year found that while many schools are attempting to ban specific applications, or the devices themselves, students often find ways around it. Flexible policies were ultimately more effective and gave students the opportunity to learn when device use was or wasn’t appropriate, the researchers suggested.

And while the TDSB once had a blanket ban on cell phones—running from 2007 till 2011—the restrictions on its wifi network are only meant to be temporary. According to Monday’s release, the board is working on network improvements and plans to continue to do so over the summer, with normal wifi access resuming in September.