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Home and School Federation to debate screen use in P.E.I. schools

Some P.E.I. parents are pushing for clearer rules around kids’ screen time in the classroom. 

The Spring Park Home and School Association said it’s concerned about teachers showing videos during snack and lunch breaks to help keep their classrooms under control.

“There seems to be no consistency on when screens are used, and for what purposes, in schools,” said the group’s president, Sjors Reijers.  “We were hearing things like, ‘My kids are coming home from school, they’re not having their lunch, they’re coming home hungry because they were too distracted watching videos during lunchtime.'”

Reijers said schools should make sure “that when our kids are using screens, it’s in an intentional way that furthers their learning, rather than adding to an already hours-long sedentary screen time.”

Currently, it’s largely up to individual schools and teachers to decide when and how to use screens.

But at the Annual General Meeting of the province’s Home and School Federation next Saturday, the group will vote on whether it should ask for those guidelines to be more specific.

Reijers said if the motion passes, it will be presented to P.E.I.’s Department of Education and Public Schools Branch (PSB), similar to what happened with the pay-what-you-can school food program in 2015.

Four times the recommended screen time

Travis Saunders, associate professor of Applied Human Sciences at UPEI, studies the health impacts of screen time on children. He agreed Island schools need clearer guidelines.

“We know on P.E.I., the average student’s getting about eight hours a day of recreational screen time,” he said. “The recommendation is no more than two hours.

“So they’re already four times higher.”

A man in a button up shirt stands in a gym.
Travis Saunders, associate professor of Applied Human Sciences at UPEI, says many students are getting four times the recommended amount of screen time in the course of a day. (Steve Bruce/CBC)

Saunders said how much screen time most students get can increase their risk of depression and anxiety, cause sleep problems, and lower their fitness level.

“They’re not likely to be set up for learning as effectively,” he said.

And when screens are used only for entertainment, Saunders added, there is little educational benefit to justify it.

We should be paying attention to the people around us when we’re eating, and to our food.— Travis Saunders

“Using screens to keep students seated during snack times and meal times, that’s something the food guide advises against,” he said. “It’s something the Canadian Paediatric Society advises against.

“We should be paying attention to the people around us when we’re eating, and to our food.”

Saunders wants the Department of Education and the PSB to issue clearer guidance on when screens are acceptable, and when they aren’t.

“Teachers aren’t getting a lot of guidance about what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate,” he said. “Right now, the default seems to be ‘It’s OK to use screens,’ and I think the default should be that we don’t use screens unless there’s a really good purpose.”

Enhancing classroom learning

The PSB has had policies around cellphones and other devices since 2007. The current policy states technology must be used in a “responsible way that enhances administration, learning, and teaching and does not adversely affect learning or the work environment.”

In a statement to CBC News, the branch said it recognizes screen time can be both positive and negative for students.

“The PSB’s school populations house varying and diverse learners where staff need the flexibility to adapt their use of technology,” the statement said.

The branch said its policy is focused on acceptable use and responsible digital citizenship, and it’s committed to evolving the policies and practices to meet current needs.

The government moved quick to help parents who could potentially be stranded by the closure of after-school spaces in Stratford, says Natalie Jameson.
Education Minister Natalie Jameson says her department is open to new research on screen time in schools. (Province of P.E.I.)

A statement from Education Minister Natalie Jameson said P.E.I.’s curriculum follows the Canadian 24 Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth, and the province is open to new research and ideas when it comes to using screens in schools.

Reijers said he doesn’t know the exact answer to what the rules should be, but he hopes parents can advance the conversation around it as they debate the issue this weekend.

“We’re not policy makers,” he said. “We’re just making the suggestion, or encouraging the conversation, to have some sort of a more Island-wide policy on when screens are used.”

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