Junior cycle students asked to learn about risks of gambling and gaming

Topic will be covered in revised Social, Personal and Health Education programme

Online gambling is becoming problematic for some young teenagers. Photo: Stock image

Katherine Donnelly

Students as young as 14 and 15 have asked to learn in school about the risks associated with ­gambling and gaming.

The topics will now be introduced to a redeveloped course in Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) for junior cycle students.

The young teens also want to learn more about vaping, racism and discrimination through the new SPHE programme, which is currently being finalised.

Pornography and sexual consent are among other issues being introduced to the course following a review of relationships and sexuality education (RSE), which is covered in SPHE classes.

The new SPHE curriculum for junior cycle, including the updated RSE content, is being developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

Junior cycle students will be the first to experience the new RSE curriculum, with changes for primary pupils and Leaving Cert students following.

As part of its preparatory work on the redeveloped SPHE programme, the NCCA published a discussion paper, followed by a consultation with teachers, students and others.

The curriculum advisory body sought views on the current course and also invited suggestions for additional topics that need to be addressed or addressed in more depth.

It was the consultation with students – mainly third years, who are generally aged 14 to 15 – that threw up the demand for gambling, gaming and a number of other issues to be covered.

Students’ interest in gambling and gaming points to a need to address an issue that is clearly causing some concern among that age group.

While there is no comparable data in Ireland, in 2019, 11pc of 11 to 16-year-olds in the UK said they had spent money on gambling activities in the previous seven days, and 36pc reported doing so in the preceding 12 months.

While those figures have remained reasonably static, the trend towards online gambling, facilitated by widespread ownership of smartphones, including among young people, is a source of worry.

The study found that much of the online activity among 11 to 16-year-olds was taking place on apps, including casino games. The consultation and previous NCCA work has shown that teenagers and their teachers believe the SPHE curriculum introduces some topics too late. The new course aims to address that.

Students complained that the traditional approach was often more suited to a younger age group, with one commenting: “It is too babyish; like if someone is bullying you online, it is only what we heard in primary school.” At a focus group, another reported: “Sexuality. We have never done sexuality, it would be more useful than water safety.”

Many teachers spoke about the need to be “brave” in responding to the real needs that young teens are bringing into the SPHE classroom.

Teachers agreed the redeveloped course should place a greater emphasis on the development of social and emotional skills over transmission of facts and information.

The consultation found that the issues ranked as most important for SPHE classes were mental health/coping with stress, self-image/body image and self-esteem, alcohol, drugs and other addictions, relationship skills, healthy and unhealthy/abusive relationships, sexual identities, sexual orientation and healthy sexual expression.