The Taking Risks Wisely educational programme
In 2006, the South African National Responsible Gambling Trust commissioned a team to develop an appropriate educational programme on responsible gambling for school children. The main aims of the programme are to reduce the incidence of problem gambling among youth, to provide young people with information regarding gambling regulations and counselling services in South Africa, to explain how gambling works and to dispel myths about control of outcomes, to develop learners' awareness of risks associated with gambling, and finally to help them make responsible decisions about their own lifestyle choices.
TAKING RISKS WISELY
Youth at risk
Youth are particularly at risk because as they are initiated into the adult world, they are also being confronted with adult lifestyle options. Studies have shown that youth are more at risk for addictive forms of behaviour than any other age group, mainly because of their lack of full life experiences combined with their over-confidence due to their not yet having grown the necessary inhibitory cortex. They are convinced that they will be able to handle the risks of certain actions, but since they don't yet have the experience of just what those risks are, they are often unable to cope with the actual outcomes.
The programme consists of two curricula of 15 units each in Life Orientation: the first for learners in Grades 7-9, and another one for learners in Grades 10-12. The first phase of the programme for Grades 7-9 was piloted in 5 provinces (KwaZulu-Natal, Western Cape, Northern Cape, Gauteng and Mpumalanga), involving 53 schools and over 2 400 learners. In 2011, it is being implemented in schools nationally, including Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. The second phase for Grades 10-12 is currently being developed and will be piloted in schools in 2012.
Merely telling (or even worse, threatening) learners not to engage in high-risk behaviour will neither develop their understanding of why these are in fact "high-risk", nor will it discourage them from experimenting. So, the Taking Risks Wisely units focus not so much on what to decide, but rather on how to go about making sensible decisions. Given the rich and varied demographics of South Africa, the programme aims to engage teachers and learners:
- From different social and ethnic cultures
- From different geographical regions (urban and rural)
- From schools with different levels of infrastructure
- Whose first language isn't English
- With different learning abilities and intellectual strengths
- Who have different learning styles and learning rates (multimedia components)
The resource comprises a colourful illustrated ring binder with five lessons or units for each Grade, prepared lesson plans and step-by-step guide for teachers, transparencies, and learner activity sheets. In addition, a comic book set in contemporary South Africa with Joe, the main character, has been developed and integrated into the learning material. Furthermore, an educational website for learners and teachers is available - click here. The site contains all the material found in the Taking Risks Wisely manual, and also uses online video as well as links to other sites to enhance the learning experience for learners in the areas of mathematics, statistics, money matters and life-style risk.
Click here to access the interactive schools site for teachers and learners.
To view the Teachers Manual click here (right-click mouse and choose "save target/link as" to save file to desktop).
To view the Comic Book click here (right-click mouse and choose "save target/link as" to save file to desktop).
Teachers' and learners' responses
To help learners cope with the plethora of pressures and temptations, Life Orientation teachers pleaded for interactive educational activities that are relevant and deal with actual, everyday type of challenges with which learners can identify. As one teacher wryly remarked, "The kind of environment we want children to envisage is not real." There is a massive chasm between the (moralizing) classroom with its idealistic stance and the real, pulsing, gritty world of shebeens, sex-for-cellphones and drugs. There is an urgent need to bridge this gap in an effective and responsible way.
In their feedback, learners commented that they were surprised to learn that: "gambling affects family life; people can get addicted to gambling; there is a high-risk in gambling; many people manage to gamble responsibly; when you play games of chance you may not know the outcome, even if you go to a sangoma; if someone has a gambling problem, I can help by calling gambling counsellors; and there are few chances to win and lots of chances to lose".
With the strong teacher support for the programme, we are cautiously optimistic that more South African youth will be able to make sensible decisions about which activities to become involved with and how to spend leisure time.