Education for the Future, Future of Education

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Much is written about the future of education and one sure prediction is that much more will be written in the future. While some ideas urge us to pull back from technology and information – to embrace nature, ‘creativity’ and humanities, most that’s written is about the technological developments in society.

Many of the focal issues are ‘practical’.  What jobs will there be, what skills will be needed in the future? In some ways the situation is analogous to the industrial revolution which required literacy and numeracy skills among a large number of workers; these became first the new lower middle class of administrators, and the working class clerical workers. When production required more than literacy and numeracy, specialist engineering, scientific and other skills developed. In Victorian times, though, a humanist theme of education for its own sake as developing the ‘whole person’ brought to the curriculum music, art, literature, history the wider humanities. Nor was this an imposed  curriculum from loftier folk: working class self-education and mutual education included not only skills acquisition but prized the broad human development learning and sharing. Literacy, for instance, was not only a means to better oneself financially, but offered a portal into literature, history, political debate and more.

The situation today is different There has been a sea change in educational culture and policy, and the way that most people perhaps tend now to see education in utilitarian terms, a means to an end. Humanities generally are much less prominent in discussion about education. Sociology and Psychology are discussed but with a positivist perspective.

‘Digital media education’ will usually refer to skills-getting for flexible employment in current and new sectors. ‘Digital psychology’ is a new concept which refers to marketing. Business and marketing futures are at the broad centre of discussion of digital futures. Digital takeover of agriculture, engineering, transportation, logistics and everything else entails digital-relevant training. The UK’s largest export sector by far is financial services, now of course impossible to imagine without their digital medium. Entertainment, culture generally, music, the written word – all and more are increasingly ‘digital’.

There is a passionate and widespread enthusiasm for all things digital. This is, perhaps not coincidentally, paralleled with a near mania for all things ‘neuro’. Since digital technology now allows for non-organic interaction with biological neurons, not surprisingly the prospect of cyborgs or a breed of homo digitalis seems something more than science fiction. With the massive acceleration of computer power, and the interconnectivity of all things digital, by 2050 or sooner human beings will be either literally or via extension connected with a vast global information ‘brain’ – not just specialised in one thing, but more akin to the parallel processing of the biological brain.

There can be no surprise that the future of education debates focuses so much on digital technology as an ‘aid’ to learning – but this is a far cry from overhead projectors. These ‘aids’ it is currently proposed may replace the need for human teachers altogether. It will (as it is now to a relatively limited extent) be possible to dispense with learning institutions’ brick and mortar completely.

While all of this may come to pass or not, it’s worth thinking more deeply and generally about the human requirements from education. This has never been resolved which is why theory after theory of education have followed from Socrates onwards. We do need to guard against being swept along and reacting only as things come along. It’s not clear that enough is being done to think about the future. Such thinking is largely speculative and can easily turn to fantasies based on utopias or dystopias. Yet it has to be said that given striking contemporary failings in education which from the hindsight may appear somewhat risible, the education of a five years old who will be 20 in 15 years time needs to take the future very much into account: we should at least try to think ahead in ten or fifteen years periods.

Finally, it is doubtful whether education has ever taken seriously a commitment to prepare people for citizenship, to act as political citizens within the structures of power. The political processes are witnessing change just now through social media etc but this is superficial. The challenge for democracy is to produce citizens who have some understanding of how power is distributed in society and the world. This power will increasingly be found in Digitalia and not transparently so. Digital media education should be about more than teaching digital skills. It should be essentially about understanding digital media.

 

Ade Johnston

Young People and Gambling Risks

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TODAY The Times had a front page headline expressing alarm at the pervasiveness of gambling promotion. This follows an editorial earlier in the month warning of the human devestation caused by electronic gambling. For many years there have been media campaigns, politicians, individuals, Churches, psychiatrists, and organisations set up specifically to highlight the dangers of Fixed Odds Betting Machines found in bookmakers. Alarm is growing quickly about online gambling available to anyone with a smartphone, computer or pad.

In 2016 the Gambling Commission reported that almost half a million children gamble weekly and 9,000 of these are already problem gamblers. These figures are likely to grow. The nature of online gambling is very similar to that of the machines on bookmakers. Experts believe that the speed of play, the ease of play and other factors evoke a ‘zone;, initially pleasurable, that can lead to addiction. It is always difficult to gather data in such a rapidly growing area, and there will always be different methodologies and disputes about interpretation, but the currently agreed figures are worrying enough.

Parents have a role to play of course. Ongoing informal education and information from charities and other organisations is vital too: a particular new demography of gambling for instance is that of educated young adults which includes Higher Education students.

Schools have a role to play too.  A House of Lord Committee earlier this year called for digital literacy to be the ‘fourth pillar’ of education, and few educationists would argue against that. Each school will organise digital literacy differently, some combination of specific classes and cross-curricular organisation. As well as skills development, teachers will be concerned with such activities as critical responses to digital media, risks attached to various sectors of the internet, citizen development for the digital future and so on. Education about drugs and alcohol is a basic part of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). Gambling needs attention too.

There are many ways this can be covered. Maths can look at probabilities and ‘The Gambler’s Fallacy’, as well as the nature of random numbers. In the UK there are examples of young people having produced drama and video around the theme of gambling. Business studies can explore the ethics of gambling industries, and the roles of business and personal responsibility. Psychology/biology/sociology can look at the various levels of understanding addiction. Media education can examine advertising, the role of digital technology in affecting behaviours, stereotypes of gambling and addiction in film, television and other media. English can introduce literature (such as Dostoevsky’s The Gambler), promote group and class discussion, expressive writing, working with newspaper reports etc. Media/Communications/English students with more advanced skills can commit to a multi-level project which examines the many complexities of modern gambling. History can out gambling in a broader context.

Our site beatthefix.com provides a basis for project work. It is a developing site and in the near future will be publishing more suggestions and some free resources.

 

 

Coming Soon! It’s an Education!

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THIS SITE is a bit of a mish mash just now! OK, we know. We’re busy with a redesign but this will be mainly to accomodate a big section on education. Formal and informal resources, for teachers and students, for the rest of us who are interested in the growing digital environment we live in whether we like it or not.

A lot of the more formal stuff will be of special interest to English and Media teachers and students, but there is a definite need for skills and critical digital literacy to feature across the curriculum. We’ll draw upon features of media studies, and include the use of literature, film and drama. Teachers of PSHE (personal, social and health education) will also find the site useful.

So far the site has taken a very general look at some of the ‘big issues’ around the digital world, one being of course the repeating worries about ‘digital addiction’ and related concerns about our future lives. There’s a ‘handle’ here relating to addiction, and a bit of psychology. This relates tour case study site http://www.beatthefix.com which explores a specific focus of digital machines. Gambling machines (which include of course those available in smartphones, tablets and computers) give rise to very precise social concerns. The case study affords an opportunity to consider addiction and gambling addiction in particular; it is designed to introduce the ways that law, politics, campaign groups, public health, business practices, psychology, the media, social media, advertising all intersect.

Human Dimensions of Technology: Erich Fromm

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As technology has developed, especially over the past three centuries (but remember that Socrates was worried about the technology of writing), it has been accompanied by often very negative comments from writers, philosophers and other commentators. We’ve seen some contemporary worries expressed in recent posts. We shall look in future at some of the major commentaries about technology, especially electronic technology, in this and later posts.

We begin with a long series of quotations from The Revolution of Hope: Toward a Humanized Technology which was published in 1969, the work of Erich Fromm. Fromm was – among many other things – a psychologist, a psychoanalyst and a cultural critic. The title of his book suggests its important – a ‘humanized’ future rather than one where technology alone is the central aspect of life. This reflects concerns since at least the 17th century that human nature, human wellbeing and human potential may be stifled by machines. Fromm is a fascinating writer (he died in 1980), and he was immensely popular when alive, especially among the young. In many ways much of his writing is as relevant today as it originally was.

A specter is stalking in our midst whom only a few see with clarity. It is not the old ghost of communism or fascism. It is a new specter: a completely mechanized society, devoted to maxi­mal material output and consumption, directed by computers; and in this social process, man himself is being transformed into a part of the total machine, well fed and entertained, yet passive, unalive, and with little feeling. With the victory of the new society, individualism and privacy will have disappeared; feel­ings toward others will be engineered by psychological condi­tioning and other devices, or drugs which also serve a new kind of introspective experience. As Zbigniew Brzezinski put it, “In the technetronic society the trend would seem to be towards the aggregation of the individual support of millions of uncoordi­nated citizens, easily within the reach of magnetic and attractive personalities effectively exploiting the latest communication techniques to manipulate emotions and control reason.” This new form of society has been predicted in the form of fiction in Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.

Perhaps its most ominous aspect at present is that we seem to lose control over our own system. We execute the decisions which our computer calculations make for us. We as human beings have no aims except producing and consuming more and more. We will nothing, nor do we not-will anything. We are threatened with extinction by nuclear weapons and with inner deadness by the passiveness which our exclusion from responsi­ble decision making engenders.

How did it happen? How did man, at the very height of his victory over nature, become the prisoner of his own creation and in serious danger of destroying himself? In the search for scientific truth, man came across knowledge that he could use for the domination of nature. He had tre­mendous success. But in the one-sided emphasis on technique and material consumption, man lost touch with himself, with life. Having lost religious faith and the humanistic values bound up with it, he concentrated on technical and material values and lost the capacity for deep emotional experiences, for the joy and sadness that accompany them. The machine he built became so powerful that it developed its own program, which now determines man’s own thinking.

The answers to these questions differ. Among those who recognize the revolutionary and drastic change in human life which the “megamachine” could bring about …

Given these general aims, what is the procedure of humanistic planning? Computers should become a functional part in a life-oriented social system and not a cancer which begins to play havoc and eventually kills the system. Machines or computers must become means for ends which are determined by man’s reason and will. The values which determine the selection of facts and which influence the programing of the computer must be gained on the basis of the knowledge of human nature, its various possible manifestations, its optimal forms of development, and the real needs conducive to this development. That is to say, man, not technique, must become the ultimate source of values; optimal human development and not maximal production the criterion for all planning.

Are we confronted with a tragic, insolvable dilemma? Must we produce sick people in order to have a healthy economy, or can we use our material resources, our inventions, our com­puters to serve the ends of man? Must individuals be passive and dependent in order to have strong and well-functioning organizations?

My intention is to discuss the steps which, to me, are the most important ones: (1) Planning which includes the system Man and which is based on norms which follow from the examination of the optimal functioning of the human being. (2) Activation of the individual by methods of grass-roots activity and responsibility, by changing the present methods of alienated bureaucracy into one of humanistic management. (3) Changing of the consumption pattern in the direction of consumption that contributes to Activation and discourages “passivation.” (4) The emergence of new forms of psychospiritual orientation and devotion, which are equivalents of the religious systems of the past.

£££Mental Health£££Education£££

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Mental Health and Education are ubiquitous topics for discussion. ‘Users’, front line providers, parents, academic research, government, media, politicians, campaigners, charities,  myriad social media comments are all apparent.

I’ll bring the two topics together later, but for now point out two separate commonalities to each. Firstly, a great deal, perhaps the majority, of discussion involves finance and resourcing.

Secondly, a less obvious but significant point, the impact of technology on each area. In education, the use of digital devices as an aid to learning is highlighted; less so educational preparation for the rapidly changing digital worlds that will succeed each other education anticipating great flexibility, genuinely transferable technical and critical skills, and engagement with the political and cultural dimensions of new digital environments. In mental health, there is also some movement towards using digital devices as remote devices to support users and provide diagnosis and feedback; there are also growing concerns that some aspects of digital device usage have negative and deleterious effects on mental health.

Returning to the first point, money. It goes without saying that exiting education and mental health services have worked very well for millions of people, and would be able to do even more with extra cash. Equally obvious, many people have not been reached or adequately supported by state provided services. Purpose built schools with the best of technology and architecture have sometimes not provided better education; some have closed a few years after opening. Despite a conveyor belt of government reports, mental health, even with a modest input of extra money, is still inadequately funded or recognised as on a parity with other health services.

But money is not the only issue. The quality of workers and curtailing their leaving jobs through stress, overload and poor pay are others. But the quality of each worker is important too in ‘delivery’. Undertraining, inadequate training programmes and general personal development are factors; more important are the qualities of each worker in terms of dedication, self-development, caring and endurance: these cannot be programmed.

Confounding everything are the myriad competing ‘theories’ of education and mental health. These relate to questions such as what is education for? What constitutes mental health? How best to promote mental health and education? Debates are largely academic rarifications, and are often not debates at all since adherents to this or that body of beliefs may be more interested in promotion than discussion, though this is the worst case scenario.

What is, or should be, clear is that whatever the conceptual muddles and inadequacies of historical and contemporary theoretical underpinnings, the huge impact of technological development with implications for every aspect of life has to be factored into debate over the design of services and allocation of resources.

Mental health is currently heavily involved with the prevention of disorders, the promotion of ‘wellbeing’. Health and illness correlate strongly with poverty, deprivation, housing, cultural capital, employment and educational level, although it is vital to remember that ill health is often apparently endogenous or correlated with lifestyle factors and choices among the more privileged sectors of society. Schools, colleges and universities report increasing instances of  mental health disorders among students. Education and mental health are linked in complex but definite ways.

There are more general social and cultural factors that are involved with increases in sadness, unhappiness and misery – often treated now as mental disease, perhaps inappropriately – among relatively comfortable classes of society. These factors, it is variously argued, are caused by things like the consumerist ethic, 27/7 lifestyles, the impact of digital technology and the blurring of work and leisure, even capitalism itself. To these may be added financial precarity, the huge challenges facing young people to even begin to reach the security of their elders, and the rapidly shifting political and global surfaces. Whether imagined or real, people in the past generally had ‘a ground of being’, yet these days there is no ground at all; for many there are no central meanings and values. It is not an exaggeration to integrate all this into the identifying of an existential crisis.

There are many discussions and even celebrations of ‘The Future’, a brave new world of exciting technology. Much of this is well warranted. Advances in health care, cleaner environments, colonisation of foreign planets (actually vital, according to Stephen Hawking, if the human race is to survive). Equally, a cursory glance suggests obvious downsides. Advances in war machines, increased wealth divides as  technological benefits are for the rich only, the fate of the unskilled and uneducated, and the law of unintended consequences – emergent factors from autopoetic complexity in development.

To conclude, yes more money is needed for everything. But it is foolish and one-dimensional to imagine mental health or education as discrete entities. Not only are these two connected, they are connected with myriad other issues in dynamic ways which cannot be simply modelled or mapped. Whether Artificial Intelligence improves our cognitive skills, we presently have to acknowledge that to a large extent we are making progress – as we also have – largely in the dark, quite crude in our conception of the landscape. Nevertheless, let’s not kid ourselves that money is the answer to everything. We need to factor in urgently not some distant future, but the one that’s already here in many ways. We need to imagine forward our humanity. This can be done by asking the deeper questions about what we mean by health and education.

 

Ade Johnston

 

Image: Gerd Leonhard, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

Digital Education – more than skills

Child_with_Apple_iPad

Much is written about the future of education and one sure prediction is that much more will be written in the future. While some ideas urge us to pull back from technology and information – to embrace nature, ‘creativity’ ad humanities, most that’s written is about the technological developments in society.

Many of the focal issues are ‘practical’.  What jobs will there be, what skills will be needed in the future? In some ways the situation is analogous to the industrial revolution which required literacy and numeracy skills among a large number of workers; these became first the new lower middle class of administrators, and the working class clerical workers. When production required more than literacy and numeracy, specialist engineering, scientific and other skills developed. In Victorian times, though, a humanist theme of education for its own sake as developing the ‘whole person’ brought to the curriculum music, art, literature, history the wider humanities. Nor was this an imposed  curriculum from loftier folk: working class self-education and mutual education included not only skills acquisition but prized the broad human development learning and sharing. Literacy, for instance, was not only a means to better oneself financially, but offered a portal into literature, history, political debate and more.

King's_College_London_Students_Evacuated_To_Bristol,_England,_1940_D433

The situation today is different There has been a sea change in educational culture and policy, and the way that most people perhaps tend now to see education in utilitarian terms, a means to an end. Humanities generally are much less prominent in discussion about education. Sociology and Psychology are discussed but with a positivist perspective.

‘Digital media education’ will usually refer to skills-getting for flexible employment in current and new sectors. ‘Digital psychology’ is a new concept which refers to marketing. Business and marketing futures are at the broad centre of discussion of digital futures. Digital takeover of agriculture, engineering, transportation, logistics and everything else entails digital-relevant training. The UK’s largest export sector by far is financial services, now of course impossible to imagine without their digital medium. Entertainment, culture generally, music, the written word – all and more are increasingly ‘digital’.

There is a passionate and widespread enthusiasm for all things digital. This is, perhaps not coincidentally, paralleled with a near mania for all things ‘neuro’. Since digital technology now allows for non-organic interaction with biological neurons, not surprisingly the prospect of cyborgs or a breed of homo digitalis seems something more than science fiction. With the massive acceleration of computer power, and the interconnectivity of all things digital, by 2050 or sooner human beings will be either literally or via extension connected with a vast global information ‘brain’ – not just specialised in one thing, but more akin to the parallel processing of the biological brain.

There can be no surprise that the future of education debates focuses so much on digital technology as an ‘aid’ to learning – but this is a far cry from overhead projectors. These ‘aids’ it is currently proposed may replace the need for human teachers altogether. It will (as it is now to a relatively limited extent) be possible to dispense with learning institutions’ brick and mortar completely.

While all of this may come to pass or not, it’s worth thinking more deeply and generally about the human requirements from education. This has never been resolved which is why theory after theory of education has followed from Socrates onwards. We do need to guard against being swept along and reacting only as things come along. It’s not clear that enough is being done to think about the future. Such thinking is largely speculative and can easily turn to fantasies based on utopias or dystopias. Yet it has to be said that given striking contemporary failings in education which from the hindsight of the future may appear somewhat risible, the education of a five years old who will be 20 in 15 years time needs to take the future very much into account: we should at least try to think ahead in ten or fifteen years periods.

Finally, it is doubtful whether education has ever taken seriously a commitment to prepare people for citizenship, to act as political citizens within the structures of power. The political processes are witnessing change just now through social media etc but this is superficial. The challenge for democracy is to produce citizens who have some understanding of how power is distributed in society and the world. This power will increasingly be found in Digitalia and not transparently so. Digital media education should be about more than teaching digital skills. It should be essentially about understanding digital media.

 

Ade Johnston

Digital Politics

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As digital technologies expand along with their use new words, phrases and concepts emerge. One such is digital politics.

The phrase can have several meanings:

  • The use of digital media, especially social, to inform, persuade, unite, argue politically.
  • The politics of the internet itself. The power differential between service providers and users. Government policies. Censorship.
  • The ‘digital divide’. How far people globally and locally have access to the internet. How far digital literacy is developed.
  • Cyber warfare.
  • Funding of reasearch into the internet and its future.

In practice today, on may consider such intense issues as how benefit claimants are required to manage claims online and seek jobs. Or how people may be manipulated not only by ‘fake news’ but by unscrupulous commercial websites.

To gain a fuller understanding of the complexity of digital politics have a look at the freely available Handbook of Digital Politics

It is well worth pointing out that digital ‘anything’ is embedded in the overall political, cultural and economic structures of society. For instance, like ‘old fashioned’ literacy, digital literacy for young people cannot be expected to develop in only a classroom. The high number of adults (one in six in the UK) who have difficulty with reading and writing are not the products of poor schooling (although this may be a factor) but of much broader societal dimensions. Addressing these dimensions involves politics.

Avoiding Internet Dangers

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Here’s a wonderful half hour talk by Nir Eyal. In it you’ll hear about ‘dark patterns’ that some top names use on their websites to entice you to do things you don’t want to – such as NOT ticking a box to refuse a subscription. Plenty of advice on work/home spaces and disconnecting from media during leisure time. Also, advice on how to reduce time on digital devices.

Children and Social Media (3)

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Do we worry too much about children and the internet, social media especially?

Clearly, there are dangers. Many web-based organisations offer information and support regarding obvious ones such as the risks of disclosing information, predators, bullying, sexting and so on. Then there are worries about children spending too much time in front of screens, and possible cognitive damage and other mental health issues. These sorts of worries are also addressed in schools.

There are particular issues aroud games such as this one which, like some of social media, create great anxiety about body image. Then there are games which may encourage online gambling: the line between fun and monetary gaming is very blurred.

It’s worth bearing in mind some context. New technologies always elicit fears. Socrates worried that the written word was harmful! When printing arrived it caused near meltdown in the Church which wanted to keep a monopoly of reading and writing. Governments taxed radical newspapers, worried about the spread of ‘dangerous ideas’. In Victorian times, the Penny Dreadful comics – full of crime and ‘immoral’ tales – caused widespread condemnation. Remember too that novel reading was once considered morally dangerous. Film created dire warnings of moral collapse, as did television. Then there was video and the ‘video nasties’ corrupting youth. Even today some pastors talk of rock and roll as ‘the devil’s music’ and so on.

Perhaps we need a ‘middle way’.

Sonia Livingstone, who has been researching families and technology for nearly three decades, says that families are getting whipsawed by  “polarized” advice.

And the media, as well as other authorities, are to blame for concentrating on the negative effects of screens on kids without differentiating between potential risks and actual harms, or correlations and cause, and for not talking enough about what constructive role parents can play other than yanking the plug.

“Parents are panicked by the messages about the dangers of the Internet,” Livingstone says. “Messages are coming from very scattered sources and reaching parents in garbled forms. If they look for official advice, they tend to find 10 ways to say, ‘Don’t,’ but no ways to say ‘Do.’ “

“Parents are panicked by the messages about the dangers of the Internet,” Livingstone says. “Messages are coming from very scattered sources and reaching parents in garbled forms. If they look for official advice, they tend to find 10 ways to say, ‘Don’t,’ but no ways to say ‘Do.’ “

Livingstone and colleagues took a particular interest in ‘screentime rules’ and the fears that kids spend too much time in fron to screens:

What worried us was that parents seemed to use these rules as a rod with which to beat themselves, worrying how much was too much, whether family TV time or homework ‘counts’ as screen time, or feeling guilty or inadequate as parents when their children watched ‘too much’. Yet, such rules just didn’t seem realistic in this ‘digital age’ when homework, shopping, Skyping with grandparents elsewhere or fathers working away from home.

So, we scoured the internet, and wrote to experts, to discover what advice is being given to parents. We uncovered quite a hodgepodge of advice, not always evidence-based, generally negative in intending to reduce exposure to ‘harmful’ media, and remarkably little of it able to recognize that parents are acquiring digital media at home to enable positive benefits for their children and, furthermore, they are often quite skilled in understanding it, not always being the ‘digital immigrants’ of old. Too much implies comfortable middle-class homes and fails to recognize the constraints or challenges parents often face.

Young people – digital natives – do develop not only skills but understanding. Their interaction with screens is an aspect, a part of their general development as human beings. Almost certainly, the best jobs in the near future will involve such an integration of digital experience with all other educational and human development.

On a very positive note, Mike Crowley writes:

Young people these days are wiser than they are frequently given credit for. According to the age-old generational view, however, our young people are out of control and technology is largely to blame. The reality is that schools today deal with issues pertaining to social choices and interactions that can sometimes be misinterpreted as “technology problems”. The popular view — propagated by some scaremongering media sources — is that inappropriate technology use is rampant among today’s youth. The evidence, however, confirms a very different reality. According to Yalda Uhls:

“We may finally be at a tipping point, one we have seen with every introduction of new media. New data from respected social scientists around the world continues to demonstrate that children are adapting and sometimes thriving as they embrace 21st-century media; these small and incremental changes may be building to permanent change. Perhaps now the hysteria will finally come to an end.”

We’ll be looking at the concept of digital literacy later on. Suffice it to say here that this involves a large spectrum from basic skills and safety right through to deep understanding of  digital production, design and control; then an appreciation of the ways in which digital technology shapes culture, society and politics. To reach the grandiose higher levels, young people will need an education geared to that.

 

Gambling – a game for children?

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We’ll be regularly updating news about gambling and children. Without wishing to exaggerate and add unnecessary fears for parents, there is no doubt that online gambling does offer risks to young people.

The machine showed above would only be found in a bookmakers for 18 year old above. Yet it’s interesting that the’games’ are very similar to games for children. With the spread off advertising, more and more opportunities for online gambling it is something to watch out for. We’ll look at the risks in more detail but it’s worth bearing in mind for now that studies have shown many thousands of children under the age of 15 who already are nearing the line of problem gambling and many who have crossed it.