Eradicating notorious school yard bullying needs to begin at national level, says International expert Christina Salmivalli.
The Professor of Psychology from Finland’s University of Turku explained the key to elimination lies with bystander responsibility.
Christina, along with Professor Donna Cross, Director of the Child Health Promotion Research Centre at Edith Cowan University, addressed 100 educators about bringing an end to bullying using Finland’s KiVa program.
Considered to be one of the world’s most successful bullying initiatives, the KiVa program uses classes, group work and online games to cut bullying by half at Finnish schools.
“It can save their life, just simply someone asking, ‘are you OK’, Professor Salmivalli said.
Donna Cross said one in four children in WA were bullied at least every few weeks.
“It’s about changing what is considered normal behavior,” Professor Cross said.
“The expectation is not that you stand there and smile; at a minimum, you walk away and get help. It’s possible to make that shift but it needs lots of support for young people to do that.”
The KiVa program, a national initiative began several years ago when Finland’s Minister of Education, felt the need to address bullying in schools.
It was initiated as a result of the many changes in legislation and schools creating their own policies against bullying.
Since 2006, when the program was developed it has been used nationally in schools in Finland.
The program which has a very systematic approach provides educators with clear guidelines to stop bullying.
“…At the moment 82 per cent of all schools in Finland are implementing the program and this is really amazing because it has happened in just three years…”said Christina.
Through anecdotal evidence, Professor Salmivalli’s team has been able to assess the different forms of bullying.
“…We have evidence that we are really able to make a huge difference in the lives of 10’s of thousands of Finnish kids.”
Christina explained the importance of educating the students and providing student lessons. “…It’s very structured and it is delivered during the school hours. They address bystander responsibility, how should you respond if you see bullying going on, because often it’s very difficult to address bullies directly. We can discuss issues with them, but they don’t necessarily change their behaviour because they have classmates who are encouraging the bullying behavior and that is socially rewarding for the bully. So we are trying to change these dynamics in the classrooms.”
The development of the anti-bullying computer game for students to learn skills and practice them in a virtual environment has proved to be successful.
School staff - KiVa team tackle cases that are brought to their attention. There is a clear procedure for staff to follow based on solid evidence to address issues, systematic follow ups, online monitoring tools for teachers and students to make yearly surveys in order to follow progress and compare with other schools.
Christina recommends that parents discuss these issues at home with their children even is they are a bully, victim or bystander.
Encouraging your child to report bullying is fundamental.
“Most kids have attitudes that are clearly against bullying but they don’t show these attitudes publicly. So making these already existing attitudes visible and translating them into their actual responses, I think that’s the key.”
The most common form of bullying is still happening in the school yard.
Public ridicule, either in the form of verbal, physical or social isolation outweighs cyber bullying says Christina.
However, students are now targeting educators via cyber-bullying.
Minister for Education Dr. Liz Constable, who attended the seminar, addressed her concerns about teachers being impacted by cyber bullying.
“That’s one of the insidious aspects of the cyber world that we live in and we have to help young people…if any child was found to be engaging in such activity, that would be dealt in the strongest terms in our schools and I will be the first to say so. It’s intolerable behaviour on the part of students and they have to learn the affects of that on people. It’s simply not possible to be in one of our school and not behave like that.”
Dr Constable revealed over the last 12 years Healthway has spent an estimated 4 -5 million on anti-bullying programs and the Department’s Education Trust has contributed 400,000 to the work of Professor Cross.
“We see this as a very important issue that we must deal with and we must assist schools with.”
“When we look across the world, I’m told…that we are somewhere in the middle of the pack, so we are not the worst, we are not the best and we want to improve on that to make sure that all children are in safe and secure environment at school and can learn without worrying about things like bullying,” said the Minister.