Finland – hope in the fight against cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is an issue causing havoc across the world, placing thousands of children and teenagers who have to contend with it in situations where they are the victims of threats and aggression.

“THE FOCUS OF PREVENTION AND MITIGATION OF BULLYING WITHIN AND OUTSIDE THE DIGITAL SPHERE IS APPLIED FROM ELEMENTARY SCHOOL”

Some countries have taken matters into their own hands, developing and introducing education programs to combat this problem. Finland is one such country, with its KiVa program (an acronym from the Finnish Kiusaamista Vastaan, which can be translated as ‘against school bullying’).

This program, which dates back to 2009, is relatively unknown outside of Finland. This is why, following on from Stop Cyberbullying Day on June 17th, we would like to set out some of the ways in which we hope this scheme could be adopted by local educational bodies.

The Finnish education system

Finland is generally deemed to be an example for others to follow in terms of education. Since 2000, Finland has repeatedly occupied the top spots for country rankings in the PISA report (Program for International Student Assessment), which assesses the academic performance of students through examinations performed every three years.

The success of this model is based on a complete redesign of the education system through a new social outlook, where the teaching profession is deemed to be one of the most demanding careers. The educational method is full of new ideas, and the importance of standardized, free education that is open to all and protects the characteristics inherent to learning is enshrined in legislation.

The special characteristics of the Finnish education system have enabled a focus on bullying prevention and mitigation to be outlined, dealing with bullying both online and offline, and applied from elementary school upward.

What is KiVa?

KiVa was developed at the University of Turku, Finland, and funded by the Finnish Ministry for Education and Culture. It has already been implemented in 90% of Finnish education institutions, achieving surprising results.

The program is designed to broaden out over the medium to long term and has a number of modules. The first is prevention, which gives lessons in living in harmony with others, handling emotions, and respecting your neighbors. Then there is the intervention module, in which situations of bullying are detected and interrupted. Finally, there is a monitoring module, which follows up on cases that have previously been identified.

Over the course of its various modules, the program looks at key figures in bullying: the bully, the bullied person, and the observer. The idea of the program is to empower observers so that students can recognize and reject bullying by informing their teachers.

Each school has a KiVa team made up of three teachers who work on bullying cases after they have received specialist training. In the first instance, they need to be able to tell whether bullying is systematic or a one-off event. They then meet with the victim to stop the bullying and help them, through dialogue with the bullies, to achieve a change in behavior.

The process includes a number of interviews both with the victims and with the bullies and observers, while the teachers analyze when is the best time to notify the parents of the situation. They are therefore responsible for monitoring each case.

The students have material which enables them to understand the risks of school bullying. This material includes videos, manuals, posters, games, a virtual space, meetings, and chats with parents, among other things. Thanks to KiVa, recess monitors now wear special vests for visibility. These monitors remind students that their role is to be responsible for everybody’s safety.

This program has been adopted by around 20 other countries. In February 2016, it was finally introduced into some schools in northern Argentina. On top of this, other countries in Latin America have begun working with this program or are planning to, including Mexico, Peru, and Chile.

Unfortunately, KiVa can only be implemented in association with a licensed member of the program operating in the country in question.

Is KiVa the key to getting rid of school (cyber)bullying?

There are many programs aimed at tackling school bullying, mainly based on dealing with the victims or the bullies, but none have proved this effective. KiVa offers a new focus that can be used as a guide for educational institutes that want to put an end to this problem.

Drawing up a long-term plan is crucial to change the dynamics in the classroom through educating observers. In turn, the creation of a group of trained teachers specializing in handling bullying situations is required to detect bullying in its early stages and to put a stop to it as soon as possible.

Further reading: How do we protect kids from online predators?

Author , ESET

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