Victoria University of Wellington is helping to address the serious problem of bullying in New Zealand schools.
Accent Learning, a subsidiary of Victoria, aims to increase the number of New Zealand schools utilising KiVa, an anti-bullying programme from Finland, which is yielding impressive results in an increasing number of countries.
“KiVa is a whole-school strategy. A key feature of the programme involves focusing on the role of the bystander in bullying,” says Accent Learning education programme manager Deidre Vercauteren.
“Studies show that the behaviour of bystanders is a significant factor in the prevalence of bullying, whereas a traditional zero-tolerance approach at a school level can often make things worse for the victim. KiVa offers bullies the chance to change their behaviour before things escalate.
“I have a lot of sympathy for teachers trying to deal with the issue of bullying in schools. A recent survey found that 94 per cent of teachers felt ill-equipped to deal with the problem.”
KiVa involves lessons, discussions, group work and online games to promote social skills, and, in cases where bullying is identified, has a set, solution-focused approach that can involve a bully’s peers, and all with a constant emphasis on positive behaviour.
An important aspect of the programme involves developing empathy in students, thereby providing a foundation for developing friendships, resolving conflicts and behaving responsibly.
Results from a study carried out in Finland involving 28,000 pupils and 234 schools showed a significant reduction in bullying after one year of implementing KiVa. This was demonstrated by a 98 per cent improvement in the victims’ situation and an end to bullying in 86 per cent of reported incidents.
KiVa has now become part of Government policy in Finland, and is being rolled out to schools across the country.
According to a recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science report, New Zealand is one of the worst countries for incidences of recurrent bullying, ranked 46 out of 50 for bullying in primary schools and 24 at lower secondary school.
Of Year 9 students, 45 per cent said they experienced bullying on a weekly or monthly basis, with 14 per cent saying they did not feel safe at school.
“New Zealand’s bullying statistics are appalling, and surveys suggest there has been no improvement in the last 10 years. It’s vitally important that we address this problem,” Ms Vercauteren says.
“While bullying affects learning outcomes and wellbeing at school, the research also shows that both the bullied and the bullies are high-risk candidates for anti-social behaviour later in life.
“Depression, drug and alcohol abuse, risky sexual behaviour, and a general lack of social wellbeing have all been linked to bullying.
“Solving the problem in schools will have a massive social and economic benefit overall. The robust research on KiVa shows that this programme can make a significant contribution to better lives for New Zealanders.”