Just the other day, we extolled the virtues of Finnish schools — how money is smartly allocated to many aspects of student care, and how educators are kept inspired to do their best. There’s another thing the Finns are doing very well: they have quite possibly the best program to address school bullying, and this time, the U.S. is taking notice — a pilot program will be kicking off as early as the school year of 2012-13 in select Lawrence, Kansas schools.
Called KiVA, the program is a unique, multifaceted approach which addresses not just the single bully and the victim, but the classroom as a whole, including teachers and even parents. With KiVA, the peer environment becomes inhospitable to bullying, and the culture of the school changes. Funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education, the program was developed and tested back in 2006-09; it is so effective that it decreased bullying by 50% compared control schools, and won the European Crime Prevention Award in 2009.
KiVA has numerous components, but its underlying thought is this: bullies should not feel that they can be rewarded with friendship and status by acting in an abusive way — after all, all anybody wants at the end of the day (especially in school) is friendship and status. In fact, with KiVA, bullying is made out to be what it is: ugly behavior that is not tolerated by peers. Instead, it is by preventing bullying — with a major emphasis on recruiting the onlookers — that children will gain status and friendship.
A series of classroom lessons (consisting of discussion, group work and videos) are supplemented with an anti-bullying computer game, and teachers are involved by putting up posters, wearing supervisor vests and getting PowerPoints which they can use to present the program to parents (who also get an instructional pamphlet). Teachers are also taught how to address acute situations of bullying, whereby both the harasser and victim are involved in a discussion, along with a select few students who are challenged to take the victim’s side.
KiVA’s concrete, easy-to-understand lessons are supported by a full ‘cultural’ movement at the school where every student is provided with the tools to safely address bullying situations. The computer game doesn’t hurt, either. These methods are based on concrete learning and are derived from research findings — psychology professors at Kansas University are the ones who will be bringing this school-changing research on board and creating the pilot programs. They say that all the methods currently being tried in the States are just not working well enough — KiVA will change the “peer ecology” to one that no longer tolerates bullying, and they think this shift will have lasting impact.
There are many lessons we can learn from the Finns about how to better our schools. It is up to researchers, educators and policy-makers to take note of these wonderful initiatives — the difficult part has already been done: the Finns have found the way, and now all we have to do is provide our children with the same.