Setting a zero-tolerance policy on bullying in public speeches is not enough. Concrete action and sufficient resources are needed to prevent bullying.
In September, a pupil was subjected to brutal violence at the Kytöpuisto school in Vantaa. Helsingin Uutiset, in turn, wrote about a case where an eighth-grade boy was threatened with violence at recess and the incident was uploaded to social media. The cases are shocking and demonstrate a failure to guarantee school safety in practice.
Every child and young person has a statutory right to a safe learning environment. The legislation thus obligates decision-makers and educators to intervene in all forms of bullying. School should be a place where no one should have to be afraid and support for coping with the daily life is available, especially for children in difficult circumstances.
Many who have experienced serious bullying tell that neither parents, teachers nor student welfare professionals knew about the bullying. It is impossible to intervene in bullying if it is not visible. Bullying can also be passive: exclusion and averted gazes. That is why bullying is a community-wide issue.
All child and youth services have a key role in bullying prevention. The Parliament’s Audit Committee I have led has demanded that the focus of services for preventing the exclusion of children and young people be shifted from fixing to preventing problems.
In order to detect problems in time, all children must have adults in their life with whom they can talk about bullying, in confidence. Groups in schools and kindergartens also must be small enough to make sure adults are able to recognise the support needs of children and young people. In addition to teachers, special needs assistants and the leaders of hobbies and after-school clubs can be safe adults in whom young people can confide about their worries.
Political decision-makers must ensure the resources for child and youth services are sufficient. The social and health care reform must not reduce collaboration opportunities for student welfare providers. School social workers, psychologists and nurses must not disappear. This is a demand that has been made also by the Parliament’s Education and Culture Committee.
Surveys have found that teachers wish they were better equipped to intervene in bullying. The Finnish National Agency for Education is this autumn publishing guidelines on how education institutions can intervene in bullying in practice. Safety, inclusion and well-being has been identified as one of the focal points of continuing training in the field of education. The goal is to provide teachers the necessary capabilities to identify and intervene in bullying.
Binding staffing requirements are on the way for pupil and student welfare services and greater resources for both basic and upper-secondary education. Access to school psychologists must be improved. I have proposed that kindergartens have the same resources for psychologists as student welfare services. As the social skills needed at school are learnt already in kindergarten, it is necessary to start bullying prevention in early-childhood education.
Translation: Aleksi Teivainen
About the author:
Outi Alanko-Kahiluoto is Member of the Parliament from the Green Party. This is her fourth term in the parliament. She is the chair of Audit Committee and a member of Constitutional Law Committee.
This article was written for MP Talk, a regular column from the Helsinki Times in which Members of The Finnish Parliament contribute their thoughts and opinions. All opinions voiced are entirely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of the Helsinki Times.