Schools must probe for ‘grave cases’ of bullying

by Minoru Matsutani

Staff Writer

The education ministry has ordered public elementary, junior high and high schools to conduct an emergency survey of their students about “grave cases” of bullying and for school officials to tell the ministry how they are dealing with the problem.

The special move is in addition to a regular annual survey on bullying. The ministry sent a notice about the emergency survey to schools and local boards of education Wednesday, Daisuke Saito, an official in the Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau of the ministry, said Thursday. The schools will come up with their own questions for students.

For this survey, the ministry specifically asked the schools and boards of education to report the number of “grave bullying cases,” how they handled such cases and describe their nature. The regular annual survey does not delve into these specifics.

Bullying has become a heavily discussed subject after it came to light in July that the Otsu board of education in Shiga Prefecture did not disclose the results of student surveys held last fall after a 13-year-old boy killed himself due to brutal bullying in October.

The ministry ordered the schools to submit the results by Sept. 20, Saito said.

Cases of bullying declined from 124,898 in fiscal 2006 to 72,778 in 2009 before rising to 77,630 in 2010. But the general downtrend hasn’t satisfied a public wary that many cases may go unreported.

The survey this time is to check bullying from April to August or September, depending on when schools decide to question their students. The regular poll covers the 12 months from April.

Unlike the annual survey, the education ministry this time ordered public schools to ferret out “grave cases in which students’ lives and physical safety are threatened,” Saito said.

The order is in compliance with Article 50 of the Law Concerning the Organization and Operation of Regional Educational Administration. The law does not govern private schools, and that is why the ministry sent the order only to public schools, Saito said. There are no laws, however, prohibiting the ministry from asking private schools to conduct such a survey. The ministry asked private schools Wednesday to conduct a survey covering April to August or September but did specifically direct them to look for “grave cases.”

The ministry may order schools to conduct surveys more often after studying the results of the emergency survey, Saito said.

Separately, the education ministry set up a new internal section Wednesday to address the bullying problem.