The Diet on June 21 enacted a bill jointly submitted by six ruling and opposition parties and aimed at preventing bullying at elementary, junior high and high schools. It calls for setting up a permanent committee composed of teachers and experts such as psychological counselors at each school, and requires school authorities to report serious cases to the central and local governments — and even to the police when necessary — among other things. The central and local governments will also support organizations that monitor the Internet to prevent bullying through the Internet.
The law is significant because it has made clear that the central and local governments and education institutions have the responsibility to take on the problem of bullying, which threatens to hamper the healthy growth of children, both physical and psychological.
The law is not a panacea, though. Its basic presumptions about the nature of bullying problems are inadequate and the measures included in the law could have negative effects. It is important for school authorities and boards of education to quickly and flexibly deal with problems.
The language of the law fails to acknowledge the collective nature of bullying. In addition to the students who bully and the victims of bullying, there is usually an audience made up of students who enjoy watching the bullying and other students who are indifferent to the act and won’t do anything to stop it.
The law does not explain that bullying has the effect of distorting the character of entire classes or groups. Local governments, boards of education and teachers must dedicate themselves to nurturing a class with a wholesome atmosphere. In such classes, both teachers and students should remain vigilant against acts of bullying and try to deter them.
Merely punishing or excluding bullies will not solve the problems at the root of bullying. The law provides for measures including making bullies study in a separate classroom, prohibiting bullies from attending classes and reporting serious cases of bullying to the police. Before taking any of these measures, school authorities should carefully consider whether they will help resolve the situation.
To prevent bullying from developing into a serious problem, teachers must be able to detect small signs among students that may lead to bullying and take appropriate measures immediately. When teachers notice such signs, they should consult with other teachers and administrators in an effort to resolve the problem in a collective manner. The central and local governments should improve support for teachers including training, assistance and consulting services.
The law requires each school to draft a basic policy to prevent bullying. School authorities should consider involving students in the writing of their policies. The central and local governments, boards of education and school authorities should not forget that students wield considerable power in the form of peer pressure and can play an important role in preventing bullying.