School bullying on the increase

Bullying and violence increased in Japanese schools, according to an annual education ministry survey, particularly for younger students. Reported cases of bullying at elementary schools rose to a record high of 118,805 in fiscal 2013, exceeding 100,000 for the second consecutive year. Student violence, meanwhile, at elementary schools exceeded 10,000 cases for the first time since the ministry started its annual survey in 1997.

While better reporting of incidents surely explains some of the increase over the past year, it also likely indicates incidents were grossly under-reported in past years. Better handling of bullying and violence is urgently needed if schools are to continue to provide their basic function of education. The larger number of cases at elementary schools is particularly worrisome. While it is better the issue is no longer being ignored or covered up, the upward trend suggests the full extent of the problem may not yet be fully exposed.

Violent incidents at elementary and junior high schools rose by 3,500 cases, to 59,300 total. At elementary schools alone, violence increased to a record high of 10,896 cases. Violence between children increased by 30 percent and violence against teachers by 50 percent. The number of bullying cases was highest in the first year of junior high school, over 27,000. However, nearly every grade from first to sixth in elementary school reported over 20,000 cases of bullying.

The way of bullying has not significantly changed, except for a slight increase in the number of bullying cases involving personal computers and cellphones. Roughly two-thirds of bullying cases involved teasing, abusive or threatening remarks. Mild forms of violence came in second at 23.3 percent. Exclusion and neglect was the third most common form of bullying at 20.2 percent. However, those figures combined with the serious incidents of violence is evidence that the problem is far from under control.

The ministry reported that local education boards found most of the violence was often over trivial issues. While the ministry suggested that students’ inability to control themselves was the cause, the causes run much deeper. Strict rules, crowded classes and exam pressures contribute to a sense of frustration and desperation among many students. Those feelings combined with little instruction on how to interact in nonviolent ways leads to a volatile situation.

The education ministry needs to establish programs to teach better ways of communication. Even young students are capable of understanding how ineffective violence is for expressing feelings and how harmful bullying is for everyone involved. Programs to teach better methods of conflict resolution need to be included in elementary schools. Besides disrupting the education of too many children, a situation in which students see bullying and violence as ways of trying to get one’s way in the world means that such behavior may well continue in their adult years.