U.K., Japan share notes on ways to curb bullying

The victims and remedies differ but not the concern



Bullying differs in British and Japanese schools, but both countries can learn from each other in countering the problem, according to academics and other experts.

A team of scholars sponsored by the education ministry in Tokyo was in Britain recently looking at how the issue is dealt with by schools using the “peer support” scheme.

Japan is particularly eager to curb bullying at schools given that it has led to suicides, not to mention a high rate of truancy.

Over the last few years, both Britain and Japan have been at the forefront of the “peer support” movement, in which schoolchildren themselves try to assist their fellow students who are being bullied or suffering other social problems. They use a variety of activities, including mentoring, mediating, tutoring and befriending.

Experts realized kids can open up more to their peers, and other children are perhaps better placed to resolve conflicts. This method has proved successful in both countries, according to studies.

Tokuhiro Ikejima, a clinical psychologist from Nara University of Education, who led the Japanese team, has been examining British counterbullying strategies.

Speaking through an interpreter after a seminar at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, he said: “In Japan, bullying tends to happen between very close friends, and the situation is often worsened because bystanders do not try to intervene. The bullying often takes the form of social exclusion rather than violence.

“We therefore need to look at how to improve children’s interrelationships. In England, the bullying differs in that it involves more violence and tends not to be among close friends,” Ikejima said. “We can learn from Britain’s techniques in mediation and befriending.”

“Peer support” is now used in nearly half of all Britain’s schools but is less widespread in Japan.

Helen Cowie, director of the U.K. Observatory for the Promotion of Non-Violence at Surrey University, said many British schools can learn from practices in Japan.

Cowie, who has visited Japan on several occasions, particularly likes the “Q&A” approach, where the victim can reply to a series of questions in writing and the advice from a student counselor is then circulated in a school newsletter.

This method protects the anonymity of the children and allows them to avoid having to actually meet someone to discuss their problems, which can often add to the trauma. It is similar to an “agony aunt” column in a newspaper or magazine, and Cowie believes the “Q&A” approach can be used on the Internet.

She also believes there is a lot Britain can learn from the importance of the group in Japanese society and the way people within those communities help each other.

She said she considers Japan’s “peer support” system to already be well-developed but could perhaps benefit from the “checkpoints” she gives to schools. This is basically a list of tasks that teachers and students should try to complete to create a more harmonious school environment. The “checkpoints” have already been translated into Japanese.

Cowie said that “peer support” has developed over the years from being predominantly one-on-one counseling in a special room to creating friendly and supportive “communities” in school and also on the Internet. This includes student-led bodies that are consulted by teachers on issues affecting the school.

Her only note of caution is that Japan’s traditional tendency toward creating hierarchical systems could make it harder when forming these consultative bodies.