• Kyodo

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Nearly 30 local governments are planning to or are interested in introducing an artificial intelligence system designed to assess the severity of school bullying cases in hopes of better responding to them, a source close to the matter said Thursday.

Otsu Municipal Government, which came under fire for the way it handled a high-profile bullying case in 2011, has teamed up with information technology services provider Hitachi Systems Ltd. to develop the AI system, which predicts how a case of bullying has the potential to become more serious based on an analysis of past cases.

School bullying has long been a concern in Japan, with education ministry data showing that elementary, junior and high schools as well as special-needs schools nationwide reported 612,496 cases in the year through March, up 68,563 from a year earlier.

An Otsu city official uses an AI system designed to assess the seriousness of school bullying cases. | KYODO
An Otsu city official uses an AI system designed to assess the seriousness of school bullying cases. | KYODO

When a new case of bullying is reported, information on the incident, such as time, place and perpetrator, is fed into the system, which then searches its database to come up with an estimate of how serious the case is, expressed as a percentage. In all, about 50 pieces of data are used for analysis.

If the result shows that there is a 70% or higher risk of the situation worsening, an urgent and appropriate intervention by teachers and officials is recommended, according to the developers.

On top of 20 local governments that have already expressed an interest in the system, seven others are considering introducing it, the source said. The seven are Obihiro in Hokkaido, Saitama in Saitama Prefecture, Matsudo in Chiba Prefecture, Yokkaichi in Mie Prefecture, Takarazuka in Hyogo Prefecture, Tottori in Tottori Prefecture and Nobeoka in Miyazaki Prefecture.

In the past, the Otsu Board of Education was not able to properly handle some bullying cases as its officials had to check one by one the hundreds of reports sent to them via email every month.

But using the AI system, the local government is able to quickly identify the cases with a high risk of becoming more serious to encourage teachers, in particular those who do not have much experience, to respond properly.

For example, a case reported in September involving a first-grader in elementary school who was ignored by her friends didn’t appear to be an exceptional case.

But after the system evaluated its seriousness at 75 percent, the Otsu Board of Education decided it needed to be dealt with.

The board of education was criticized for having failed to find a connection between a bullying case involving a 13-year-old junior high school student and his suicide in 2011. The high-profile case led Japan to enact a law the same year obliging schools to set guidelines to prevent bullying.

Among high-risk cases are those that happen at a place and time not under the watch of teachers and cases of bullying that take place on social media, according to the developers of the new system. It is also difficult to identify high-risk cases when the perpetrators involved are both male and female, they said.

“We can (now) make an objective judgment and find cases that used to be overlooked,” thanks to the AI system, said Jiro Hamazaki, an Otsu Board of Education official.

Madoka Hiwatashi, a professor at Hyogo University of Teacher Education versed in educational administration, also cited the merits of utilizing the system and not relying only on a teacher’s experience.

“As there is always something in common in bullying cases, (the system) is a useful way not to overlook signs of bullying as it looks at the data objectively,” Hiwatashi said.

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