• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Tuesday 12th November, 2013

I know, I can, I do: Reducing bullying in Finland

strong>Violence and bullying are not ordinarily associated with Finland, a country widely acknowledged to have the highest school performance in the world. These ordinary challenges have provoked an extra-ordinary response led by Christina Salmivalli at the University of Turku.At about the time of the Jokela and Kauhajoki killings, Salmivalli was designing KiVa, a bullying prevention program. At a paper symposium at last week’s conference of the Society for Research on Child Development, Salmivalli and colleagues described the results of the application. Leading bullying researcher Dan Olweus from Norway joined the symposium.What marks Salmivall’s work apart is its focus not only on bullies and their victims but also on those who might intervene, either to make the situation worse or to stop it happening altogether.As Salmivalli explained to her audience “We don't need to change the victims or make them less vulnerable. Some kids are awkward, that is ok and inevitable. But we can influence the behaviour of their classmates. Victims near to be heard. If you are the focus of bullies, even one classmate defending you has benefits for your well-being. And, of course, bullies need to be confronted.”After developing KiVa Salmivalli subjected it to a randomised controlled trial, recently published in the journal Child Development.The study covered 234 schools involving 30,000 students in Grades one to nine. It finds that bullying stopped completely in nearly four in five cases and decreased in most others.It is not, however, a cure-all. As Salmivalli pointed out, only a minority of bullying cases come to notice in schools. Effectiveness varies, with the best results coming for students in grade 4.Bolstered by the positive results, the Finnish government has supported Salmivalli to introduce KiVa into 888 schools. Evaluation of this expansion is showing lower but reasonable results for a public health style prevention programme, with an effect size of about 0.1.Put simply, if the KiVa results were generalised to the entire Finnish population of 500,000 students, there would be a reduction each nine month of 12,000 victims and 8,000 bullies.At the core of KiVa’s success has been a simple, strong idea. Salmivalli told the Montreal audience that the goal of KiVa is to leave students with the sense that “I know -meaning they understanding the problem of bullying- I can -meaning they can learn to take action- and I do, giving them the motivation to play their part in minimise the problem.”Like many successful prevention programs KiVa is structured and systematic. The Turku team have developed materials for schools -student lessons and computer games for example. There is a guide and website for parents. A KiVa team of three adults in each school is taught to engage with individual perpetrators and victims of bullying.The primary focus of the program is less bullying. But Salmivalli’s colleague Rene Veenstra from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands has been able to chart the benefits into school performance, even in already outstanding Finnish schools.As Veenstra explained to the SRCD symposium, “less bullying means more focus on school work and more focus on school work turns into better academic results. In a study of 5,010 students in 70 schools Veenstra found effects of KiVa on school well-being -whether students likes being in school- of 0.12 and on academic motivation -whether learning brings students joy- of 0.18. Over a nine month period this led to an impact on school performance of 0.09.**************ReferencesKärnä, A., Voeten, M., Little, T., Poskiparta, E., Kaljonen, A., & Salmivalli, C. (2011). A large-scale evaluation of the KiVa antibullying program: Grades 4-6. Child Development.

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