Director of the Anti-Bullying Research Centre at Dublin City University, Dr James O’Higgins Norman, said they developed an anti-bullying programme based on a highly successful Finnish model.
Called Kiva (meaning nice), it includes role-playing exercises to increase the empathy of bystanders, and computer simulations to encourage students to think about how they would intervene to reduce bullying.
A study of more than 7,000 students in Finnish schools published earlier this year found that the programme greatly benefitted the mental health of students experiencing the most bullying.
It was found that the most tormented children — those facing bullying several times a week — could be helped by teaching bystanders to be more supportive.
Christina Salmivalli, a professor of psychology at the University of Turku who developed Kiva, currently in more than 2,300 Finnish schools, outlined its benefits at the annual Anti-Bullying Centre Conference at DCU yesterday.
Kiva is now Finland’s national anti-bullying programme, and has been tested and used in several other European countries and New Zealand. It is currently being evaluated in the US.
Dr O’Higgins Norman said the Anti-Bullying Centre has piloted a whole school approach that could be rolled out nationally if funding and resources to train teachers were made available.
“Kiva has been very successful because bystanders become advocates for a safer environment —— they know when to intervene when they see bullying behaviour.
“In Ireland schools have been allowed to develop their own programmes according to their own needs, but we have found that means that some schools don’t develop programmes and they are not as pro-active as they should be.
“If there was a national programme, it would mean that every school would have to reach certain standards and maintain a focus on bullying within the school environment.”
Ireland has had a National Anti-Bullying Action Plan since 2013, but has not implemented a national programme across all schools.