Wednesday, 28 August 2013

KiVa: A successful bullying intervention in Finland

What is KiVa?

KiVa is the name of a nationwide bullying intervention used in Finland which seems to have really positive effects. KiVa is short for Kiusaamista Vastaan, which means “against bullying”. The word kiva in Finnish also means “kind”. The programme was mandated by the Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture, developed by the University of Turku, and began implementation in 2009.

According to the website, 90% of comprehensive schools in Finland are using the programme, which boasts improvement for 98% of victims. It claims to reduce anxiety and depression, and influences many types of bullying, including cyberbullying. I must admit I was dubious at first, but having read the scientific papers behind this intervention I am convinced that the programme is doing a great job.

Why is KiVa so successful?

The intervention is based on the idea that peer bystanders have a great deal of influence over the behaviour of bullies. The programme takes a whole-school approach, and instead of focusing on bullies or victims, it focuses on bystander reactions. Children who watch bullying but do not act to help, often reward the bully socially and make the victim feel isolated. Therefore, by influencing the behaviour of classmates who watch bullying take place, social rewards for bullies can be reduced, and the motivation to bully diminishes.

The programme is very comprehensive, and provides tasks for schools to carry out with their children, rather than simply providing guidelines. It looks like a lot of support is given to schools in implementing the programme. Activities include discussions, group work, short films, and role-play exercises, and are tailored to the age group. A later development was a virtual learning environment which helps to motivate students and enhance their learning process.

In addition to these classroom activities, specific actions are taken to tackle individual cases of bullying. The programme is therefore both preventative and interceptive in nature. There is also an online discussion forum for staff to share their ideas, experiences, and challenges. School staff receive face-to-face training, and can top-up their training with online resources and attending conference days throughout the year.

Overall, I think the main reason that KiVa is so successful is that it is based on thorough scientific research. There is no quick, easy way to reduce bullying. This is clearly a huge programme which requires a lot of training, resources, and time. It has been through randomised control trials, and appears to be regularly assessed and updated where necessary. It is not a one-off intervention, but is intended to be used by schools as an ongoing part of their efforts to improve student wellbeing. I am very impressed with what I have read so far, and look forward to seeing more whole-school approaches like these in other countries. Good work Finland!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Bullying: Can we do anything about it?

Working as a researcher in Psychology meant I often encountered individuals who either thought I could read their mind, or suggested that their friend / family member would be an excellent case study for me. The research that I was actually carrying out over the last two years concerned children’s language and communication problems. Being met with this public misconception of psychology was one thing I was happy to be leaving behind when I knew I was soon going to be starting a job in Education research. Everybody knows what education is and sees the value in it, and so I was looking forward to a better reaction from the public. However…

General misconceptions and confusion about my field of research have been replaced by strong personal opinions. Telling people that I would be working on a bullying intervention for children in primary schools brought out people’s personal theories on bullying. The three main ones were:

Bullying isn’t nice but it makes people stronger and is character building.
Bullying will always happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
People only get bullied if they let it happen to them – it’s their own fault.

Bullying can have detrimental effects on both the victim and the perpetrator, both short- and long-term. Bullying perpetration in school is a significant predictor of violence six years later. Bullies are also more likely to suffer from depression later in life. To a lesser extent, victims of school bullying are also more likely to offend later in life. Depression is also increased in victims. These are just some of the negative effects – substance abuse and academic achievement are also related to bullying.

I am pleased to say that the research shows YES! We CAN do something about bullying! A systematic review and meta-analysis of bullying prevention studies in 2010 showed bullying to reduce by 20-23% on average. Whole-school approaches that seek to address students, teachers, and the school environment, seem to be the most effective.

I am just two days into my new post, so plan to write in much more detail about bullying. When people confront me in the future with their opinions on bullying, I hope to be able to explain the range of negative effects of bullying, as well as the improvements that interventions can provide.

As for psychology, a new blog called Head Quarters has recently been launched on the Guardian website. Let’s hope this can help to dispel some of the myths surrounding psychology, and help demonstrate what psychology researchers really do.