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Study: Bullying on the decline in Finnish schools

Researchers attribute the drop to the success of the KiVa anti-bullying programme, but warn about the spread of cyberbullying.

Oppilaita koulun käytävällä.
Image: Eveliina Matikainen / Yle

Incidents of bullying experienced by high school students in Finland decreased significantly between 2008 and 2014, after the introduction of the Kiva koulu (Nice school) anti-bullying programme, according to research results published by the Centre for Child Psychiatry at the University of Turku.

KiVa is an "evidence-based programme to prevent bullying and to tackle the causes of bullying effectively", according to the official website, and was developed by the University of Turku before being rolled out to schools across Finland in 2008 with funding from the Ministry of Education.

The latest research results are based on surveys conducted in 2008 and again in 2014 with approximately 2,000 junior high school students, aged from 12 to 15, in the cities of Rovaniemi in northern Finland and Salo in the southwest.

When the KiVa School programme was first introduced to schools in both cities in 2008, 30.5 percent of young people reported being bullied. Six years later, in 2014, only 20.6 percent said they had experienced bullying.

"According to the study, the programme seems to have significantly reduced bullying," says Elina Tiiri, researcher at the Child Psychiatry Research Centre.

However, the research study also found that there was no change in the prevalence of cyberbullying during the review period.

A recent study by EU KidsOnline, a research network funded by the European Commission, found that nearly half of young people in Finland had experienced some form of online bullying.

Clear connection between bullying and mental illness

Previous research has shown that young people who are bullied experience more mental health symptoms, with the majority of the symptoms being found in adolescents who were bullied at school or online.

Andre Sourander, a professor of pediatric psychiatry at the University of Turku, is therefore impressed with the results of the survey.

"Young people with mental health problems are more susceptible to bullying and, on the other hand, being bullied exposes a person to mental health problems. This is important information for the development of school mental health and bullying interventions," Sourander said in a press release.

Sourander further suggested that Finnish schools should implement a national bullying prevention programme supported by scientific evidence of its effectiveness. Recent findings support earlier research conducted into the effectiveness of the KiVa programme.

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