It is hard not to hear anything about school bullying these days in Japan. The Olympic fever has somewhat helped to subside the hyped media attention on bullying, and yet reports continue to come to surface.
Bullying (Ijime) has always existed in Japan, but the occasion for the current media attention has been caused by the early-July report on a student survey in a junior high school in Otsu that revealed the repeated bullying on a thirteen-year-old boy who committed suicide last October.
The student survey made everyone astonished, not only because of the brutal treatment of the victim but also, if not so much more, because of the allusion for teachers’ knowledge of the bullying. Worse yet, the incident gained so much attention because it took some time for the Otsu Municipal Board of Education to acknowledge even the connection between the bullying and the suicide.
The blame is not just for the board of education but for the principles and teachers of the Otsu junior high school. Some teachers were informed of the situation and even tried to intervene by reporting to the principle. But the finial decision of the school dismissed the incident as a fight between kids rather than one-way bullying. The situation escalated, and the student chose to end his life last October.
Since the Otsu incident, there has been a quite few reports on school bullying. A few bullied students are taking some action to report the case to local police departments, and the police began to investigate.
On August 6 in Sendai, a high school student has been forced to burn his arm with his classmates’ cigarettes. Appallingly, the school expelled the student for showing his burns to other students. For what reason? Because the student traumatized other students with the burnt arm.
Also on August 7, a high school student in Nagaoka City, Niigata reported to a local police that he was bullied and assaulted in junior high. The police began to investigate the case.
The police involvement is a good start for all those who have suffered severely under bullying of all sorts. Their situation can be alleviated and changed because the bullies would most likely realize the serious implications of their actions. And yet, there is something seriously missing from this picture of the police involvement. Teachers! Teachers are being bypassed as bullied kids know their teachers’ inability to save them.
In order not to repeat the case of the Otsu junior high school student, teachers and schools, when addressed, must act more aggressively to stop the violence in their schools. If teachers are unable to really detect bullying and be just judges for students, their role as teachers are rather empty. Are they there simply to pass down information necessary for getting into higher schools? Is their role simply to produce obedient and diligent students?
The police report shows that roughly 80% of bullying takes place in junior high. These bullied junior high students should be able to trust and seek help from their teachers. I understand the junior high era can be the most unstable and rough time for many people, but teachers must realize their great responsibility and face up to the task.
I am sure that there are a great number of students still silently bearing daily Ijime (bullying) from their classmates. Given the inability of schools and boards of education, they need to report their cases to local police. They should not wait to do so. But considering the problem as a whole, the fundamental reform of school board as well as teachers must be done quickly, especially in junior high schools.
Teachers and boards must be held accountable for not able to help bullied students. Unless their responsibility is held accountable, the real change is less likely to take place. First and foremost, the Otsu Board of Education and the principle of the junior high must be penalized for letting such an incident knowingly slip by their side. That is the least that we can do honor the bullied and deceased boy’s spirit.