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September 15, 2019
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Czech organization develops app for anonymous reporting of bullying in the schools

3.1.2019 12:51
A screenshot from the TV NOVA broadcast about police investigating bullying at a Czech school that led to a Romani girl attempting suicide in 2018. (PHOTO:  tn.cz)
A screenshot from the TV NOVA broadcast about police investigating bullying at a Czech school that led to a Romani girl attempting suicide in 2018. (PHOTO: tn.cz)

You all know how it is. Children tease each other - and sometimes they even fight.

It starts with something like losing track of their shoes, or spilling their soup in the cafeteria. The border between ordinary "fooling around" and bullying, though, can be a thin one.

Bullying is no longer about having fun, but is a very serious problem. Eyewitnesses could be nearby who might even want to come to the victim's aid but who are afraid to do so.

These bystanders don't want to "make a case of it" or be the next ones to attract the aggressor's attention - sometimes they may have no idea whom to tell about what they have seen. It is exactly this "silent majority" whom two students from Brno's Vídeňská high school, Jan Sláma and David Špunar, decided to reach out to when they created the project "Don't Let It Be"  („Nenech to být“ - NNTB) precisely to help address bullying in the schools.

The project is supported by the Czech Education Ministry and by the "Safety Hotline" (Linka bezpečí) NGO. "We ourselves encountered bullying in primary school, we knew that something was being done to our fellow pupils, but we did not know how to help them," says Špunar, who turned 16 last year when the project began.

Sláma, who is one year older than Špunar, sees the situation the same way, exactly because of his own experiences. "I frequently attempted to help the victims and then was victimized myself. When my friends and I were thinking of a project that could have a strong social impact, the issue of bullying occurred to us all," he said.

App and website

"Don't Let It Be" („Nenech to být“ - NNTB) is the name of a mobile app, the organization that runs it, and a web platform. It functions like an online "comments box" where anybody - children endangered by bullying, their fellow pupils or their parents - can anonymously report a problem.

The class at the school involved and the victim's name are logged through the app or the website. While more information can be given, it is not required.

Currently 1 172 schools are involved in the project, but the app includes all schools in the country, including those that have not yet registered for the project. If a school is not yet registered, the project team attempts to contact them.

Pupils or students can also ask that their school be registered with the project. The school is then asked to provide an email address to which the reports will be sent.

According to Sláma, a big advantage of the project is that the reports will never be sent to the headroom teacher, but to the faculty member in charge of preventing disciplinary problems or the school psychologist, who should best know how to work with such information. For teachers alone it is frequently immeasurably difficult, if not impossible, to catch sight of such bullying during normal instruction.

The basic version of the app leaves addressing the problem reported absolutely up to the school. In collaboration with selected school establishers in Jihlava and Most, however, the organization is testing an expanded version through which the establisher works with the school on individual cases.

"We do our best to call the schools and guide them in the right direction, but if necessary we provide the reports to third parties, to different local organizations that are able to help," Sláma said. The website address is www.nntb.cz.

Anonymity is guaranteed to those who report the bullying or other problems. The organization communicates the report to the relevant person at the school and their consultants can recommend possible solutions to the school.

Harming or intimidating

"The boys are constantly insulting her because of her weight. Almost everybody there is mean to her with the exception of a couple of pupils. Sometimes she feels horrible and I hear her crying in the restroom," reads one of the 2 802 messages that have already been sent through the system.

Other messages are about self-harm, sexual innuendo or suicidal tendencies. Physical assault is mentioned in almost half the cases.

Boys and girls are represented equally among the victims of the bullying being reported. "Bullying customarily affects those who stand out from the crowd somehow. It can be because of their appearance, their mindset, the money they have, their physical abilities, the way they speak, etc. It doesn't even matter whether they are above-average or below-average. What matters is that they are somehow different from everybody else," Sláma explained.

The Czech legal code does not define bullying, but the Education Ministry defines it as any behavior intended to cause harm, to intimidate or to threaten a group of pupils or an individual pupil. Customarily it involves the intentional, repeated use of violence against a group of pupils or an individual pupil, people who either do not know how to defend themselves, or who, for various reasons, are unable to defend themselves.

Bullying includes not just physical assaults in the form of beatings, damaging the victim's property, extorting things from the victim or robbing the victim, but also verbal attacks in the form of abuse, humiliation, slander and threats. It can also take the form of sexual abuse and harassment.

Indirect bullying takes the form of a class or group of classmates ostentatiously ignoring or overlooking a group of pupils or an individual. "Recently what has been frequent is, for example, extortion or humiliation by acquiring intimate photographs of somebody. It is also common to find Facebook groups or pages designed specifically to defame and insult victims," Sláma warns about the dangers of cyber-bullying.

Because of what I am

"It began with insults over what I look like and what I am. They said I'm a shitty gypsy girl," a pupil in the eighth grade of a school in Česká Lípa said in a TV Nova reportage at the end of October 2018.

Bullying by her classmates led her to attempt suicide, fortunately unsuccessfully. "Bullying with a racist subtext is not uncommon, unfortunately. In schools with a majority of Romani children, the usual roles can be reversed. We encounter cases where children of all skin colors are victims. Moreover, it's not always possible to say the bullies have basically been 'bad'. Frequently they do not even comprehend that they are doing something mean," Sláma said.

The project team is also planning to contact the school in Teplice whose first-grade class was victimized online in 2017. "Right now it seems they have too many concerns, so we will wait for the situation to calm down a bit. It is also possible the school will register on their own in the meantime," Sláma said.

"It's necessary for all schools to create their own anti-bullying programs. I have created an anti-bullying program called the Hradecký methodology. Its results are among some of the best in the world and it is important for schools to introduce it," said the expert guarantor of the project, psychotherapist Michal Kolář.

His book "The Pain of Bullying" (Bolest šikanování) has become a basic textbook on this issue for future educators. According to Kolář, all schools should have at least one expert, supported by the principal, who is oriented in the issue of bullying from a legal, methodological and organizational perspective.

First published in ROMANO VOĎI magazine.

Jana Baudyšová, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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Romano voďi 2018, RV 12/2018, Šikana, škola



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