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Editorial: Society-wide united front needed in battle against bullying

There were 323,808 known cases of bullying in Japan's primary, junior and senior high schools in academic 2016, or some 98,000 more than the previous year. Of particular note, recorded cases of bullying in primary schools rose by about 86,000.

That was the conclusion of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's most recent annual survey of problematic behavior and student absenteeism. The education ministry has attributed the sudden rise in cases to a directive it issued calling on schools to be more proactive in recognizing one-sided fights or pranks as bullying.

It is important for teachers to keep a keen eye on their students to catch trouble between children early. The directive is worthy of praise if it has been successful in spreading awareness among schools about taking prompt action to prevent suicides and other serious incidents.

By prefecture, the most bullying cases per 1,000 students were observed in Kyoto, at 96.8. The lowest rate, at just five, was recorded in Kagawa Prefecture. In other words, the recorded bullying rate was nearly 20 times worse in Kyoto than tiny Kagawa. The ministry survey also found that some 30 percent of schools had identified no cases of bullying at all.

The key phrase here may be "identified." Kyoto Prefecture has introduced multiple-choice questionnaires on whether bullying is occurring and what type, and based on the surveys, teachers take the initiative to interview students. It is very important for boards of education to value proactive efforts to listen to the children under their care and identify bullying incidents quickly.

Bullying continues to be a very serious problem. Cases ultimately resulting in suicides or absenteeism also rose from academic 2015, numbering 400 in the most recent survey. Efforts to prevent bullying cases from escalating in severity are vital. Furthermore, teachers cannot handle this crisis all on their own. Strengthened information sharing in schools, as well as cooperation with school counsellors and students' families are all indispensable to tackling the problem.

The education ministry survey also revealed a startling rise in violent behavior. Schools and expert observers have apparently noted growing numbers of children who cannot control their emotions or who resort to physical force before trying to talk things out. These children's instability can certainly lead to bullying incidents.

This situation concerns not just the school environment, but also conditions at home and indeed in broader society. Responding effectively will be difficult, but teachers must dedicate themselves to close observation of their students, to try and understand the background to what is going on.

In Fukui Prefecture, there was a heartbreaking case in which a second-year junior high boy took his own life due to relentless scolding by teaching staff at his school.

If students can't trust their teachers, then teachers' instructive role will cease to function. It is exactly the same with measures to combat bullying and absenteeism.

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