KASHIWA, Chiba -- The use of the smartphone app "STOPit," which allows users to anonymously report cases of bullying, has been spreading among local bodies across Japan.
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Here in Kashiwa, where its junior high schools became the first public middle schools in the country where the app has been introduced last year, the number of bullying reports sent via STOPit surged, which is seen as proof of the app's effectiveness. Chiba University and other parties involved in anti-bullying education are set to increase anti-bullying educational materials that can be used in classes through industry-academia-government collaboration.
The app, which originated in the United States, has spread to about 6,000 schools and around 3.29 million users in the country of its birth. In Japan, Tokyo-based IT service company STOPit Japan is the app's exclusive distributor.
In May last year, the Kashiwa Municipal Government made it possible for all junior high school students in the municipality to download the app for free. In the 2017 academic year, 486 of the approximately 10,000 eligible students signed up for the service. The number of bullying reports jumped fivefold from the previous academic year -- during which reports were only taken by phone or email -- to 133 cases. About 40 percent, or 56 of the reports, involved bully on and off line. The reason for the sharp increase is believed to be due to the fact that smartphone apps have become common communication tools among youth.
The Kashiwa Municipal Board of Education has recognized the usefulness of the STOPit app, with a representative saying, "The app allows us to handle bullying cases before they become very serious." The board is set to select "model elementary schools" in which to institute the app in the current academic year.
When the app is made available to students, schools teach classes on anti-bullying measures using instructional materials that have been created through an industry-academia-government collaboration, including Chiba University and the Kashiwa Municipal Board of Education.
Part of the educational materials is the dramatization of a student being smeared online as seen from the perspective of a different student, and is available on DVD. STOPit Japan has distributed some 3,000 DVDs and other materials to educators across Japan.
According to Chiba University, schools in the Chiba Prefecture municipalities of Noda and Sammu, as well as municipalities in Ibaraki, Kanagawa and Okayama prefectures have introduced the app and teaching materials to their instructors and students. The number of eligible app users will reach some 50,000 people at around 100 schools in the current academic year.
With ethics becoming a graded subject at elementary schools this academic year, and at junior high schools in the 2019 academic year, Chiba University is set to create new educational materials within the current academic year that promote further understanding of sexual minorities and the method of asking for help -- report, contact and consult -- which could then be used to teach ethics classes.
"I believe in the power of education," says Daizaburo Taniyama, who is the president of STOPit Japan and a research fellow at the Chiba University Faculty of Education's center for teacher education. "So I'm hoping not just for the app to be used more widely, but for the app and classes teaching that bullying is unacceptable to spread together as a package."
(Japanese original by Toshiaki Hashimoto, Kashiwa Local Bureau)