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Japan schools report record 543,933 bullying incidents in 2018 academic year

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is seen in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward in this file photo. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

TOKYO -- The number of bullying cases acknowledged at schools across Japan rose to 543,933 in the 2018 academic year, the highest ever tally and a rise of 129,555 from the 2017 school year, according to survey results announced by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on Oct. 17.

The survey investigated issues around problematic behavior and non-attendance at schools. The ministry said the results showed progress in active efforts to acknowledge bullying exists at such facilities.

But there were also a record 602 serious cases of students who have experienced grave mental, physical or financial harm, among other damage, an increase of 128 on the 2017 academic year, which showed that attempts at early detection have so far failed to lead to a reduction in cases.

The survey was carried out on a total of 37,192 private and public elementary, junior high, and high schools, as well as special education facilities. At elementary schools, there were 425,844 acknowledged cases of bullying, an increase of 108,723 on a year ago. In junior high schools there were 97,704 such incidents, up by 17,280. High schools registered 17,709 cases, an increase of 2,920. Special education schools reported 2,676 cases, 632 more than the year before.

Reports of bullying have increased annually, partly because the education ministry began asking schools to report incidents of disputes and students fooling around in the 2013 academic year, when the Act on Promotion of Measures to Prevent Bullying came into effect. The number of schools that reported no bullying stood at 47% in the 2013 academic year, compared to just 18.2% in the 2018 period.

Trends in types of bullying as described in the section of the survey accepting multiple answers haven't shifted in comparison to average yearly results. In the 2018 academic year results, verbal abuse and teasing was the highest registered behavior, accounting for 62.7% of such cases, at 341,270.

Bullying cases related to slander and abuse via computers or smartphones only represented 3% of the total with 16,334 cases. But they made up 3,387 bullying incidents, or 19.1%, recorded at high schools, the second highest kind after verbal abuse and teasing.

A record high of 602 serious cases in which some kind of grave harm is believed to have been done to a student mentally, physically or financially, or in which a student has not been present at school for a long period of time, were reported. Broken down by school, 188 serious incidents were reported at elementary schools, 288 at junior high schools, 122 at high schools, and four at special education schools.

In response to the serious incidents' increase, the ministry of education said, "We want schools to take care to avoid overlooking cases that require early intervention while attempting to actively acknowledge bullying cases."

Suicide totals saw a rise too, with 332 students taking their own lives in the 2018 academic year, up by 82 on the 2017 school year. Among them, nine are reported to have suffered with issues related to bullying. But 194 of such incidents were attributed to unknown circumstances, the most prevalent explanation provided.

Asao Naito, an associate professor in clinical sociology at Meiji University and an expert in bullying issues, commented on the new record number of acknowledged bullying cases: "While many educators don't like to acknowledge bullying, we can think of the survey result as coming out of a temporary increase in sensitivity around the issue among teachers, as they have become aware of the increasingly harsh view society takes toward the problem. It's possible that there are actually many more serious cases, too."

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito, City News Department)

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