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Anti-bullying and positive discipline programmes tackle violence in Indonesia’s schools

The two-pronged approach has seen violence decline dramatically

Violence in schools takes a variety of forms – corporal punishment, physical attacks, and psychological aggression are but a few examples. In a bid to create violence-free learning environments, Indonesia has adopted a two-pronged approach: a student-led anti-bullying initiative and positive discipline training for teachers. 

The problem is significant across the nation. More than one in five children between the ages of 13 and 15 have been bullied, some 18 million children in total. Another one in three children have been physically attacked in schools.

“Indonesia has very high rates of enrolment in schools, so it’s a good entry point to start discussing violence with children,” said Rini Handayani, Assistant Deputy for Protection of Children from Violence and Exploitation of the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection. 

First implemented in 2015, the positive discipline programme was integrated into a pre-existing initiative to boost literacy rates in Papua. Over the course of a semester, teachers receive extensive training on the impact of violent punishment, techniques for positive discipline and the importance of logical and proportionate consequences. Experienced trainers deliver the sessions, and provide advice and mentoring in the classroom. 

According to Handayani, “It had a significant impact on teacher-student relations and attendance of children at school, and while it did address bullying at school, we wanted to also encourage participation of students themselves in the efforts to end violence.” 

That insight led to the development of a student-led programme to tackle bullying called Roots, adapted from a North American programme. First introduced in South Sulawesi in 2017, Roots asks students to nominate other pupils who they deem to have the widest number of social connections. The students considered the most influential are selected for 12 training sessions around issues of bullying, how to create a positive environment, and action plans that are appropriate for their schools. It culminates in Roots Day at which they launch their programme school-wide. Dzulfiquar, aged 14, is one of the student agents of change who participated in the programme. According to him, “the best way to end bullying is to make sure friends talk to friends about it.” 

Both programmes have registered significant results. A mid-line review for positive discipline training demonstrated decreases in both physical and emotional violence by teachers. According to teachers’ self-reports, physical punishment dropped from 20% to 4%, with an equally significant drop in the use of emotional punishment from 13% to 4%. 

Roots has also seen significant impacts on bullying: some schools in Sulawesi have measured a 30% drop in bullying over the course of a year. In one school in Makassar, in southeastern Sulawesi, a 50% reduction in relational bullying was reported by both boys and girls.

The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection hopes to consolidate these successes by integrating both programmes in pilot schools in Central Java. Results are already positive according to Yuniarti, a guidance counsellor, who said that “Awareness is really growing. Before, we just addressed bullying in line with the regulations. This is more of a conversation, a way we can all solve the issue together.”

According to Handayani, “These programmes show that it is possible to make significant changes in challenging contexts such as Papua where child development indicators are quite low, many children live in poverty, and there are high rates of violence. Even when resources are constrained, change can happen.”

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