Education Ministry launches anti-bullying project in response to increased violence in schools

Of those students who reported a rise in violence, more than half felt that physical, verbal and social media-based violence all occurred with equal prevalence.

 Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton. (photo credit: SHLOMI MIZRAHI)
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton.
(photo credit: SHLOMI MIZRAHI)

There has been a huge spike in violence in Israeli schools as well as on social media, according to a new study by the School of Education at Ono Academic College. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton attended the Emergency Panel on Battling School Violence on Thursday to discuss options for combating the increasing violent incidences. 

The study revealed that 60% of students reported increased ostracism from fellow students and 38% reported recently encountering violence. School faculty reported increasing violence among students as well, with 57% reporting recent encounters with violence at their schools and 49% reporting that violence increased following lockdowns. Many students feel a lack of support from faculty with 40% reporting that they feel their teachers "are not attentive to their distress," although some faculty (14%) also feel they do not have adequate support from their supervisors when it comes to reporting violence.

Both staff and students believe that police should be called when incidents of violence occur in school, with 25% of educational staff and 31% of students reporting so. When it comes to cases of extreme violence, the number of teachers who believe police should be involved nearly triples to 74%.

Expert with children and youth of Ono Academic College Dr. Zach Slor explains why some may feel hesitant toward involving police when it comes to incidents of violence. “There’s a vacuum where the entire system suffers from a sense of distrust. The solution must be comprehensive, covering the entire system. The police are trying to reestablish trust between complainants and the police. We have not achieved full confidence yet, but we are on track to get there”.

Of those students who reported a rise in violence, more than half (55%) felt that physical, verbal and social network-based violence all occurred with equal prevalence. Some students preferred not to report the violence they had experienced, with 19% of those who had encountered physical violence and 29% of those who had experienced verbal violence preferring not to say anything.

 cyberbullying (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE) cyberbullying (illustrative) (credit: INGIMAGE)

Chairperson of Israel’s National Parent Association Merom Shiff shared thoughts on what may be contributing to such an increase in violence, “Something is lost in the process. The school is part of the community and it won’t work if the community is not fully engaged. The parents must be involved, they must ask their children, check the norms and put everything together. What changed after COVID? Did we change the result without changing the system? No. Did we add homeroom hours? No. Did we add counselor positions? No. What about school psychologists – how much time do they spend at the schools. And then, what about the parents? We must examine how involved they are. Parents don’t know what goes on in their children’s WhatsApp groups. If we don’t connect the community and parents to the school, the problem will not be solved.”

Evyatar Lerner shared his own experience with ostracism and bullying in school as a child with Tourette Syndrome during the panel, explaining, “I didn’t suffer from ostracism because I just didn’t go to school. I was humiliated and bullied. I felt that violence became more extreme after COVID; social media entered into the picture. I got on a bus and a group of kids began insulting me, badgering me, taking pictures of me and uploading them to Instagram. So I chose to use that platform to tell my story. I experience online violence every day, not necessarily targeting me. I am very skeptical about the ability to change it, because it starts at a very young age. Children go back to being violent all the time and others are exposed to ostracism and bullying all the time. I think that it’s something that should be nipped in the bud. I know conduct lectures on Tourette’s and the entire spectrum of 'weirdness.' People, we are all weird, some just show it on the outside.”

In an effort to combat such violence, the Education Ministry launched a NIS 438 million project called "Showing Goodwill - No to Violence." It will be up to individual principals to determine whether it is more appropriate to invest the money into the students or teachers at each particular school.

On the creation of the program, Shasha-Biton explained, "We refuse to give up on a single child in the system and we do not avoid coping with the challenges brought forth by the times. The half a billion shekels involved in the program will go directly and freely into the field – that’s never been done before. Principals will have to look inward, into their own schools, to determine where and how the money should be invested. In the students? Perhaps in the teachers? It was important for me to ensure that each would be able to implement the measures tailored specifically to its needs.”