'Israeli schools unprepared to deal with online safety and violence prevention'

According to the State Comptroller's latest report some 15 percent of principals in 2012-2013 did not develop or implement a plan to combat the problem.

Keshet pupils (photo credit: COURTESY KESHET)
Keshet pupils
(photo credit: COURTESY KESHET)
The Education Ministry remains unready to deal with violence in schools, especially regarding online safety and virtual violence prevention, according to the report State Comptroller Joseph Shapira released on Wednesday.
“Children and youth are exposed to violent acts that occur in school and beyond. Violence threatens pupils’ physical and emotional well-being and harms educational practice in general,” Shapira wrote. “It manifests itself in different severities and various areas. Added to these areas in recent decades was virtual violence that has since developed through the Internet and personal technology (such as cellular phones) that are a central part of the lives of students.”
According to the report, the Psychological Counseling Service of the Pedagogic Department at the Education Ministry is responsible for promoting a “school climate” that develops the personal safety of students, the mental welfare and sense of belonging as well as deal with violence by pupils in school and beyond.
The Pedagogic Department formulated a strategic plan for the 2009- 2012 school years, one of the main goals of which was to fight the phenomenon of violence and develop an “optimal educational climate” in schools. The ministry allocated NIS 11 million per year toward a comprehensive program to prevent violence that took effect in September 2009.
The ministry prepared an annual Internet questionnaire for school principals regarding the implementation of the strategic plan.
The results indicated that some 25 percent of principals in the 2011/12 academic year and a third of principals in the 2012/13 academic year did not assemble the advisory team designated to implement the plan. Furthermore, some 20% of principals in 2011/12 and 15% of principals in 2012/13 reported that they did not develop or implement a prevention plan in their schools. Only half of schools developed a plan in cooperation with parents as required by the ministry, and of those only half brought the plans forth for approval by the regional supervisor.
In addition, the state comptroller found that the strategic plan, whose scope was limited to in-school activities, failed to include cooperation and advisement from other units in the ministry, such as the Youth and Society Department, responsible for non-formal education promoting after-school violence-prevention, and the Science and Technology Department, responsible for providing students with technological skills and tools to responsibly and safely surf the Web.
“Pupils spend a considerable portion of their lives on the Internet, managing social relationships, and experience a variety of topics and content, largely without parental supervision and involvement,” Shapira wrote.
“The unique characteristics of the Internet and its accessibility places pupils in complex situations – some dangerous and harmful – including exposure to harmful content. In addition, the Internet has become a common tool in the hands of the pupil to harm others [virtual violence].”
There is a need to implement a “systemic inter-office plan” for promoting online safety, a task the ministry has yet to comprehensively address, the report said.
In the 2010/11 academic year, the Science and Technology Department initiated a plan to provide students with the skills to safely surf the Web.
According to the report, the plan was formulated without consulting or determining the responsibilities of other relevant departments within the ministry. Furthermore, the plan was not adapted for the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors.
In addition, that same year the ministry presented a plan titled Life Online that aimed to promote education on safe browsing and virtual violence prevention.
According to Shapira, only a fourth of schools examined, 1,216 out of 4,485 schools, implemented the Life Online program.
The report further found that severe virtual violence incidents, such as boycotts and online slander, need not be reported by the school to the relevant regional supervisors. Furthermore, incidents that did require a report were not coordinated or followed up on in schools by the supervisors.
The Comptroller’s Report found deficiencies in the implementation of the City without Violence program run by the Public Security Ministry in the fields of formal and informal education, which promotes an all-inclusive municipal strategy to combat violence.
Disagreements and a lack of cooperation between the two ministries has led to a delay in the successful implementation of a plan to prevent violence in and out of schools. Only in 2013, some six years after the program was initiated, were the two ministries able to reach an amended agreement on how to best implement the program.