Zeroing in on school bullies

The Zero programme on bullying at the University of Stavanger’s Centre for Behavioural Research could become an export product after being tried out in Norwegian schools. Mexicans, Colombians and Spaniards may be next in line to adopt it.

Interest in the anti-bullying programme has recently been growing sharply. Already recommended by experts in Norway to the Norwegian education authorities, it has also been promoted by the European Union to 18 Latin American countries.

Zero was highlighted as an exemplary solution for schools in Latin America by the international Eurosocial project at a conference at Cartagena de Indias in Colombia during July. It was one of five European programmes to be recommended, and the only one from Norway.

- The Latin American authorities who participated in the conference showed great interest in Zero, reports Professor Rosario Ortega Ruiz, who heads the department of education at Spain’s University of Cordoba.

She has co-authored a report on management of the educative centres in violence contexts, covering prevention, attention and pacific resolution of conflicts. This recommended Zero as one of the best solutions.

- We want to highlight good examples to follow. Both prevention and management have been important elements in this assessment, she explains.

- In addition to Zero, our report recommends programmes from Spain and Italy as well as two international collaborations. One is the Violence in School Training Action (Vista) project, where the UiS centre is also involved.

Professor Erling Roland, head of the centre, finds it exciting that the Zero programme has been recommended to government authorities and schools in Latin America.

- This is a big boost for us, he says.

- We’re very proud that our research can benefit countries which haven’t made the same progress towards eradicating school bullying.

He is looking forward to forging ties with Spanish-speaking nations if they get in touch.

Spain presented its efforts to deal with violence at a conference on taking fear out of schools, which was held in Stavanger during 2004.

At that time, Spanish government interest in such work was not as high as in Norway. The difference in progress reflected that. However, that position is now changing.

Prof Roland presented the Zero programme to a Spanish audience this September during a conference at Palma in Mallorca, and the interest was palpable.

- The way we work in Zero has clearly also attracted attention from Spanish educators and the authorities in Spain, he says.

- They’re inviting us to conferences and recommending the programme. It’s great to see that this can be used both at home and abroad to combat violence.

Many of the principles applied in Zero have also been tested in Ireland, where the local version is called the ABC Whole School Response to Bullying.

A pilot project at 42 schools in Donegal yielded very positive results, reports Professor Mona O’Moore of the Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre at Dublin’s Trinity College.

- Bullying was halved in the participating schools, and we’re very satisfied with that outcome. Individual schools around Ireland have subsequently tried out the programme, and we’re hoping it can become national.

Prof O’Moore believes that cross-national collaboration and exchange of knowledge are crucial for good research, and that the Zero and ABC programmes provide good examples of this.

- They have the same origins and build on the same core elements, she notes.

- We’ve then tailored the ABC solution to Irish culture and school conditions.

- When dealing with bullying, for instance, it’s important to have good materials in the form of books, manuals and films. We’ve learnt a lot in this respect from the work on Zero in Norway.

Associate professor Unni Vere Midthassel, who heads the Zero project at the UiS centre, agrees with Prof O’Moore that cross-national exchange of knowledge opens opportunities.

- A lot of countries are now concerned to put a stop to bullying, she observes.

- Many of them are contacting each other to find out which programmes are effective.

- It’s very gratifying for us that professionals in other nations regard Zero as a solution which could suit their own needs.

Prof Midthassel also agrees with Prof Roland that the interest being shown by Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America offers new challenges.

- If we’re contacted by any of these, the primary requirement will be to look at the linguistic and cultural differences between them and us.

- Translating a programme into another language isn’t enough to achieve our result of a 30 per cent reduction. Zero is tailored to Norway’s school system, language and culture. Each country must emulate Ireland in finding its own variant.

- Such cross-national collaboration will also make it possible for us to conduct comparative studies between countries – a very interesting opportunity in research terms.

Teacher Elzbieta Økland and pupils Hanna B Susort and Joachim Haaland in class 5B at Madlamark School in Stavanger are applying the Zero programme this year.

- Teachers are easy to spot when they wear reflective jackets, says Joachim.

- That also makes it easier to report bullying.

Text: Silje Stangeland
Photo: Elisabeth Tønnessen

(First published 2007)