KiVa cut bullying in Finnish schools by teaching children the role of groups in perpetuating bullying, the importance of empathising with victims, and how to support the bullied. Where bullying does occur, a team of three teachers trained by KiVa instructors engage victims and bullies in discussions to resolve outstanding issues. Thanks to funding from the Ministry of Culture and Education, KiVa now operates in hundreds of schools across Finland and cut bullying by 20% in a large randomised controlled trial covering 117 schools.
Results & Impact
KiVa cut bullying by 20% in intervention schools compared to control according to one large randomised controlled trial in the first nine months of implementation. The effect of KiVa is cumulative: according to its founder, bullying in KiVa schools in Finland has fallen by around half since large-scale roll-out in 2009. Verbal, physical and cyber bullying all fell. Positive effects on academic attainment were also recorded. KiVa demonstrated more significant impact among children aged between 10 and 12 than those between six and nine or 13 to 15.
KiVa International, Ministry of Culture and Education, schools
To become a KiVa school, selected school personnel go through two day-long face-to-face training sessions with KiVa trainers. Some are trained to spot harmful behaviours and to reconcile bullies and victims, while others are trained in preventative techniques. KiVa is delivered through 20 hours of lessons spread over the year and delivered to all students in a specified age bracket. Lessons cover three broad topics: how groups can encourage and maintain bullying; the need for empathy; and practical strategies to support and include victims of bullying. The evaluation studies measured the fall in bullying through self- and peer-reports provided by students.
Cost & Value
The Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education made KiVa free for all schools between 2009 and 2011. Costing estimates vary between schools, but for an average Finnish school, the founder estimates a cost of around $350 per school, or around 80 cents per student. To use KiVa internationally, a licence must be sought. The fee is agreed in the licensing process.
Running since 2006
KiVa relies on each school administration getting behind the project. If teachers aren’t actively committed to the program, its impact is likely to be limited. Some schools felt the time commitment was too much. Thanks to endorsements from the Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education, however, the reception by many schools was enthusiastic.
KiVa has been replicated in Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Teaching children practical strategies to prevent bullying is now standard practice in hundreds of Finnish schools. The KiVa program cut bullying by 20% in a large-scale randomised control trial of 117 schools.
KiVa comprises a 20-hour program of workshops delivered across a school year. The course covers three key topics: how groups encourage and perpetuate bullying, the importance of empathy in combatting bullying, and finally, practical strategies to reduce bullying that schoolchildren can take.
To become a KiVa school, school personnel attend two intensive, face-to-face training sessions on bullying prevention and reconciliation. Whenever a child is bullied, the teachers are trained to engage the bully and victim in a series of discussions to work through issues and prevent on-going tensions. Pro-social, popular children are approached to encourage inclusion of the bullied child by influential peers.
“The main goal of KiVa is to make students aware that they are all part of it: that they can make a difference,” explains Christina Salmivalli, Founder of KiVa and Professor at the University of Turku.
The program isn’t just a pep-talk, however. Part of the work is helping children to understand how their behaviour might contribute to the bullying of another.
“When children know bullying is happening, they may join in or laugh. They provide different verbal and non-verbal cues that suggest that this behaviour is ok, fun, or even cool.”
“Bystanders can maintain bullying, or they can make small positive changes that make a big difference – it’s in their power to decide that bullying won’t be tolerated.”
KiVa is far from the first anti-bullying program, but its strong evidence base is rare. Salmivalli believes the strength of the program is its structure.
“It’s systematic: it’s not just giving a folder to teachers with a selection of exercises. We have built a clear curriculum so that each month there is a lesson, a game and information that goes to parents and staff. Each lesson builds on the last,” she added.
Since KiVa’s humble beginnings—the impetus came from Salmivalli’s masters’ and doctoral theses—the program has spread to some thousand schools across Finland, and replications are running in around 19 other countries.
The Finnish Ministry of Culture and Education were vital partners in scaling KiVa nationwide. The Ministry provided subsidies that made KiVa free for all Finnish schools who chose to implement it.
Despite “variation in how ready they were and concerns over the time required to deliver the lessons”, in Salmivalli’s words, the roll-out encountered relatively few hurdles. Salmavilli cites the government’s financial support and public endorsement for removing financial concerns or worries about the credibility of the project.
The research and thinking behind KiVa is far from finished. While children aged 10 to 12 demonstrated the strongest reduction in bullying—around 30%—results for older age groups are more mixed.
KiVa does not eliminate bullying from schools, but in reducing its prevalence and improving teachers’ responses, the Finnish project offers promising routes into child-led violence prevention.
(Picture credit: Pixabay)