Shelley Knowles l Palladium - Nov 09 2023
“Say No to Bullying” in Sidoarjo, Indonesia

“They told me if I went to the teachers, they would kick me in the back.”
“Usually I ran, and if they caught me, they would call my parents names.”
“I wanted to cry when I was bullied.”

These are the chilling words of 12-year-old students from SDN Tenggulunan school in Sidoarjo, Indonesia. Now these same students are part of an anti-bullying taskforce, a new program with a mission to curb bullying. And it’s working.

Bullying is a global problem that can severely impact children’s psychological and physical health and the whole-school community. In East Java, Indonesia, a grant from the Innovation for Indonesia’s School Children (INOVASI) project supported the implementation of a school anti-bullying program, designed in partnership with the Muhammadiyah Sidoarjo University (UMSIDA). The program has been running for just over a year and has already led to promising results.

12-year-old Nadia reaches into her pocket and pulls out a small notebook. As one of the five elected members of the anti-bullying taskforce, she is responsible for recording bullying incidents she witnesses in the playground. In Indonesia, parents’ names are often the subject of bullying.

“We see mockery. Calling parents bad names and saying their job is low,” says Nadia. Students in the anti-bullying taskforce are guided on how to intervene, record instances of bullying, and report them to a classroom teacher.

Fidi Handoko, a teacher and the school’s anti-bullying coordinator, says it’s impossible to keep track of children all the time, so they focus on break time, and can now identify bullying patterns. “In February and March this year, we saw a spike in bullying reports. We also saw a lot of reports in July when the new students start.” Armed with this knowledge, school authorities are now paying closer attention to these moments in the school calendar.

The Safe and Supportive School program developed by INOVASI and UMSIDA provided training and mentoring sessions for Handoko and other teachers at the school throughout the year and encourages teachers to find local solutions to overcome gender-based and character-based issues. Anti-bullying messaging is highly visible throughout the school – an anti-bullying declaration hangs at the entrance (signed by all 451 students and 21 teachers), colourful posters are pinned to school walls, and the anti-bullying taskforce has a chant that reverberates around the school courtyard.

“Say no to bullying. Say yes to child friendly schools. Say yes to achievement,” chants Nadia and the other students, standing before Anindito Aditomo, the Head of Indonesia’s Education Standard, Curriculum, and Assessment Agency who is visiting the school to learn more about the program.

Aditomo commends the students for their commitment and recognises the challenges in Indonesia to address bullying. “The data has shown that schools are becoming less safe… We have a lot of bullying and violence at schools, and we have to handle this in systematic ways,” he says. “According to the results of the 2022 National Assessment, about a third of students potentially experienced bullying in schools, including verbal, online, and physical bullying.”

Aditomo praises the anti-bullying program and says it can reduce incidences of bullying at schools, sometimes in just 3-4 months. “The program doesn’t require a lot of budget; it just needs the commitment and willingness of schools. We need to ensure all schools have programs like this.”

Ensuring Sustainability

Whilst the program is fully funded by the Australian Government through the INOVASI program at this school, 32 other schools have gone on to develop training at their own expense using modules, facilitators, and supervisors who have been trained by INOVASI and UMSIDA.

Rosita Prihatiningrum, a 6th grade teacher at MiNU KH Mukmin school with twenty-five years of experience says that there was more physical contact in previous years, but now they provide socialisation guidance at the start of each school year alongside daily reminders to teach students how to respect each other.

Consequences, says Prihatiningrum, should never be given in anger but reflect positive behaviour – an approach they use even for the youngest children. “If a student does something terrible, they must do something good in exchange for their wrong actions. If they make fun of a friend, they must do something nice for all their other friends, not just the one being teased.”

Social media is further exposing children to bullying. A recent 2019 poll found that nearly half (45%) of 2,777 Indonesian young people aged 14-24 reported they had experienced cyberbullying. Fortunately, Prihatiningrum and other teachers have been able to pick up instances of bullying early by sitting down with the students to discuss the conversations they are having online. Prihatiningrum says that despite her age, she asks the young teachers to teach her how TikTok works so she knows the right questions to ask students and continue to stamp out bullying.

Back at SDN Tenggulunan school, Nadia and the other members of the anti-bullying taskforce continue to raise their voices in chant – “Say no to bullying. Say yes to child friendly schools. Say yes to achievement.” Before skipping off to class, Nadia has one final comment. “I want to tell everyone, ‘Don’t bully each other. Take care of one another.’”

Innovation for Indonesia's School Children (INOVASI) program is funded by the Australian government and implemented by Palladium, and has been working with the Indonesian government and non-government partners to improve children's learning outcomes.