The government today announced its plan to combat school bullying. Among the decisions mentioned by Gabriel Attal, an “empathy course” should be included in our children’s curriculum. But what does it consist of? And is it the solution?
The government unveiled its plan against school bullying this Wednesday. Established by Gabriel Attal as one of his priorities, the Minister of National Education promised to “stop at nothing” to put an end to this scourge which has caused several suicides in recent months among middle school students.
Strong measures to stop harassment
During a press conference on September 27, almost a month after the start of the school year, the government listed the measures which should punctuate this new school year and the next:
- 3018 becomes the “single number” against school bullying, to report a situation;
- An anonymous questionnaire submitted to all students from CE2 to 3rd will be put in place;
- A cell dedicated to harassment will be created in each rectorate;
- On the harassers’ side, the government announces the implementation of a digital ban as well as the confiscation of their cell phones.
The training of school staff, educators and magistrates would also be strengthened on the subject.
But the flagship measure envisaged for several months is the implementation of empathy courses from the start of the school year in September 2024, with trials deployed from January 2024 in one pilot school per department. Courses inspired by a Danish method, which hope to act as a preventative measure for generations to come.
What are empathy courses?
Introduced around twenty years ago in Denmark, empathy courses, also called the Fri For Mobberi method, (“free from harassment”) are courses or workshops, given one hour per week, which allow one to become aware of the other through play and speech. Delivered from the youngest grades, these lessons would teach children to help each other and collaborate through role-playing, cooperation and problem-solving games. In Denmark, the method has significantly reduced harassment in twenty-five years.
Concretely, in France, teachers would be trained for 6 hours before leading an empathy course program. They would then have a range of workshops available. “The goal is to get them to discuss everyday situations so that they can find the solution to a problem themselves and look at the world through someone else’s eyes”explained Margot Neuvialle, “Living together-Fri for Mobberi” coordinator for the Education League to 20 Minutes.
However, the terms of these future courses have not yet been defined.
A method that can make a difference?
Is this the right method to put an end to school bullying? We asked the question to Léonor Philip, doctor of psychology, specialized in issues of harassment who closely follows the methods used here and elsewhere. According to her, although the decision is in the right direction, it is not complete:
“We must understand that in the Nordic countries, the teaching of social skills is experienced from 2 to 18 years old, it is more than learning or a course, it is cultural. And this does not come down to empathy as is claimed at the moment in France. It’s all about cooperation, knowing how to ask for help, respect for others, tolerance, how to make friends… The field is vast and the situations are permanent. It works, but be careful, we are talking about long-term prevention, we start at a young age and it lasts until the age of 18 and not until halfway through primary school.”
According to her, the government’s announcements do not necessarily address the entire problem of harassment, particularly on prevention:
“What is a shame is that this Phare program, which we are being told about, is a pale copy of the Kiva program, a Finnish program, which has proven itself. But instead of taking this program in its entirety, and adapt it, France seems to take a few pieces of it to apply. Gabriel Attal understood that it was necessary to teach social skills, and establishing this in early grades is a good thing, but it is at all levels that we need to change the system and that will take time. What is needed is funding, changes in the curriculum, trained teachers, and interventions at all ages, throughout schooling. If we stop these classes in primary school, while it is in middle school that things get complicated, it will not be able to work.”