Digital devices meant for learning must not become hotbed of bullying

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Education minister Koichi Hagiuda, September 16, 2020.

The digital terminals distributed to elementary and junior high school students across the nation may have contributed to bullying. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and the boards of education must investigate how the terminals are actually being used and work to prevent a recurrence.

A sixth-grade elementary school girl committed suicide in Machida, Tokyo, in November last year, leaving behind a suicide note saying that she had been bullied. The city and the board of education recognized this case as a “serious situation” under the law for promoting measures to prevent school bullying and have begun an investigation.

It is said that two months prior to the suicide, signs of bullying had been discovered through school surveys and other means. Why couldn’t the worst case have been prevented from happening? The utmost effort should be made to uncover the truth.

The most serious factor is that insults about the girl are believed to have been exchanged using the chat function of the tablet devices distributed at the school. A number of children testified that her classmates wrote such words about the girl as “annoying,” “gross” and “die.”

At the time, the girl’s school set a common password of “123456789” for using the devices, and individual IDs were also easily guessed. The attacks on the girl were visible to everyone, and it is highly likely that this public backbiting drove the girl into a corner.

Passwords are supposed to be kept secret from others. Education minister Koichi Hagiuda criticized the use of a common password in this case as “inappropriate.” The school’s operations can only be described as careless.

The government has almost finished distributing one terminal per student under the GIGA School Program. It is understandable to aim at utilizing the devices for online classes amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. But in the rush to distribute the devices, the rules for their use may not have been sufficiently well understood.

The ministry needs to confirm again that schools are fully aware of the rules.

In the 2019 academic year, a record 17,924 cases of cyberbullying through social media and other means were reported at educational facilities including elementary, junior high and high schools. One-third of the cases occurred among elementary school students, and it has become notable that younger children are bullying others.

Using the internet to harm others is unacceptable. It is important to thoroughly instruct elementary, junior high and high school students on the rules and manners of using the internet. It is also necessary to teach in the classroom about information ethics from the early grades.

Many teachers are unable to keep up with the knowledge of students, who are well versed in the use of smartphones and computers. It is also important to improve teacher training.

Bullying on the internet is not easily seen by others, and victims tend to suffer alone. Adults have a responsibility to provide a safe environment for learning. Equipment used for learning must not become a hotbed of bullying.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 26, 2021.