Early in the morning, Eric, who has not turned eleven yet, usually lingers at the school gate. He says goodbye to his mother, crosses the fence and pretends he is leaving, then he comes back, simulating to be waiting for somebody or something, while continuously gazing at his watch. His schoolmates look at him when passing by, without saying hello. Like every day, he is spending those initial minutes to avoid having to wait in class for the teacher’s arrival.
When the break comes, Eric will not be one of the first to leave either. And once in the playground, he will look around, trying to place himself near the walls, or in a corner. Any corner where he thinks they won’t look at him. Because for a child like him, who suffers bullying, the hardest moments of the day are those in which the teachers are not present.
His case is not an exception, but a frequent phenomenon that affects almost 20% of the pupils in developed countries, as the latest PISA report revealed. But although Eric suffers the mocking from all of his schoolmates, in fact only two of them are the real bullies. The rest is carried along by the pressure from the group. That is the main characteristic of bullying, and when it is fought it is usually possible to eradicate it. Because of that, the Barça Foundation focused on this part of the problem when starting its pilot program against bullying for primary school students. And after a two-year development, it has reaped unprecedented success.
The novelty of this initiative is that it encourages the desire to integrate the excluded into the group, combining sport with tools aimed at both teachers and students. And most importantly, providing a way for the children to express their discomfort. Most of those who suffer bullying don’t talk about it or know how to do it, making it difficult for their parents, teachers, and schoolmates to be able to find a solution. Instead, when a situation comes to light, and the group of schoolmates understands it, bullying is reduced. So, has happened among the 5,000 children from the 26 schools in Catalonia that have taken part in the program. In these centres, the bullying victims have been reduced by 35% and the cyberbullying victims by 60%.
A spectacular result which has been achieved with only two years from its implementation, and especially important if we consider that it is a problem present in all OECD countries, regardless of income level, social situation or educational stage.
The Catalonian schools, where the program has been implemented, keep a slightly lower level of bullying than the OECD average, according to the latest PISA report, but higher than in 2015. 17% of the students suffer it and that affects their school performance. It is even frequent that they end up leaving school. To make matters worse, most of the teachers have not received training to confront it: 76% of the states not to be prepared to approach it. And this is another reason why the program is successful, because of its design as a support for the teachers.
Each professional that joins this initiative receives access to a virtual campus, where they receive training and are provided with resources to integrate the tools against bullying for the subjects of Physical Education, Art, and tutoring. With a curriculum adapted to each of the six primary school grades, the activities include emotional education, management of one’s feelings, and social skills. They are 42 didactic units linked to the beliefs and values of Barça and the practice of sports. They also have tests for evaluation before and after the application of the program, and a report that allows the school to report parents about the atmosphere of coexistence at school.
As children get older, teachers find new resources, and in fifth grade, there is an area specifically focused on cyberbullying. This part has been welcomed by the educational community, as from the ages of ten and eleven children start to use social networks and cyberbullying can appear, even against boys and girls who did not suffer bullying previously.
The program also offers awareness workshops in face-to-face sessions, with the attendance of a maximum of 50 children, where physical activities are combined with spaces for dialogue during 90 minutes. This is intended to identify bullying. There is also specific training for formative football coaches, from which 600 coaches have already benefited. There is bullying in the amateur teams of schools too, and the program has accomplished to reduce it to 9%.
All these practical methodologies, designed by means of the consultation and advice of international experts in bullying, are combined with the dissemination of the results and what has been learned in their implementation, through the Annual Symposium against Bullying of the Barça Foundation. The pilot initiative has been extended from the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year to all schools in Catalonia, and it is planned to continue implementing it in more and more schools, with a clear global goal.
All to achieve that reduction of 35% in face-to-face bullying and 60% in cyberbullying, which are not mere figures, but results achieved thanks to the active participation of the group in the fight against bullying. The children who took part in the program have learned to identify this abusive practice, to denounce it, and above all to consider it something harmful. Thus, it is stated by Montse Font, from the La Merçe school in Martorell, who assures us that “pupils have become aware, are alert, and are capable of both solving conflicts and communicating them immediately”.
One of those children is called Eric, but he no longer lingers at the gate, nor does he relegate himself to a corner of the yard. In fact, it is his friends who hurry him out, now that they want to play with the shy and impressive striker who, after the Christmas holidays, appeared at school with a significant gift: his own football. Eric is only one of the thousands of children whose individual cases have been addressed successfully, providing them with a happier life and tools to fight and resist against those bullying him. These skills once acquired, accompanies the pupil throughout his educational career. The Barça Foundation wants more children to overcome these circumstances as in Eric’s case. This initiative was born to support their development through sports and human values that characterise FC Barcelona. To achieve this goal, this program is free to all schools that request it. And like that, it will be, until they become the champions who defeat bullying forever, in Catalonia, and in the rest of the world.