Violence in Learning Environments - What Can We Do?

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Violent acts in schools have made the news lately. Some of it is due to the controversy sparked by the original article regarding the Kytöpuisto incident in which an ambulance was called for a student who had been brutally attacked, but some of it is no doubt because the number of cases has actually increased.


One thing these violent acts have in common is their ruthlessness. They have been reported to have involved punching, kicking and even choking. Another common feature is the age of the perpetrators. More often than not these cases have included under 15-year-old children, meaning they aren’t even considered criminally responsible yet.


It was reported that in one of these cases a teacher who had been called over to interfere as a 14-year-old boy was beaten unconscious had indeed not called the police or an ambulance for assistance, but had rather sent or otherwise let the kid go home from where he was then taken to receive further medical treatment. It could be that the young age of the people involved had made the teacher act in such a way, making them not realize the severity of what had happened.


I think everyone agrees that these acts of violence aren’t exactly justifiable, yet dealing with them is often difficult. Under current legislation the perpetrators often can not be held responsible criminally for their actions and we seemingly can’t always trust teachers to act correctly, so what can be done?


The first step ought to be removing whatever ridiculousness would ever make a teacher send a half-conscious child home on their own. Whether it is not being trained to handle such situations, being afraid of their school’s reputation suffering or something entirely different, it needs to be dealt with. The ability to trust teachers to act responsibly should not be infringed, as students are entitled by law to a safe learning environment as per the Basic Education Act as well as the Act on General Upper Secondary Education.


That is the obvious and fairly easy step. After that we have to think about what we can do to the perpetrators. Although a simple talking-to as an action has been seen as useless, it was reported recently that a stern talking-to which had involved a police officer and a social worker had stopped the cycle of bullying in one instance. It would thus seem that the child merely needed to be shown that what they had done is indeed a serious crime, not just “bullying” which is a fairly diluted term. It shouldn’t be forgotten that we are talking about criminal activity.


But what if a talking-to isn’t enough? Oftentimes bad behavior seems to be inherited, since the parents can be just as uncaring as the children. In these cases the parents may just need to get a talking-to of their own. However if that does not work, it is necessary to punish the parents, create an incentive for them to encourage their child to behave. This form of punishment must go through social services. These actions may seem harsh but violent acts are not to be sustained and this has to be very clear.


What about when the parents are truly trying their best? Then we’ll have to resort to punishing the perpetrators. Schools have means to punish misbehaving children, although they don’t seem very effective. A school has the ability to temporarily ban a student from participating in education, but what good is this if the student didn’t want to be there to begin with? This is why we should either enable schools to give out harsher punishments or lower the age of criminal responsibility.


The age of criminal responsibility is as high as it is, because someone under that age is thought to not fully understand the consequences of their actions. It is a mystery how anyone could think that a 12-year-old wouldn’t understand that hurting someone is bad or that stealing isn’t a good thing. This is why the age of criminal responsibility should be lowered. It would however be unfair for someone to have to carry the burden of a crime they committed when they were 13 for the entirety of their lives and this should be considered if the age of responsibility would be lowered. Were the age of criminal responsibility lowered, we could bring proper justice for those who’ve been hurt by thought-out, premeditated acts of criminal violence which are currently unjustifiably protected by legislation.


The alternative, giving schools the ability to hand out harsher punishments, is most likely considered less extreme. This would in practice mean, for example, schools being able to transfer misbehaving students to other schools. This would isolate the misbehaving students, hopefully integrating them differently into the new student body and making them behave better. Only hopefulness is required, as this same action is already indirectly forced upon those who suffer from the misbehavior.


It is important to note that in many cases where the current options are there and warranted, they simply aren’t used. It is not rare for criminal assault to be set aside as “bullying”, something that is an unfortunate, yet natural part of school. There is no doubt also an aspect of reputation. If news breaks that someone has been beaten unconscious in a school, that will obviously damage the school’s reputation. Some schools may see this as worse than actually dealing with the problem and sweep any problems under the rug. Action should be encouraged, inaction widely condemned and punished.


I’ve avoided mentioning things peers could do to weed out misbehaving individuals as I think it is unfair to place such a burden on people of young age, but it is obviously always encouraged as a student to report things you see or hear to teachers. This gives the teacher the ability to act accordingly, overall improving the student body’s well-being.


Action against violence in schools is required by law, yet the law also restricts the effectiveness of action. Unfortunately right now schools have to work with what they have, which isn’t a lot. Still, It is important to apply the means that are available right now and hope for a wider range of options in the future. As a student, it is important to report what you see and hear. The most important thing, however, is to recognize that we are talking about crime that will most likely affect the victims for years to come. Even one incident is too many.

Writer: Aaron Urtti