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Database to expose liars

THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch have designed a computer program to combat bullying in schools. The "pest-test" aims to quantify bullying, pinpoint where it happens and expose gaps in teacher and parental supervision.

The 58-question test, developed by the University of Nijmegen, covers behaviour such as hiding a pupil's bag or taunting. There are also questions about how often a pupil is kicked or punched, and children are asked how their teachers react or how parents cope with bullying at home.

"The idea is to involve pupils, teachers and parents in solving the problem, " said Dr Ton de Mooij, the researcher who designed the program. "We have tried to impose a solution top-down for a nearly a century and it has failed miserably. No solution will work without the co-operation of the pupils and they will not co-operate if it is imposed on them."

The 10-minute test is aimed at 500,000 pupils aged 8 to 15 at 7,700 primary and secondary schools. The parents' association for state schools, Vereniging Openbaar Onderwijs, is distributing the software.

The association expects bullies to confess to the computer, and believes cross-referencing will show up lies.

"The test will remain anonymous. Children will do it on their own. And if some pupils lie, we expect answers by other respondents will expose this. For example, a pupil may admit bullying once a week yet other pupils say they are being pestered twice a day," said Leon van Zijl, a spokesman for the association.

The initiative is one of several to combat bullying, after surveys showed that 20 per cent of Holland's 1.5 million pupils dreaded attending school.

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