It was very surprising to hear that Cyprus, according to European research, “has the highest rates of school violence.” In fact, this seems quite difficult to believe, considering Cyprus society is not particularly violent. There are the occasional incidents of football hooliganism and a couple of months ago there were the racist attacks in Chlorakas and Limassol, which shocked people because they had not witnessed something like this before.

Otherwise, Cyprus is a relatively safe society, so how could we have the highest rates of school violence? A survey, carried out by the University of Cyprus, found that one in four children are victims of bullying either at school or online; one in five teenagers said they had been victims of cyber-bullying. Physical bullying was more frequent at gymnasiums, while non-Greek Cypriot children were usually the targets; three in ten children also reported “being treated abusively or humiliatingly” by teachers.

The good thing is that the government has decided to tackle the problem, the council of ministers on Wednesday approved a set of measures for dealing with violent and delinquent behaviour at schools. Announcing the measures, Education Minister Athena Michaelidou, said there would be initiatives to fight racism, by promoting civic education, dialogue, and peaceful resolution of disputes. She said there would also be courses on violence prevention.

It is also important that the ministry has plans for addressing the disruption caused by badly behaved students to the school education of other children. Michaelidou said that alternative programmes were being planned for children with anti-social or delinquent behaviour – this, it was hoped, would help these children, and minimise class disruption for others. Perhaps the ministry should also consider setting up a school for delinquents, with specially trained teachers to help them deal with their behavioral issues and adjust.

The training of teachers to be able to deal with anti-social and violent behaviour is of vital importance, something the ministry is aware of. The study that was conducted had shown that teachers, who had methods for dealing with bad behaviour, faced much lower rates of incidents. All teachers should be made to attend training courses for dealing with student violence. It could be that the rise of anti-social or violent behaviour is linked to the failure of teachers to control risky situations, which is understandable if they have not been trained for the task.

This lack of training in dealing with difficult and disruptive students could be one of the reasons Cyprus is recording the highest rates of violence at schools. For many years there was no need for such training because schoolchildren were relatively well-behaved and respectful to authority figures such as teachers. This deference can no longer be taken for granted and it is good to see the education ministry adapting to the new conditions.