Classroom test can identify isolated studentsA high school in Daejeon administered a survey to its students last year. One of the questions was, “Which of your classmates do you want to be seated with and hang out with after class?”
Kim, 17, replied that she likes to hang out with Choi, a bubbly girl popular due to her positive spirit.
The survey results were analyzed by a teacher, Park. She realized that none of the students had mentioned Kim as a classmate they wanted to socialize with, not even Choi.
She consulted with Choi and asked her to make an extra effort to make friends with Kim.
A month later, Kim took leave from school saying she was ill. Choi telephoned her and sensed that something was gravely wrong.
Choi and Park rushed to Kim’s house and found her collapsed on the floor after an overdose of antidepressants. Kim was whisked to a hospital and saved.
“The survey is what gave me the clue that Kim was ostracized,” Park says with relief, “and that she needed help.”
Kim’s life preserver was the relational net analysis program named LINK, developed last July by Cyram, a social network analysis company. Students are asked 10 questions. From the answers, the company can design a map that shows the level of intimacy among students - and the level of estrangement.
“It is easier to identify school bullying when looking into students’ relational soundness rather than their individual personalities like depression or timidity,” said Kim Tae-ryung, the assistant manager of the Social Network Business Team in Cyram. “The test results are privately sent to the teachers, who then can identify their least popular pupils and take action.”
A sociology professor at Seoul National University, Chang Duk-jin, approves of LINK’s emphasis on social relations.
“Scrutinizing a student’s social network and locating his or her standing in society is much more crucial then studying what’s going on beneath the skin,” he said.
The survey asks questions like “Who do you want to do your homework with?” or “Who do you most frequently contact?” Kim from Cyram explains that the former question detects students who command the highest respect, while the latter reveals those who are most likeable. Those two virtues are LINK’s main criteria.
Out of the 1,718 elementary, middle and high school students surveyed since last June, approximately one in 10 students was not named in any one of the test questions, which put them in the alienation danger zone. Teachers who participated in the surveys said it helped them recognize who is at risk of being bullied.
The government conducts its own annual surveys to track and eradicate school bullying. Questions include “Have you ever been bullied?” and “Do you ever imagine committing suicide?” But teachers like Kim Jong-ho of the middle school run by Konkuk University’s College of Education say those surveys are a little too crude.
“Previous surveys merely asked students who their best friends were, so it was difficult to grasp the big picture and whether the friendships were on a mutual basis,” he said. “With LINK, I feel like I have the whole classroom in the palm of my hand.”
A middle school teacher in Seoul who had her class tested by LINK said, “I was baffled to see one of my students with top grades and seemingly amicable relationships with others assessed as an outsider.”
She took the result seriously and assigned a popular student to take extra care of the loner.
At a high school on Jeju Island, a teacher surnamed Chang said he moved one of his pupils to a different class after realizing from the survey that his only companion was in that class.
“Our mission is accomplished knowing that we saved a life,” says Cyram assistant manager Kim Tae-ryung. “We’re looking forward to saving more.”
BY KIM KI-HWAN, LEE SUNG-EUN [firstname.lastname@example.org]