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Yayasan Indonesia Mengabdi/Yusri/2016

Engaging Influential Students to Tackle Peer Violence in Indonesia


In Indonesia, more than 1 in 5 students, aged 13 to 15 (18 million children), have experienced violence by their peers at schools, according to 2015 estimates by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Ministry of Health. Plan International reports that in Indonesian schools, boys are experiencing more physical, emotional, and sexual violence compared to girls. Increasingly, policy makers are paying attention to the problem, but there is scant evidence about effective solutions in the country.

Globally, there is research evidence that shows a close association between peer violence and intimate partner violence (IPV). A multi-country study by WHO establishes that the risk of IPV is highest amongst younger women and adolescent girls. As such, school-based bullying programmes addressing relationships, gender, and power can be instrumental in the primary prevention of IPV.

The Programme

The Roots Programme was adapted from the United States and uses social influence strategy to promote non-violent behaviours and conflict resolution in schools. In Indonesia, the curriculum was contextualised and co-designed by students, teachers, local government authorities, the University of Oxford, UNICEF, and local civil society organisations such as Yayasan Indonesia Mengabdi (YIM) in South Sulawesi, Yayasan Setara and LPA Klaten in Central Java.

In each school, students aged 12 – 15 years are selected as peer influencers (“Agents of Change”) to disseminate non-violence messages to their peers, using methods of their choice (drawing, singing, dance, photo booths, and group discussions). Roughly 20 girls and 20 boys in each school were selected by the students using social network mapping. Facilitators from nearby civil society organisations* helped to oversee implementation and facilitate a complementary module on non-violent discipline for teachers. The programme aimed to: i) reduce bullying through spreading positive social norms and behaviour within the school; and ii) enhance teachers’ positive classroom management.

Together with international and local partners, Ryan Febrianto worked for UNICEF Indonesia in 2016-2017 to co-develop a bullying prevention pilot programme (“Roots”) in 12 Junior High Schools in South Sulawesi and Central Java province, Indonesia. Highlighting the significant benefits of the programme Ryan said, “Compared to many bullying prevention programmes that focus on creating punitive school policies or improving individual student’s empathy, this programme tries to identify and change social norms amongst students to create lasting change”.

This is proven in research, which finds that bullying can be driven by social norms about desirable behaviour in a community. “When a community believes that bullying is acceptable, they will adjust their behaviour accordingly to this belief, and patterns start to emerge”, Ryan added. As part of the baseline assessment conducted by UNICEF as well as local and international partners, children and teachers were asked to describe their own and other students’ perceptions of conflict in the school to inform programme content and delivery.

A Focus on Influential Students

“What is innovative is that the programme is driven by students themselves, and led by student Agents of Change,” emphasised Ryan. “Agents of Change are important sources of information among their peers, because of the wide connections they have with other pupils in school or their capacity for delivering messages that matter to other students”, Ryan added.

Too often, bullying prevention programmes involve outsiders of the community as the ones raising awareness about bullying prevention. “This is problematic as they may not be regarded as legitimate people to address the issue by our target audience”, Ryan said.

The Agents of Change were selected by students, who were asked to identify 10 of their peers that they chose to spend the most time with inside and outside of school. “This way we could ask students to observe other student’s behaviour, instead of asking them to nominate people or list their friends randomly”, Ryan added.

As informed by the current discourse on social networks theory, social referents or influencers may be popular and have many friends, but they may also be unpopular but influential. Next, using participatory methods such as group discussion and games, the Agents of Change participated in 12 meetings hosted by local youth facilitators over a semester period.

The topics of the meetings include reflecting patterns of behavior among students, understanding conflict in school, building group trust among the Agents of Change, as well as brainstorming creative approaches to spread non-violence messages in school. “Participatory methods allow students to use their creativity to create messages using hashtag, posters, and maximize social media platform to spread the messages both online and offline”, Ryan added.


For evaluation purposes, 6 intervention and 6 control schools were selected to participate, and the evaluation was designed and led by a researcher at the University of Oxford, in partnership with UNICEF and local civil society organizations in Indonesia. The report is currently being finalised by the researchers.

This programme underwent a mixed-method evaluation research study in 2018, which involved 7,500 students who took part in a waitlist control trial. The results in 6 of the 12 schools were positive, with interesting lessons for replication and potential scale-up.

To do that, a group of researchers compared the findings from baseline and endline surveys in order to measure the changes in norms and violence perpetration in schools before and after the intervention. Qualitative information were collected from semi-structured interviews and group discussion with the students, teachers, and school staff, as well as using facilitator’s observation checklist, diaries, and feedback.

According to an unpublished report by UNICEF and YIM, in South Sulawesi, the programme saw a nearly 30 percent reduction in bullying following the intervention. In Central Java, the findings were mixed, suggesting that the intervention may have raised awareness and hence identification and reporting of bullying.

“I believe that making friends with everybody is a good way to overcome [the problem of] bullying. When we show our closest friends how to behave positively, it influences all students to want to change just like us” – Student Agent of Change, South Sulawesi

A further qualitative study conducted by Ryan, in an intervention school in Klaten, Central Java also indicated some challenges faced by the Agents of Change, particularly boys, who faced some teasing from their peers as a result of their participation in the programme. “Some male students reported being teased by other students because they were active in the programme, and we need to be sure we create an engaging, safe, and enabling environment, particularly for boys, before the programme is initiated” said Ryan. In the future, it is recommended that specific strategies for engaging girls and boys, taking into account gender roles in the community, should inform programme delivery.

What We Learned

The findings emphasise the importance of working with students and teachers, as part of a preparatory phase of the programme, to discuss how the active contributions of students is key to programme success. This is especially illuminating in the context of the Javanese culture, which is the dominant ethnicity in the country, where teaching styles, as well as parenting practices, can position children as passive recipients of learning, dismissing children’s capabilities and agency. It is recommended that given the close linkages between violence in the home and violence at school, additional modules for parents and caregivers could be added with a focus on gender and power relations in the home.

Adolescents’ feedback on the programme included suggestions to add training and skills-building on interpersonal communication and confidence building for the Agents of Change, as well as to improve community’s understanding of overall child rights. “When addressing social norms that relate with bullying perpetration through engaging influential students, we must remember to also examine and target norms regarding participation” Ryan said. “By engaging students as the solution, we strive to achieve our goal, not only to improve children’s protection from violence, but also to ensure their well-being and development”.


Peer violence prevention programmes in schools can have a profound impact on children and adolescents, as well as the adults with whom they interact. The Roots programme in Indonesia helped to reduce violence in schools by almost a third, and both students and teachers reported an improved learning environment. Care should be taken in replicating the programme across Indonesia and other low- and middle- income countries however, as culture and context can affect programme design and efficacy. More research is needed to understand how to engage parents and caregivers in these programmes, especially amongst high risk families where children may be exposed to multiple forms of violence, including witnessing IPV and experiencing violence at home.


The author would like to acknowledge the researchers and practitioners involved in this programme, such as UNICEF Indonesia and Yayasan Indonesia Mengabdi (YIM) in South Sulawesi as well as Office of Women Empowerment, Child Protection, Population Control and Family Planning of Central Java; Office of Social Affairs, Women Empowerment, Child Protection, and Family Planning of Klaten; Yayasan Setara; LPA Klaten; Sebelas Maret University; Universitas Negeri Semarang; Soegijapranata Catholic University; Diponegoro University; Klaten Widya Dharma University; Yayasan Nusantara Sejati in Central Java.


Ryan is a young professional from Indonesia specialising in policy development and advocacy, programme design, and participatory research on violence prevention, youth participation, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. He has worked as a consultant, child protection officer, and researcher with various organisations, including international and national NGOs, government initiatives, and UNICEF. He holds an MA in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) of Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands and a graduate course certificate on gender equality from the University of Oslo, Norway.

Date published
  • 2019
  • Ryan Febrianto
Published by The Prevention Collaborative