Taiwanese startup Peer has launched a digital student survey platform to help teachers deal with student bullying and other classroom problems.

The system requires students to rate each other in different situations, including “choosing classroom seats,” “choosing partners when going on a field trip,” and “forming groups.” Students are also asked to give the reason for their choices.

The Peer platform produces graphs and tables based on students’ answers. Students who are popular, isolated or ignored will be indicated in the results.

Only school counselors who have been professionally trained to deal with students’ mental problems are authorized to see the results, though counselors can also show results to teachers when needed.

The platform is based on a long-running system used in Taiwan. Originally known as “Teacher Tu’s Social Examination System” (涂老師社交測量), it was first launched in 1994 by Tu Chun-jen (涂春仁), a teacher with a Master’s degree in educational psychology.

The system has since been updated four times and has previously been used by teachers in more than 200 schools across the island-nation. The survey results have also been used widely in academic research. It was adopted as an official tool by the Taipei City Government in 1999.

Schoolmate of the MRT killer

The two 23-year-olds behind Peer, Larry Tu (涂立青), Tu Chun-jen’s son, and Rock Wu (吳孟修) worked to optimize and digitize the original system. The new platform was launched in May.

“Both of us [the two founders] used to be bullied and later became bullies,” Larry Tu told The News Lens International. “We want to change this situation.”

Wu, Peer’s marketing manager, attended the same high school as Cheng Chieh (鄭捷), who was executed in May after killing four people in the Taipei metro in 2014.

Wu says he and his friends sometimes hung out with Cheng, but he regrets not trying harder to connect with the often-isolated Cheng.

“This made me wonder, what if I had done more? Maybe the tragedy could have been prevented.”

Wu and Larry Tu, who have expertise in coding and user experience, started to develop the platform in January. They have are being supported by AppWorks (之初創投), a Taiwanese startup accelerator.

Identifying students who are ignored

According to Taiwan’s Child Welfare League Foundation, in 2012 more than 16 percent of elementary school students were bullied, with nearly 95 percent of that group saying that bullying was “non-violent.”

Chou Chin-shu (周錦淑), a junior high school counselor who has used earlier iterations of the system for more than five years, told TNLI that the system makes it more convenient for teachers to understand their students.

“It also helps school counselors work with main classroom teachers,” says Chou, adding that the results can be used to help adjust teaching methods. As a result of using the system, group activities and mentoring can be introduced to alleviate disintegration in the classroom

“Some schools also use the system to group classes,” says Larry Tu. “Students who are easily isolated sometimes will be grouped with enthusiastic ones in the same class.”

Chen Hsiu-ching (陳秀清), also a junior high school counselor, told TNLI that while it may be obvious that a student is being directly verbally or physically bullied, it can be very difficult to identify students who are being ignored by others.

“This is a problem the system can solve,” Chen says.

Optimizing the system

Last year, the founders of Peer contacted more than 40 schools that have experience using the former system developed by Tu Chun-ren. Only five to 10 of the schools were still using the system when surveyed.

They found “the old version of the system is not efficient,” says Chou.

Student answers needed to be processed by multiple parties before the results were known. Also, graphs and tables in the earlier version were now outdated.

“They look old-fashioned and are complicated,” says Tu.

Chen, the junior high school counselor mentioned above, has used the new version of Peer and says that the system is now clearer and more convenient.

“It should be promoted in Taiwanese schools,” says Chen.

Tu and Wu plan to work with officials in the Ministry of Education to promote the system on a national level, and are hopeful it will be used by all of Taiwan’s schools in the future.

“After Peer is widely used in Taiwan, we will introduce it abroad,” says Tu, “because bullying exists not only in Taiwan but in other countries as well.”

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang