There are many moments of blissful childhood joy, but too often there are children who experience more abuse than joy — sometimes at the hands of their schoolmates. One kiosk company has developed technology to help students report violence anonymously and safely before another child is hurt. The inspiration behind the technology developed by Visionect was Hector Alejandro Mendez, a student from Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
When the 12-year-old boy went to school the morning of May 14, 2014, no one could have predicted the tragedy that was to follow later that same day, according to a report by the BBC.
After his final class of the day, Mendez was surrounded on the playground by his classmates and verbally abused. The situation worsened. According to the report, the children grabbed Mendez and subjected him to what's called "el columpio," the swing. The boy was picked up by his hands and feet and repeatedly swung against a nearby wall, his head repeatedly bashing into the bricks.
When he blacked out and the children ran off, his parents allege he lay there receiving no medical attention for several minutes, according to the report. That lapse was crucial as he suffered a cranial hemorrhage and was eventually rushed to a hospital. Early the next morning, after several hours in a coma, he was declared dead.
A national outrage followed Mendez's murder. Also exposed was a pattern of extreme violence in Mexican schools. As much as 44 percent of the country's students have been victims of violent incidents, and 25 percent reported to have been threatened, according to a report by Visionect, a European firm that helps companies develop signage solutions with electronic paper technology. That same year the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked Mexico number-one when it came to cases of abusive behavior in middle schools, the report stated.
Hoping to cut bullying at the root with the help of advanced technology, PARE360 is a Mexican organization has fought back against the abuse and its perpetrators.
Developed on Visionect epaper technology, the Community HUB by PARE360 integrates cognitive computing with an electronic paper touchscreen in a solar-powered kiosk installed in schools, allowing students to report violence anonymously and safely by answering a few simple questions on the screen.
The Community HUB is a product of cooperation between Visionect, a European company that helps organizations and companies build electronic paper display products for digital signage applications, and PARE360, a Mexican organization that, according to its website, allows state governments to detect risk factors in children and youth to develop policies to prevent and combat bullying through anonymous reporting and community involvement..
"The system has been developed from scratch to detect risk factors among youth and develop policies to prevent and combat school violence through reporting and community engagement," said Alfonso Flores, founder of PARE360. "I'm a father of two boys and have been a teacher for 13 years. When I was a student, I was a witness of bullying and did nothing to prevent it. I will never forget the face of my classmate. I can't go back in time to prevent the incident from happening, but I can make sure that another situation like that does not occur, especially now that I have children myself."
The report generated by the Community HUB is transmitted in real time to the school director for action, as well as to mapping software. This allows for qualitative and quantitative analysis of the data gathered, assessing the safety of a school and shaping preventative policies, as well as enabling a deeper understanding of a child's needs and values, according to the Visionect report.
"Community HUB is an incredibly inspiring project and one that has enormous potential to change society for the better," said Matej Zalar, CEO of Visionect. "This is what Visionect stands for. Improving people's lives through innovative use of sustainable and easy to use technology. The Community HUB is a perfect example of what can be achieved with big ideas supported by the right tools."
Flores said electronic paper technology was selected because it was the best fit for both outdoor and indoor use, requiring little energy to run and is user friendly.
The electronic ink was demonstrated with a Visionect electronic paper development kit paired with Visionect's epaper platform. The latter follows the thin-client approach, using Wi-Fi or cellular networks to connect an electronic paper device with a server capable of running applications developed on standard web technologies, the report stated.
Visionect says the result is a device allowing for simple integration with the Community HUB's data mapping software in a system suited to real-time reporting, independent from the power grid and installable anywhere.
"Even though I have great communication with my kids, I know that there are things they do not tell me, so a tool that will let them make a report in a safe and anonymous way makes sense," Flores said. "And then as a teacher, I always wonder why a student keeps misbehaving, even when sanctioned at school or at home, so I think there must be something else at play, and that bullying is only the tip of the iceberg. We need to know what is happening underneath the surface: the factors at home, in the school."
What happens when an incident is reported?
There are two kinds of factors at play when a bullied student or a witness to a violent incident reports it on the Community HUB. First is the psychological factor — the immediate effect on the student, where a student feels a sense of belonging and behavioral inhibition, Flores said.
Next comes the technological aspect, where the data collected are transmitted to the cloud using cognitive computing.
"The simple data can be seen as a graphic by the school principal so that they may take action," Flores said. "The data is also fed into a mapping software so that we can know what is happening where and when, helping those in charge to work on prevention policies."
According to Flores, schools and students like the feeling of empowerment and the action of having a dedicated kiosk they can use.
"The Community HUB was quickly accepted, the touch commands being a natural step for the students, something they use every day," Flores said. "Parents also love the system. They feel their kids have another tool to help them, feel that the school is doing something for them, and like that they are able to participate in this."
In a controlled 12-month trial at the Jorge Tovilla High School in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Mexico, Community HUB's reporting saw abusive behavior decrease and five new violence prevention policies implemented at the school, the report stated.
In recognition of the reporting system's fight against school violence, the Community HUB won the World Summit Award for Inclusion and Empowerment awarded in cooperation with the United Nations' World Summit on the Information Society. The system was praised as unique "because it mixes psychological factors with technological innovation and community participation that perfectly integrate the protective and predictive factors against crime," the report stated. The Community HUB detects risk factors for abusive behavior in schools. It also supports youth through empowerment and community awareness, the report stated.
In 2015, Community HUB the system was installed in a pilot run in one Mexican school with 750 students, Flores said. A few adjustments of the system followed based on lessons learned.
"PARE360 aims to install Community HUB in 330 schools in seven municipalities in 2016 in cooperation with the government of Chiapas, Mexico, which would cover some 200,000 students," Flores said.
/ Travis Wagoner is editor of DigitalSignageToday.com. He spent nearly 18 years in education as an alumni relations and communications director, coordinating numerous annual events and writing, editing and producing a quarterly, 72-plus-page magazine. Travis also was a ghostwriter for an insurance firm, writing about the Affordable Care Act. He holds a BA degree in communications/public relations from Xavier University.