This Thursday, March 24, the Ministry of Education launched the “Convivencia Escolar” campaign (campaign for Peaceful Coexistence in Schools) to promote greater harmony in all Chilean educational institutions. This was in response to an increase in bullying in schools over the last two years: 3,271 reports of student mistreatment were received between January and November of 2010, 74% more than during 2009.
Peaceful coexistence in schools is a responsibility that must be shared by all members of the school community, so as to develop a culture of respect and tolerance. Peaceful coexistence is key to improving the quality of education.
What is peaceful coexistence in schools?
Coexistence is the capacity of individuals to live with others with mutual respect and solidarity. This implies a recognition of and respect for diversity, a capacity to understand others, to value and accept each other’s differences and points of view.
Coexistence is a process: it is taught, and learnt. Peaceful coexistence in schools, therefore, is the particular relationship developed in the school environment between various members of the educational community: students, teachers, principals, teaching assistants, parents and guardians, and donors.
- The Peaceful Coexistence in Schools Policy – developed in 2002 – is undergoing revision, so as to meet the demands of the current education system. This will be finalized in late 2011.
- The Ministry of Education has requested that Parliament legislate on issues relating to peaceful coexistence in schools. Ministry representatives have attended proceedings in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, which are both currently debating various draft laws on the issue.
- The Cross-Educational Division administers the website www.convivenciaescolar.cl, where you can find information, materials and laws, and ask questions regarding peaceful coexistence in schools and other cross-educational issues.
- The Ministry of Education participates in various roundtables to strengthen peaceful coexistence in schools:
The “Chile previene en la Escuela” scheme (formerly “Sistema Integral de Prevención y Promoción Vida Sana” – the Integral Scheme for Prevention and the Promotion of Healthy Lifestyles), directed by the National Council for Narcotics Control (Consejo Nacional para el Control de Estupefacientes, Conace) in programs to prevent violence, drug use and student drop-out.
The “Elige Vivir Sano” (Choose to Live Healthily) program, developed in conjunction with the Health Ministry, and focused on four key themes: healthy diet, physical activity, spending time with the family, and time outdoors. The aim of this campaign is for the Chilean people to change their lifestyle habits, leading to improved physical and mental development.
Conace certification of preventive schools, for establishments that outline action plans for preventing drug and alcohol abuse.
How to address problems with coexistence in schools
In the school environment, children and adolescents frequently respond with some degree of aggression to passing hostility from their schoolmates, whether of a physical nature (a push or slap) or a verbal nature (swearing, taunts). In most cases, there is no intention to cause harm, nor does the incident rise to the level of a conflict; it is simply part and package of everyday life for children and adolescents undergoing a period of physical, mental, emotional and intellectual development.
Aggression has a natural basis that should not be eliminated but rather, focused, educated and trained in accordance with certain principles and values. Conflict is a social reality that cannot be eradicated, because in each human group there will inevitably be differing interests. A badly resolved or unresolved conflict commonly leads to violence. Therefore, the ability to discuss and to really listen to the arguments and ideas of others, empathy, as well as mediation are mechanisms that help to resolve conflicts peacefully.
A recurrent form of violence is bullying (systematic harassment between peers). However, not all forms of violence and/or conflict constitute bullying or cyber-bullying (harassment via the internet communication tools). Given that the effects on the individual are severe, and the consequences of bullying can have long-term psychological, emotional and even physical effects, we must address the issue at its source.
Bullying requires adults in the school community (parents, teachers, principals, etc.) to be vigilant because bullies, victims and onlookers frequently enter into a pact of silence. Teachers should pay attention to changes in a student’s behavior and analyze the situation using their professional skills, without pressuring or forcing those involved. In this way they can investigate where there are hidden forms of violence occurring and take the appropriate action as established in the Regulations.