Stop Bullying in Schools

The Ministry of Education will implement its first school protocol for action in situations of bullying.

The document was prepared with the support of Unicef ​​and other organizations, which detected in a workshops that 52.5% of the young participants have suffered school bullying.

Specialists define bullying as any form of abuse that occurs between students on a recurring basis, over a considerable period of time and that causes some kind of physical or psychological pain to the victims.

Panama will implement its first school protocol for action in situations of bullying  prepared by delegates from the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef ), the Organization of Ibero-American States and the Ministry of Education. Education (Meduca).

Also joining in this effort were the Fundamogan Foundation, the Amanecer Foundation, the Healthy Relations Foundation, the Valórate Foundation and the Basta Foundation for Harassment and Violence in Panama.

Natalie Medina is a member of the Amaneceres Foundation, which for four years has been organizing workshops, conferences and awareness-raising seminars addressing bullying.

She explained that the protocol has three objectives: that teachers learn to detect, prevent and deal with bullying. Also, that Meduca collects statistics that reflect what is happening in the schools.

The protocol was completed in December 2016.  The application delay is due to the fact that tests were required to validate the procedure.

Veruska Ordás , head of the National Directorate of Psychoeducational Services of Meduca, explained that the protocol will be applied as a pilot plan in 10 official primary schools in the regions of Panama Centro, San Miguelito, Panamá Norte and Panamá Oeste beginning in in July for a year.  The results must be known no later than October 2019.

Meduca is working on a resolution that will make the use of this protocol mandatory in all public and private schools in the country. The document establishes as a general guideline that the worker of the establishment that discovers or is informed of a situation of harassment becomes the "person in charge" of activating the protocol, even if he does not agree or the complaint seems exaggerated. Once the protocol is activated, that person must protect the student or students involved,  intervene immediately and maintain confidentiality. At the same time following seven steps to document the situation.

Presently, Meduca does not have official statistics on the cases of bullying that occur in schools and colleges in the country. However, a report from the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Health Studies , 2016, reveals that in Panama, 2 out of 10 children are victims of mistreatment or bullying.

Surveys for the report "Prevalence of depression and types of abuse in eighth grade students" , conducted by the Gorgas, were made of 3,619 students from 46 official schools in the country. The conclusion was that 19.7% of young people are victims of bullying.

The document points out that the causes of bullying are multi-factorial and that "they are often a reflection of the problems within the family", added to other factors such as the consumption of drugs, alcohol and physical or verbal abuse.

In 2014, the Healthy Relations Foundation applied a survey in 11 educational centers, 6 private and 5 statewide, to over 3,000 students between ninth and twelfth grade. The result: 89% of students had witnessed bullying and the main scenario was at school.

Solymar Dolande , psychotherapist and coordinator of the Bullying Prevention Program of the Healthy Relations Foundation, said that bullying originates when the child has difficulty practicing  behaviors such as empathy, solidarity or respect.  This  behavior usually stems from home, where insults,  physical  and verbal assaults are common. She added that when a child becomes an abuser it usually means that he is going through a deeper situation, whose root must be discovered. On the other side of the coin is the minor who becomes a victim which tends to withdraw and refuse to attend classes. Dolande said it is important for parents to know their children well so they can identify behavioral changes. She recommends listening to them, not minimizing the facts. Failure to address the issues, can generate in long-term behavior disorders such as anxiety, depression and anger issues..

Although it should come from the family to stop negative practices, it still requires the support of teachers and clear policies in schools against bullying.