BUENOS AIRES – Physical and psychological intimidation among students – “bullying”– is a growing problem in Argentina’s schools according to a joint study by UNICEF-Argentina and FLASCO (the Latin-American School of Social Studies).
A three-year investigation which surveyed 1,695 students in Buenos Aires’ public and private secondary schools found that a shocking 66 percent of students polled were victims of bullying, and 22 percent are afraid of being victimized by a bully in the near future.
Seventy one percent of students had witnessed a fistfight, and 25 percent had seen students carrying a knife.
While physical violence was cited by students in public schools, psychological intimidation was prevalent in private schools.
Factors mentioned as leading to being bullied were: physical appearance, clothes, religion, ethnical origin, race, and economic status.
The study, “Environment, Conflicts and Violence at School” found a general lack of initiative and leadership on the issue by parents, principals and teachers across the school system.
“Kids need limits. And need authority-figures, leaders, to guide them” said Elena Duro, who coordinated the research for UNICEF.
The practices of certain private institutions were found to be particularly counter-productive.
“Many private schools, under budget pressure, lack of leadership, and lack of time, punish the bully or expel the bullying student to solve the problem”, says Duro. “A clear and strong school policy is a start, but it must be more than just words on paper, it has to be a proactive.”
Some private schools have decided to forego training programs for teachers and school principals on anti-bullying education and prevention.
In use in public schools, since 2006, this special anti-bullying program has shown positive results.
But not all educators think that the bullying phenomenon is new.
Silvia Sartori, who works as a physical education assistant at a private school in Buenos Aires notes that bullying “is not a new sickness. It happened always. Now, we have a name to call it, and more awareness about it.”
Teresa Sofía Buscaglia is a freelance writer based in Buenos Aires.