From Manuel Manrique Castro: No one in this day and age can deny the vital role that education plays in the development of our nations. Everyone, no matter what their political inclinations might be, agrees that without quality education for all, the outlook for our collective future is uncertain. However, public discourse about this complex topic has been dominated by two issues that are usually discussed separately, in spite of the fact that they are closely interconnected: first, the violence that is occurring within our educational institutions, mainly in the form of bullying, and secondly, the poor quality of our educational services, which has made it impossible for our educational institutions to satisfy the demands of a world that has been drastically transformed by the technological revolution.

In the first case - that of bullying - attempts to reduce or eliminate this phenomenon have been unsuccessful, and as a result, bullying has grown, diversified and become increasingly sophisticated at an astounding pace, as is evidenced by the widespread incidence of cyber-bullying. Faced with this seemingly unstoppable avalanche of incidents, many countries have called for anti-bullying legislation, and legislatures have sought to approve anti-bullying laws.

In mid-March of this year, President Santos [Colombia] signed into law Bill 1620, designed to reduce school violence and lower the incidence of teen pregnancy, two separate issues which in fact are interconnected. This law creates a “national system for promoting a harmonious atmosphere and the protection of human rights in schools, sex education, and the prevention and mitigation of in-school violence.” A few days after Colombia approved this law, and as a result of a call to action made by Mexican Senator José María Martínez, who had reported that in 2012 more than five thousand students, mostly male, had been killed in schools as a result of bullying, Mexico approved an amendment to its General Education Law in order to prevent harassment in schools and provide attention to victims of such actions. Peru and Chile have taken similar actions, but in Peru it has been said that two years after its law was approved, it appears, to be a dead letter law.

Laws alone are apparently unable to make a difference, and in Colombia it remains to be seen if the proposed national system for promoting a harmonious atmosphere in schools actually works, especially in the departments and municipalities. However, it is clear that every tool designed to eliminate bullying should be considered, such as the seven manuals - including their numerous educational actions - which Cartoon Network has produced for elementary school aged children and their teachers in Latin America, as well as for students and teachers at the secondary level, and parents and childcare workers in the region. These manuals contain very useful guidelines and approaches for combating bullying among students.

It is important, nevertheless, to connect the incidence of bullying with the quality of education. It is clear that the higher the quality of schooling being offered and the greater its relevance in terms of serving the needs of children and their families, the less violence there will be. If education is based on obsolete theories and objectives and is out of touch with today’s realities and with children’s needs and interests, it is laying the groundwork for the emergence of the many-headed monster, bullying. In this respect, Brazil has been implementing a program that is well worth following. It is called the Promise of Education for All, and it is being carried out as a joint effort between the national, state and municipal governments, in close collaboration with communities and families. This program seeks to fulfill 28 goals designed to improve the quality of education, and included in these goals are several that are clearly aimed at reducing the violence that has so regrettably transformed our educational institutions into battlefields.

By Manuel Manrique Castro, translated by Cynthia Selde