Education International
Education International

Dramatic increase in attacks on teachers

published 26 September 2008 updated 26 September 2008

The world has seen a dramatic and disturbing increase in attacks against teachers over the past three years, according to the author of a global study commissioned by UNESCO. Journalist and researcher Brendan O’Malley presented his findings to members of the Executive Board of Education International, meeting this week in Brussels.

O’Malley’s report, entitled Education Under Attack, provides the first global study on political and military violence against teachers, education unions, schools, government officials and institutions. It documents atrocities including targeted assassinations, illegal detention and torture, rape by armed forces, recruitment of child soldiers, occupation and destruction of school buildings, and threats of the above.

“This is not about shootings in the classroom by lone individuals, such as the unfortunate events in Finland this week. It’s purely about military and political attacks,” he said. “The motive is to deter the education systems from functioning.”

O’Malley said his research showed that the most dangerous countries for teachers include Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal, the Palestinian Territories, Thailand and Zimbabwe. Although there are no reliable global figures, according to reported incidents, the number of attacks rose six-fold between 2003 and 2005.

Clearly this violence is having a devastating impact on efforts to achieve Education for All. About 40% of the 77 million children who are not in school live in conflict areas. In Iraq, only 30% of children were in school last year, compared to 75% the previous year. In Afghanistan, as many as 300,000 children, especially girls, are not in school due to threats, arson of schools, and killings.

“The psychological impact of this gruesome violence is immeasurable,” O’Malley said, referring to the 2006 rape and murder of a Baghdad teacher whose body was hung outside the school for five days, or the Thai teachers who were shot in their classrooms or in the school library. “What is the long term impact on students?”

He urged the international community to take action in response. All countries that are committed to the Millennium Development Goals should work to end impunity for these attacks. Imposing conditionality in aid and trade deals could provide another form of leverage. Widening the application and use of human rights instruments could also be beneficial. And keeping up vigorous international solidarity campaigns can make a life-and-death difference for teachers at risk.

EI’s Executive Board adopted in principle the concept that schools should be universally recognised as safe sanctuaries and that teachers and students be afforded protection from violence in times of conflict. The Board members also decided that a declaration calling for education institutions to be universally recognized as safe sanctuaries be developed. Further, they resolved that EI should:

  • Mobilize support of the international community and seek commitments from UNESCO and other partners to take action;
  • Monitor current research on teachers and education in conflict and post-conflict situations, and participate where appropriate;
  • Monitor the nature of threats against teachers and education institutions;and
  • That EI continue to put a high priority on solidarity campaigns and build networks which raise awareness of particular cases of violations of human rights, including torture, imprisonment and murder.