We should applaud teachers who oppose those who fear education.

We must believe that these children in Pakistan will bring a better future to their country.

We must believe that these children in Pakistan will bring a better future to their country.

 

The students with whom I work, and who come from all around the world, often shape the way I think about the contents of this blog. Last week, in a casual conversation with one student it was suggested that in the lead up to Christmas, I might ensure that the subject matter was suitably focused upon some of the less serious aspects of education (hence featuring Paddington Bear yesterday). However, all this changed this morning when the mood amongst students and colleagues alike was, to say the least, sombre.

The brutal and cowardly massacre of innocent children yesterday in Peshawar, Pakistan has quite rightly stunned the world. As the news of this atrocity emerged  it quickly became the focus of shocked discussion and disgust amongst everyone I encountered. Several students expressed their anger and distress at the killings, many finding these difficult to talk about. The reaction was, unequivocally one of horror, but noticeably, not disbelief. Sadly in recent years attacks upon schools and the killing of children and teachers has been reported all too often in the news.

An organisation called the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack published a report earlier this year, which outlined how violence had been aimed at schools in thirty countries around the world. Whilst the worst of these atrocities make headlines, the majority escape attention outside of the countries where they are perpetrated. Amongst the shocking facts in this report is the stunning revelation that between 2009 and 2013 more than 1,000 attacks were made on schools in each of six countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Colombia, Sudan, Syria and Somalia. The report suggests that for teachers Colombia is one of the most dangerous places to work with 140 teachers killed between 2009 and 2012. The bombing, shelling and looting of schools and universities and the kidnap of children and teachers has blighted the lives of families in many parts of Africa, South America and Asia, where increases in armed conflict have seen schools commandeered for military use.

Over a number of years I have been fortunate to work with students from many parts of the world that are now cited as being dangerous places to be involved in education. Every one of these colleagues has been a dedicated professional and has demonstrated a commitment to gain additional skills and knowledge in order to serve children in their communities. I find myself increasingly wondering about the safety of these teachers and the children in their care.

This morning I had a conversation with a colleague in which we tried to imagine how parents and children must be facing the day in Pakistan. If I was a child in Peshawar how would I feel about attending school today? Would I wish to go, or would I simply want to hide away in the shelter of my home? If I was a parent, would I want to send my child to a place that should be welcoming and safe, in the fear that I may be putting them in the way of danger? Having never been in a position where I have had to consider such questions, I find it hard to imagine what must be going through their minds.

Such thinking is, of course, exactly what the criminal thugs who were behind yesterday’s mass murder wish to generate. It is evident that they fear the whole process of education. Educated people think, reason and challenge the futility of violence. They have the ability to shape the communities in which they live and to bring about positive change. These are the very skills that those responsible for attacks on schools, teachers and children oppose, and dread.

I am sure that every teacher and parent across the globe shared the sorrow and distress of those in Pakistan this morning. Sadly, emotion alone will not bring a halt to the determination of those whose hatred is aimed at children and teachers. It is easy to feel helpless in the face of such a situation, but nonetheless important that we should all lend a voice to the condemnation of these dreadful acts. Teachers in Peshawar and other troubled areas of the world will continue to demonstrate their commitment to children. For those of us who are teachers working in situations of comfort, we must accept the  responsibility to engage positively with our colleagues who work in these areas, even if our actions appear insignificant.

The Report from Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack can be read at:-

http://www.protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/eua_2014_full_0.pdf

 

A short film highlighting the extent of this issue can be seen at:-

http://www.protectingeducation.org/get-involved

12 thoughts on “We should applaud teachers who oppose those who fear education.

  1. I am angry and disgusted beyond words at the actions of the Taliban and their ilk. May we resist them in every possible way, including continuing to educate our children, and in particular our girls and women.

    • Hi Tim,
      I am sure your sentiments are shared by the vast majority of people. As teachers it is easy to feel helpless in these situations. However, I feel that we all need to find the means to express both our disgust with the actions of such thugs and our solidarity with those who continue to teach despite the violence. What we must not do is remain quiet. I am sure that if I was a teacher in Peshawar today I would be apprehensive and thinking with dread of the days ahead. Such teachers need to at least know that we admire their courage and commitment.

  2. When I first heard the news, I felt very saddened and disgusted. And when I saw the images and videos I was moved to tears. There is nothing that can justify such sickening acts. I did not let my son have a glimpse of the newspaper. He was looking forward to participating in the sports heats for his upcoming sports day and I thought he was a little too young for this.
    Let us as educators support education for all in whatever way we can and keep seeking the light in all this darkness.

    • Hi Maitreyee,
      It has become increasingly difficult to shield our children from seeing images of violence. Indeed, I fear that violence has become an ugly feature of the ordinary lives of most people today. I wish you well with your efforts to protect your son. It is so important that we teach children that violence has no place in the world. Great things have been achieved through non-violent action, as the people of India know from their own history. Unfortunately I Fear that this heinous act in Peshawar is destined to lead to an escalation of killing. As teachers we have a huge task to show that there is a better way.

        • I think it is important that children are brought up to know that the majority of people are kind, honest and caring. If children learn to fear they become more vulnerable because this fear can be exploited. If we can teach children that there is far more potential for change through non-violence we can ultimately make a difference to our societies.

          • That’s a great thought. I am working on it. Children are like sponges. They absorb well. We should be good examples to them. The other day one of my students (who usually doesn’t share his food) peeled and offered me his share of peanuts! I was very touched.

  3. horrifying and devastating and yes anger at these monsters called human beings!! We are ensuring that we will continue to have the most traumatic lives by putting these young children through these kinds of experiences. We all have to rise above our roles as individuals in our own circle of comfort and so called definitions to fight this tidal wave or negativity that is engulfing us!! I wonder at times- am I doing what is needed today? Or am I just doing things that I want to?!!
    I cannot even begin to imagine life for a child and parent in Peshawar!!

    • Hi Jayashree,
      Your outrage is fully justified. However, I feel that we can do much as teachers if we lead by example. We must teach our children that good can come from non-violent action and that the events of Peshawar, and sadly so many other parts of the world, will be followed by a violent response that will simply perpetuate the devastation. Time I think for the voices of the reasonable to be heard.

  4. I think Maitreyee provides affine example here of how children learn from the example set by adults – and especially their teachers. We should all acknowledge the acts of thoughtfulness demonstrated by our students, and let them know that these are significant in creating a more caring society.

  5. Hi Richard, when I worked as a year 6 teacher in Karachi, the mother of a boy in my class stopped by to meet with me after school. She wanted to tell me how pleasantly stunned she was to see her son wanting to read the international news section of the DAWN everyday, as he had been inspired to do so after some of my Geography lessons – a practice which he then maintained throughout the school year. I share this story with you to illustrate that (despite my occasional misgivings about the future of the country) there are infinite possibilities that still do exist for progressive education in Pakistan. In Pakistan at the moment, I know that the KFC Teachers Forum, and NGOs such as The Citizens Foundation actively celebrate teachers and their achievements. And as you rightly maintain, we should all lend a voice to the condemnation of dreadful acts such as the Peshawar attack, but at the same time we should acknowledge the bravery and fortitude of teachers who also put their own lives at risk as they persevere in their daily responsibilities to the profession.

    • Hi Saneeya,
      Over the years I have met many Pakistani teachers, and have had opportunities to also work with students from that troubled land. I have every faith that the majority of Pakistani people are good and peace loving people. I also believe that at the end of the day their determination to create a better society will prevail.

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