At first I thought that a series of recent reports from Pakistan were unbelievable. There must be some kind of mistake, or perhaps this was a case of sensational tabloid journalism at its worst. But now I know that what I have been reading does in fact have credibility, and this is even more horrifying than my first feelings of disbelief.
It appears that teachers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the north west of Pakistan are being given training in the handling of firearms and encouraged to carry guns with them in school. This initiative (though this hardly seems to be an appropriate term), follows the atrocious school massacre perpetrated by the Taliban in December 2014. Soon after this terrifying incident a large number of teachers met and approved the idea that they should be armed. However, this view was not shared by all of their colleagues and many rejected the government’s plans to arm teachers.
Police officers have been providing training to teachers from all phases of education, primary schools through to universities, in the belief that armed teachers will prove to be a deterrent to future would be attackers. Can this really be anything other than a misguided act of desperation? As several commentators have already stated, in a country where the use of suicide bombers has been a gruesome feature of many terrorist attacks, it hardly seems likely that a determined fanatic will be dissuaded from their actions by a teacher with a pistol.
It seems to me that the most distressing feature of this decision to arm teachers is the message that it gives to children in schools. Do we want children to learn that the only response to acts of violence is to confront it with an equal amount of force. Surely thereby lies a path to chaos, and the escalation towards an ever more terrifying situation? As teachers we have traditionally endeavoured to encourage children to settle their differences through peacable means, and have attempted to show them that violence is unacceptable. This new policy appears to renage upon this more ethical approach adopted by schools over many years.
Maria Amir, a blogger whose words are often featured in the national Pakistan newspaper Dawn, has recently reported an appalling incident that must have been feared by many teachers and parents. Under a headline reading “Guns for schoolteachers: An inevitable death in Swat,” Amir reportes that at a private school in Mingora a teacher accidentally shot and killed a 12-year old student while cleaning his gun in the school staffroom. Clearly distressed by this incident, Amir states that:-
“The idea that arming teachers is an effective security measure is ludicrous. It implies that the unlikely event of a terrorist attack trumps the daily security threat of teachers carrying guns to school and students being exposed to them”.
The reaction to this tragedy as reported by several journalists has been equally disturbing. Whilst some have condemned the arming of teachers, suggesting that this has inevitably heightened the risk of such accidents, others have implied that this is a sad but unlikely incident, and a small price to pay for preparing teachers to deter terrorist attacks. This is an issue which seems destined to continue as a source of debate amongst teachers and policy makers for some time. Amongst the many voices to have been heard thus far is that of Malik Khalid Khan, the president of the Private Schools Teachers Association. In opposing the arming of teachers he suggests that:-
“It’s not our job; our job is to teach them books. A teacher holding a gun in the class will have very negative affect on his students,”
The job of protecting schools, he believes, should be assigned to trained police officers or military personnel, and not to teachers.
Sadly, we have seen from incidents in several parts of the world, including the United States of America and in my own home country, that if a fanatic is determined to attack a school they are likely to find a way of doing so. I cannot believe that armed teachers are likely to contribute anything to the safety of children, and are far more likely to provoke those who have a fanatical belief or a grudge against schools to resort to ever more despicable forms of violence.
I have never believed that a gun could be regarded as an educational resource. I find it hard to believe that I could be disuaded from this belief even in a situation such as that faced at times in Pakistan.