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