Protect Teachers from Wartime Attacks: New Report Shows Educators Are Targeted in Armed Conflict

Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, July 14, 2014

New York, July 14, 2014 – Attacks on teachers and other educators are a disturbingly common tactic of war and a serious threat to education, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) said in a new study released today, Protecting Education Personnel from Targeted Attack in Conflict-Affected Countries. The report describes how teachers have been targeted around the world and documents various ways communities have tried to keep them safe.

“On Malala Day, we should also remember the courage of teachers like Malala’s father, who too often place their lives at risk simply by going to work and doing their job,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA’s director. “Attacks on teachers strike at the very heart of a community, and more must be done to protect them.”

Malala Day – July 14 – celebrates the courage of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl and education activist shot by the Taliban in 2012 for her work to promote girls’ education.

The 50-page report draws from interviews with global practitioners, documents from international and local organizations, and field research in the Philippines. It highlights the devastating impact of violence against educators on the education system. Attacks can deplete the teaching force, as teachers and professors are intimidated, injured, killed, or forced to flee. In the longer term, they can exacerbate teacher shortages, disrupt education and employment cycles, and impact a country’s development.

“In many places, there is already a significant gap between the number of trained teachers and the demand for education,” said Nijhowne. “When low pay is compounded with the risk of attacks, there is little incentive to enter and stay in the teaching profession, weakening the education system even further.”

Teachers Targeted in at least 23 Countries since 2009

Over the last five years, teachers and other education staff have been targeted for assassination, killed, injured, tortured, detained, extorted, and harassed in areas of conflict and instability in at least 23 countries, according to Education under Attack 2014. In Nigeria, where the militant group Boko Haram abducted almost 300 schoolgirls exactly three months ago, the President of the National Union of Teachers reported that the group had also killed 171 teachers since 2009.

The motives for attacks vary. Some educators face threats because of their classroom activities: they refuse to allow armed parties to recruit children from schools, they teach girls, or their lessons include particular topics and not others. Others are targeted because of their ethnicity, their association with the government or a warring party, their political activities, or because they engage in education-related advocacy.

In the Philippines, for example, education personnel are required to serve as poll workers during elections, resulting in an upsurge in attacks on teachers during voting periods. Ahead of 2010 elections in Maguindanao, unidentified gunmen assassinated a principal and a teacher at an elementary school that is regularly used as a polling station. Teachers in the Philippines also experienced harassment and attacks when schools were used by armed parties for military purposes, such as barracks and camps, despite national laws prohibiting this practice.

Protecting Teachers from Attack

Educators who face attacks require more protection, GCPEA said. The new report examines measures taken to protect teachers, including: arming teachers, using armed and unarmed civilian guards, setting up community protection committees, relocating and transferring teachers, negotiating with belligerent parties to keep schools and teachers off-limits, and monitoring and reporting attacks. Some of these measures bring their own risks. Armed guards in southern Thailand, for example, themselves became the targets of attack, putting in the line of fire the very teachers they were hired to protect.

The report also assesses strategies to prevent attacks in the long term, including increasing accountability and ending impunity for attacks, enacting protective legislation and policy, and developing conflict-sensitive education programs and policies. Teachers’ unions and human rights groups in Colombia and Zimbabwe, for example, have taken perpetrators to court for attacks against teachers, with some successes in Colombia.

Finally, the report offers guidance to practitioners and policymakers on what they can do to help improve teachers’ security.

“Teachers play a crucial role in enlightening and inspiring the next generation of leaders like Malala,” said Nijhowne. “For the sake of their children, their societies, and their future, it is imperative that States galvanize efforts and resources to keep teachers safe.”  

Download the report: [English] [French]