By Pi James
NEW YORK, USA, 5 October 2009 – In some parts of the world, teaching can be a deadly profession.
To commemorate World Teachers’ Day, which is being observed today, UN and UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello recently spoke with two experts about targeted attacks on teachers in Colombia and southern Thailand, and their devastating impact on education.
One of the guests, Dr. Mario Novelli, lecturer in International Development at the University of Amsterdam, has authored a study on political violence against teachers in Colombia. Entitled ‘Colombia’s Classroom Wars’, the study reveals a litany of rights violations against educators.
“Eight hundred educators were assassinated, 2,000 received death threats, 21 were tortured and 59 were disappeared,” said Dr. Novelli. “All of this takes place in a context of a kind of dirty war where people don’t leave calling cards.”
‘Target number one’
The other guest, Sunai Phasuk, a researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, painted a similarly grim picture of southern Thailand, where violence has claimed an estimated 4,000 lives and teachers have become deliberate targets.
“In Thailand, the pattern of the attacks, in itself, shows clearly the intention of the insurgents to suppress freedom of expression, freedom of children to pursue their education. Teachers have become target number one,” said Mr. Phasuk.
“The exodus of teachers, particularly Buddhist Thai teachers who have fled from southern Thailand as a result of violence, is a very worrying trend,” he added.
Intimidation in Colombia has also left many teachers no alternative but to flee.
“Although we often focus on the fact that there are 808 deaths [of Colombian teachers], there were thousands of death threats,” said Dr. Novelli, “and the death threats have the effect of silencing opposition.”
According to Dr. Novelli, the protection of teachers, schools and children will be a more and more important issue on the international agenda in years to come.
“Education is becoming increasingly politicized,” he said. “So I think this issue is not going away. It’s becoming much bigger, and we need to understand the processes, the dynamics – why schooling and education are becoming so important in the middle of conflicts.”
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Listen to this UNICEF Radio podcast discussion on teachers under threat, featuring these guests: Dr. Mario Novelli, lecturer in International Development at the University of Amsterdam; and Sunai Phasuk, Human Rights Watch Asia Division researcher.