Brave staff stalked by death squads

setarah, a teacher, walked into her classroom at an Afghan girls' school one day and found a landmine hidden in the corner.

She is not alone in fearing for her safety. In Thailand, two primary teachers were shot by militants who dragged their bodies along the road before setting them on fire.

Such attacks on teachers are becoming increasingly common, according to Unesco, the United Nations education organisation.

In Education Under Attack published today, Unesco says the number of attacks on pupils, teachers and educational organisations has risen dramatically in the last three years. Incidents include assassination, abduction, torture, bombings and the forced closure of institutions.

Countries with the highest numbers of attacks include Iraq, where 180 teachers were killed between February and November 2006, and Afghanistan, where there were 88 attacks against schools in 2006. Motives vary. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, extremist Islamic groups target schools catering for girls.

In Thailand, teachers are singled out by Muslim separatists, because they teach children Buddhist-Thai culture. Brendan O'Malley, the report's author, said that the impact of attacks stretches beyond classrooms. "It puts children off going to school," he said. "It puts their parents off sending them to school. Young people are deterred from going into teaching.

And teachers don't know if they will be targeted next. How do you keep going in that situation?"

Universal primary education is a development goal set out by the UN. But 77 million children are still out of school, 40 per cent of them living in conflict zones.

* www.unesco.org

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