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Kidnapped schoolgirls: Nigerian unions call on teachers to help

Teaching unions in Nigeria and surrounding countries are to ask members to assist in the search for more than 200 girls kidnapped from their school by the Boko Haram Islamist group

The girls were abducted on 14 April and the group’s leader has since threatened to "sell" the students.

Fred van Leeuwen, general secretary of the Global Federation of Teaching Unions, Education International, met with union representatives and Gordon Brown, the UN special envoy for global education, in Nigeria this week.

Mr van Leeuwen said he had made a formal request to the national teaching unions in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad for teachers to "keep their eyes open, to be on the alert, to focus on practical assistance to bring back these girls."

"That is priority number one," he said.

“The teachers in these areas in northern Nigeria feel neglected. Teaching in those areas where teachers have been killed is a far from attractive proposition for people," he said.

"There is a shortage of teachers and parents think twice before sending their children to school. That makes it so important that we insist that rigid measures are taken to confront this situation and I hope the world's attention is going to help us achieve that." he added.

He said finding the girls was at "the top of everybody's agenda" and that people speaking out against the abductions felt safer because of the international attention the incident was attracting.

The abduction has led to worldwide outrage. The UK, USA, France and China have all offered to help rescue the girls, and daily protests in the Nigerian capital Abuja and a social media campaign #bringbackourgirls have increased pressure for action.

The Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan has thanked the countries for their help. Nigerian police have offered a 50m naira (£177,000) reward for information on the whereabouts of the girls.

Teachers in the rural areas of Nigeria have been targeted by the Islamist group Boko Haram for several years. But the violence has escalated recently with Amnesty International estimating that 1,500 people were killed in attacks by the group in the first three months of 2014.

Now a list of 171 names, believed to be teachers who have been killed by the group over several years, has been obtained by Educational International.

Mr van Leeuwen said that the list will now be sent to Unesco and the International Labour Organisation with a request for them to investigate whether the Nigerian government has done enough to protect its teachers.

Unesco is currently holding its Global Action Week on Education For All. Its monitoring report published earlier this year said worldwide 57 million children were not in education and around half of those were in conflict-affected areas.

It pointed out Nigeria has the largest number of children out of school and the biggest gap in the number of primary teachers needed – 212,000 or 13 per cent of the global total. Ratios are now up to 1 teacher to 150 pupils in some northern states.

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown, the former prime minister and now UN special envoy for global education, has announced the launch of a multi-million pound fund to set up 500 "safe schools" in northern Nigeria.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting in Nigeria on Wednesday, Mr Brown said: “We cannot stand by and see schools shut down, girls cut off from their education and parents in fear of their daughters’ lives. The education system that has the potential to transform Nigeria cannot be undermined. The Safe School Initiative will put Nigeria on track to help more and more girls and boys go to school and learn.”

The $10million (£5.8 million) fund has been set up by the Global Business Coalition along with A World at School and will provide community security groups to promote safe zones for education by bolstering the physical protection of schools, training staff as school safety officers and help create school security plans.  

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