Bullets and backpacks: Arming school teachers is a stopgap measure

Updated 01 Feb 2015

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Teachers handle various firearms during a weapons training session for school, college and university teachers at a police training centre in Peshawar on January 27, 2015. — AFP
Teachers handle various firearms during a weapons training session for school, college and university teachers at a police training centre in Peshawar on January 27, 2015. — AFP

When you think of a classroom, what comes to your mind?

Everyone who has been fortunate enough to see the inside of one, can narrate their own experience. But besides the exquisite calligraphy and alphabet charts; the unusual science paraphernalia; the posture-distorting seats; the students with heavy eyelids and blank faces; it is always the teacher that makes the classroom complete.

Armed with knowledge and affection, teachers are supposed to inculcate in their students a hunger for making the unknown known. On the other hand, they also have to maintain a stable, disciplined learning environment, with a healthy mix of appreciation and punitive measures.

To this end, the most harmful weapon available in their arsenal used to be the dreaded exam results, but that just might change.

Editorial: Problematic security

Of the more strange decisions to come after the Peshawar school massacre, the one about teachers getting firearm training and permission to carry weapons within school premises in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is certainly way up there.

It almost seems unreal that the people who bicker over the detrimental effects of one syllabus over the other have shown little discomfort with the introduction of guns in classrooms.

To guard the nearly 35,000 schools and colleges in the province, the KP administration has admitted to the shortage of security personnel, and resorted to desperate measures in these desperate times.

But how can teachers be better equipped to safeguard the lives of others when security guards, snipers, barbed-wires, and check-posts have failed to do so?

This particular decision demonstrates the biggest issue we face today as a nation: the issue of survival.

And the most obvious explanation of our bizarre actions is found in the fact that we are in damage control mode, trying to save as much as we can for as long as we can.

Long gone are the days when we could take measures to correct the path of this ship; now, the only thing we can do is to keep on plugging holes in the deck until a bigger tide threatens to engulf us all.

Read on: Primary teachers in KP refuse to keep arms in school

The decision to make guns available in classrooms will have long-term repercussions.

Following Peshawar, schools are already looking more and more like military barracks than places of learning and inquiry, and in such a scenario, the increased presence of weapons is bound to leave a lasting impression on the psyche of young minds.

The increased weaponisation of the Pakistani society after our Afghan adventure in the '80s, and the consequences it brought, should have been enough to serve as a warning, but that does not seem to be the case.

Adopting guns as the solution to life’s bigger problems has already left many developed societies crippled by the outfall, and we cannot afford to make the same mistakes. No matter how much a sense of security weapons exude, their potential as ultimately life-threatening objects must also figure in the decision-making calculus.

Perhaps we can learn a few things from the American experience in this regard, where proliferation of firearms has wreaked havoc multiple times, in educational institutions and elsewhere as well.

Look through: The school where teachers carry a pen, a ruler and a gun

Sure, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa – as well as the rest of the country – has a chronically understaffed police force, and the martial training available for them is not up to the mark either. Moreover, after seeing how the security apparatuses in place failed to stop terrorists from committing heinous acts of violence in Peshawar, armed teachers might just prove to be the last line of defence.

But, notwithstanding any of the above, the choice of a stopgap solution over long-term strategy betrays a warped understanding of the issue on the part of the authorities.

It is ironic that in places as sacred as schools, where the harsh experiences of life can be forgotten, even harsher realities have taken over; at the place where teachers could use maps to tell the students of our responsibility towards others, the only diagrams available now are of loss and grief.

Where backpacks were filled with books, classrooms will now have to keep a stock of bullets as well.

But that is the unfortunate reality of living in contemporary Pakistan.

In an ideal world, instead of taking up arms, teachers would be arming their students with the weapons of curiosity and knowledge, but we ceased to exist in that world a long, long time ago.