November 03, 2012
Government schools in Thailand re-opened for the second term of the academic year on Thursday (November 1st), with security forces on high alert in the Deep South provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narithiwat.
Schools, teachers and even students have come under repeated attack from militants waging an armed campaign in the area. Interviewed by Khabar Southeast Asia, some local teachers said the threat of violence is just something they have learned to accept.
"I have been teaching here for over 10 years now, so I have grown to become somewhat indifferent to the violent attacks that take place here," a primary level five instructor in Yala, Khreuwan Sanhama, told Khabar. "To be a teacher here means having to accept many terrible conditions and continue do one’s duty. I am very saddened that fellow teachers have been killed and injured in the violence."
She herself is no stranger to the risk. In March 2007, she was fortunate to escape unharmed after a machine gun assault on a passenger train she was riding in.
Despite the tough conditions, the start of the new school term is an occasion of joy, said Khreuwan, who teaches at the Ban Jernerae School in Muang District.
"I am glad to return to teaching again on the first day of the second half of the academic year. It brought happiness and a big smile to my face to see all of my students once again upon arrival here today," she told Khabar.
For ten-year-old Abdulloh Ali, a fifth grade student at Ban Phongyeurai school, the site of armoured personnel carriers and soldiers armed with M16 assault rifles is part and parcel of the only scholastic experience he has ever known.
"I am glad the new school term is beginning because I can come back and play with many of my friends that I didn’t have a chance to play with during the term break because our homes are too far apart," he told Khabar.
"But very many of my friends didn’t come to school today [a Thursday], the first day of classes. Maybe they will be all back on Monday," he said.
Yala provincial governor Dejrat Simsiri was up early on Thursday to show support and encouragement to teachers in the restive region on the first day of classes.
Under tight security provided by the Army Special Operations Unit stationed in Yala, he also distributed gifts of sports equipment to the 343 students at the Ban Jernerae school, most of whom are ethnic Malay Muslims.
"I came here to meet and encourage both teachers and students and increase confidence among all teaching staff in the region. Prior to the schools re-opening we held a number of meetings on security issues and ordered military staff, police and volunteer village security officers to work together to provide the best possible security for all students and school staff throughout the province," the governor said.
"I am pleased to say that the re-opening of the schools for the second half of the academic year is proceeding as planned in an orderly way thanks to the co-ordinated efforts of all those involved in the security effort," he said.
Khreuwan and other teachers say they appreciate the security measures and would like to see more.
"I would like to call on officers from all organisations directly involved in the security effort to increase security measures, to make the schools more secure than at present. It’s also very important that the state increase benefits to all teachers working in the three southern border provinces as a way of improving morale," she told Khabar.