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LIMA, Peru – There is a lot of work for teachers in Peru’s classrooms, but they must have a clean record.
The country’s schools, which had previously employed teachers convicted of terrorism, are now seeking to ban the hiring of those found guilty of the crime.
The rule is outlined in the draft of the Teaching Reform Law of Peru, which was presented to the Peruvian Congress by the Ministry of Education in August.
In addition to stipulating the disqualification and removal of teachers who have been sentenced for terrorism and crimes involving sexual assault or pedophilia, the proposal seeks to reform other aspects of the Peruvian teaching system, including improving teachers’ salaries and training.
“The purpose of this bill is to protect our children and adolescents who study in our schools from becoming contaminated with anti-democratic ideologies,” said Juan Jiménez Mayor, president of the Council of Ministers.
Congress is expected to begin debating the bill in the near future.
The bill is important due to government’s struggle against narco-traffickers and the remnants of the Shining Path guerrilla movement in the Apurímac, Ene, and Mantaro rivers valley (VRAEM) in central Peru.
Education Minister Patricia Salas O’Brien reported that at least 12 teachers convicted of terrorism have been identified and removed from their posts since April. Peruvian authorities are investigating an additional 125 teachers.
The measures were taken in coordination with local offices that manage education at the regional level in Peru, known as Local Education Management Units (UGEL), according to the Ministry of Education.
These entities are responsible for hiring the teaching staff and enforcing Supreme Decree 19 of 2010, which states teachers convicted of terrorist offenses can’t be employed by the educational system. The rule, which was established by the decree, was incorporated into the teaching reform proposal.
Peru has 270 UGELs, which are organized under 26 regional education management offices. These regional offices respond to the Ministry of Education, headquartered in the nation’s capital of Lima.
The Ministry of Education manages the education of nine million elementary and high school students at public and private schools nationwide.
Danger in the classroom
Jaime Antezana, a specialist in Peruvian terrorism, said there is a historical relationship among terrorist groups – specifically the Shining Path – and Peruvian teachers in the main teachers’ unions, as well as some employed and enrolled as students at Schools of Education at the country’s public universities.
Abimael Guzmán, one of the main leaders of the Shining Path, who is imprisoned after being convicted of terrorism, was a professor of Philosophy at Universidad San Cristóbal de Huamanga, in Ayacucho, from 1962 until the mid-1970s.
“Beginning in the 1970s, the Shining Path took a special interest in Schools of Education as part of their political strategy,” Antezana said.
He said when the armed uprising began in the 1980s, a significant portion of teachers abandoned their classrooms and universities and went into hiding to start the “people’s war” initiated by the Shining Path.
“These are teachers who faced prosecution, were convicted, have been released from jail and are now returning to the classroom,” Antezana said. “It has been said [officials] have identified between 120 and 180, but I believe there are more, which represents a threat to the country.”
A matter of training
The presence of teachers convicted of terrorism has caused concern not just for authorities and the general public but also for younger teachers, such as José Villanueva, 26, who works at a public school in the populous district of Villa El Salvador, in Lima.
“Professors and authorities from the 1990s on failed in their duty to teach students about the Shining Path,” Villanueva said.
He said students should learn about what happened in Peru during the 1980s through the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a political report about the violence that rocked the country between 1980 and 2000.
“The TCR report reveals a lot about what happened with the Shining Path, the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) and the Armed Forces, and I believe that there should be a requirement to teach it to children beginning in sixth grade,” Villanueva said. “We need to go there – otherwise the danger of terrorist ideologies will remain.”
As part of the effort to better educate Peruvian children, the history of the conflicts led by the Shining Path will be recounted in school textbooks.
“It’s about time,” said Villanueva, who hopes the new law will be passed, but even more so, that it will be applied and enforced.
Juan Borea, the director of the Héctor de Cárdenas de Lima school and member of the National Education Council, said the threat posed by former terrorists returning to classrooms as teachers must be countered with quality training.
“Regardless of the validity of a measure to prevent these teachers from returning to the educational system, the solution should be focused on the training provided to students and teachers,” Borea said.
Borea added the Teaching Reform Law should improve how educators are trained to teach students about the issues facing Peru.
Teacher training could be a good way to prevent the return of the Shining Path to Peru’s classrooms.
Terrorism prosecutor Julio Galindo said on Sept. 26 the Shining Path “had returned to its [criminal] origins, trying to take advantage of any space in order to exert influence, particularly over the young.”
Borea said creating a single source on terrorism in Peru would provide educators with a curriculum that could be taught nationwide.
“Explaining the social aspects of terrorism cannot be a Manichean Debate about good and evil,” he said, adding that it’s also necessary to teach students how terrorism impacted the Andean nation during the 1980s.