Attacks on students, teachers and educational institutions took place in at least 32 countries between 2007 and 2009, with dramatic escalations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Thailand, according to a report on Friday by the U.N. education agency.

The UNESCO report said the motives for attacks varied widely, from preventing the education of girls or knowledge of an alien culture, philosophy or ethnic identity to undermining government power and taking revenge for civilian killings.

“In some circumstances and in some countries ... going to school is a life—threatening activity,” Mark Richmond, a senior education official at UNESCO said at a news conference launching the report. “It is not mindless violence. It is calculated and deliberate violence. It is designed to stop education.”

The report found attacks on education in a greater number of countries than the first global study in 2007 which named Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal, the Palestinian territories, Thailand and Zimbabwe as some of “the worst—affected countries.”

The latest report cited incidents in 32 countries and said “attacks intensified dramatically in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Thailand.”

“One thing is very clear — this problem is not going away,” Mr. Richmond said. “There are ups and downs in terms of which countries are affected, the intensity of the attacks, the severity of the injuries and the damage being done. But there are new examples and there are more countries.”

According to figures from the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF cited in the report, the number of attacks on schools, students and staff nearly tripled in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2008, from 242 to 670.

In Pakistan’s Swat District, at the centre of the battle between the army and the Taliban, UNESCO said local officials reported that 356 schools were destroyed.

In India, nearly 300 schools were reportedly blown up by Maoist rebels between 2006 and 2009, according to the report.

And in Thailand, it said the number of attacks on schools quadrupled between 2006 and 2007 to 164, but fell back in 2008 though killings of teachers, students and security escorts for teachers continued.

Attacks on teachers and students continue to be a matter of “grave concern,” the report said.

For example, in Iraq, 71 academics, two education officials and 37 students were killed in assassinations and targeted bombings between 2007 and 2009, and in Colombia, 90 teachers were murdered from 2006 to 2008, UNESCO said.

UNESCO said two short military operations also took a heavy toll.

During the Georgian-Russian war in South Ossetia in August 2008, it said 127 education institutions were destroyed or damaged, and during the three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza in 2008-2009, more than 300 kindergarten, school and university buildings were damaged.

The UNESCO report said many attacks occurred “in conflict-affected countries or under regimes with a poor record on human rights and democratic pluralism.”

From 2007 to 2009, it said, “state forces or state-backed forces have either beaten, arrested, tortured, threatened with murder or shot dead students, teachers, and/or academics in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Myanmar, Nepal, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe.”

The 248-page report, “Education Under Attack 2010,” calls for stepped up measures to prevent attacks including armed guards at schools and armed escorts to and from school. It also calls for the prosecution of those responsible for attacks and international action to promote respect for all educational institutions “as sanctuaries and zones of peace.”

“Without education in safety and security,” Richmond said, “the very possibility of building and rebuilding stable socieities will be prevented — and that is happening.”