During their adolescent years, young people are in the process of learning and exploring different worldviews. It is a time in their life’s that is often characterised by uncertainties, fears and guilt, that can be exploited by extremist individuals and organisations. Against this backdrop, building resilience and preventing violence in the school environment is a crucial aspect when it comes to reducing the vulnerability of young people to radicalisation, violent extremism, and their underlying narratives.
Background: Anxieties and identities of young students
Young students are often caught in a period of growth and development that is centred on a process of identity construction, particularly in terms of beliefs, values, motivations, and personalities. It is a phase of life full of challenges within an interconnected and complex world that can lead to difficulties in orientation and the search for strong cultural and value models capable of guiding them within various social realities. Their anxieties can be exploited by extremist individuals and organisations, that offer the most vulnerable people divisive narratives based on an “Us vs. Them” or a “Them vs. Us” division of the world.
In this context, it can be challenging to de-escalate harmful forms of polarisation in the classroom, to teach sensitive topics in the school curriculum, which constitutes a matter of concern for teachers – which are a key issue in the approaches taken for prevention and countering of violent extremism (P/CVE) through education.
In that regard, the PARTICIPATION project aimed at formulating complementary knowledge on topics like identity and belonging, to develop a participatory analysis of the polarisation and alienation of young people in schools.
The research has been carried out through:
- A desk research and analysis of the existing literature published in the last two decades.
- Workshops were held with teachers in each of the countries under investigation.
- The distribution of an online survey to teachers in Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, and Romania.
The desk research aimed at collecting, through the existing literature, preliminary data on the main challenges experienced by teachers in the classroom, as well as data on the practices put in place to address these challenges, and how teachers are managing contentious topics and sensitive discussions with their students. The main sources used are secondary sources from the relevant academic and grey literature.
Having drafted the first version of the online survey a “Set-the-Scene” workshop was held with teachers at secondary schools The main objective was twofold: to provide teachers involved, with a safe space to discuss their experiences, and to discuss with the teachers involved the first version of the survey, ensuring that the questions were clear.
After receiving feedback from teachers during the workshops, the first version of the online survey named Contentious issues in the classroom: teachers’ challenges and responses has been finetuned, incorporating the main insights that were received, and producing a standardised questionnaire for all the countries involved.
After having analysed the data gathered from the online survey, the research partners conducted the “Follow-up” workshops with teachers in their respective countries. This was a unique opportunity to readdress some questions and ask for clarifications, especially regarding the collected open answers, and achieve a more in-depth understanding of the specific context of each country.
Outcomes and Recommendations
The findings, stemming from the conducted desk research, the online survey, and the workshops conducted with teachers, can provide a set of recommendations for consideration to help teachers in dealing with challenges and contentious issues, build stronger resilience in secondary schools against polarisation and radicalisation-related issues, and protect pupils from violent extremism.
The recommendations are as follows:
- The need for consistent frameworks and a clear vision
- Insert discussions on contentious topics into the official schools’ curricula
- Tailored and easily accessible educational tools
- Cooperation between teachers, the school management, and the whole school staff
- The need for training
- Empower the triangular relationship between students, teachers, and parents
- Establish networks of cooperation
- Expand the range of activities for students at school
Extremism, Prevention, Radicalisation, Empowerment, Violence, Polarisation, Jihad, School, Student, Teacher, Curriculum