A free, online Guide has just been launched by UNESCO called Preventing Violent Extremism through Education:  A Guide for Policy Makers (2017).  This is particularly designed for policy makers in Ministries of Education, but also planners, curriculum developers, teacher trainers, school heads, teachers, counsellors and school managers.

Report structure

I was one of the two lead authors (together with Gabrielle Göttelmann from the International Institute of Educational Planning in Paris), although from our original conception, the Guide has gone through many consultations, iterations and amendments from a host of international respondents. It is notoriously difficult to write ‘guidance’ for an international readership on controversial issues.  Countries will have own national Prevent type strategies and may not welcome ‘advice’ from a distant international organization with its own agendas.  There is always the danger of becoming over generalized and bland.  The Guide does say in the Introduction that it is not intended to be prescriptive, just to give ideas that can be contextualized – but of course it is prescriptive, and is full of things that schools ‘should’ or ‘should not’ do.  It is impossible to be value free in such an arena.

After an Introduction, the Guide has three main areas:  Understanding violent extremism; Action areas; andModalities for Implementation.  It finishes with a section of Frequently Asked Questions.

In the ‘Action Areas’ then are some of the more obvious things under the ‘PVE related’ banner – that schools should be inclusive, secure, non-racist, non-violent places where there can be critical thinking and discussion in safe spaces.  It was important for UNESCO to link PVE with global citizenship education and its ‘fundamental’ values of respect for diversity, interdependence, solidarity for humanity and responsible engagement.  Resilience is not just passive, but entails active engagement – creating change in local society through non-violent means (which is something former extremists in ConnectFutures research** recommended, to channel a sense of mission).   Media literacy is given extensive treatment, with an assessment framework which details not just searching and evaluating, but creating and communicating, and engaging with media and information providers.  This has relevance in the current debate about the responsibility of Facebook, Twitter and Google in monitoring platforms on their sites.

Modalities section

The Modalities section is divided into six: Sector Wide approaches;  Curriculum-based approaches;  Teacher training and support;  Whole-school approaches and interventions;  Non-formal and community based approaches; and Inter-sectoral partnerships.  It’s stressed that schools cannot act alone and a wide range of alliances is needed.  The Guide states firmly that ‘Policies should be bold enough to address learners’ real grievances’.  But the important section on teachers and teacher education argues that If teachers do not feel emotionally or professionally ready to do so, they should not engage in conversations on violent extremism and subjects that generate tensions.  Preparation is crucial.   That’s why in ConnectFutures we try to provide training in PVE that goes beyond the basic Home Office approved Prevent “W.R.A.P” sessions.

The underlying thrust of the Guide would be that a policy framework should be developed that brings together PVE targetted and PVE related strands and is properly funded.  Different examples are given of countries such as Kenya, Finland and Tunisia that do have an over-arching national strategy.  Referral processes for those seen at risk are another area requiring a clear policy framework, and a well-understood structure in school and across agencies, to avoid the notorious mis-reporting that can occur.  Non-regulated schools run by non-state providers which can channel children into a separate value system are a global problem, with the need for minimum standards and regulation.

What can schools do to promote critical political understanding?

Finally, in the FAQs but also throughout, arise the debates about the positioning of schools.  On one level, schools cannot be held responsible for not preventing violent extremism, for interrupting a path once chosen.  Yet on another level, the Guide stresses that there is not an option to do nothing.  Schools can always do more to help social cohesion, to enable students to learn about sensitive issues and the reasons for global conflict and tensions, so that they do not seek answers from less reliable sources elsewhere and can be manipulated.  Schools should promote critical political understanding:

‘avoiding mention of a political system that is perceived, either justly or unjustly, to be responsible for violent extremism is not an option. Passivity or avoidance can only generate mistrust of educational establishments and undermine their credibility among students’.

Similarly, religious teachings that promote overt hostility towards other religions or communities or condone hate speech are problematic and should be condemned:

‘Ensuring religious education that develops an open and broader view of the world, and which includes an accurate understanding of non-religious world views, is important and may require putting in place additional pedagogical guidance and teacher training’.

The Guide’s position then is that education cannot serve to detect potential violent extremists, but it can equip teachers and learners with the skills to challenge ideologies, myths, conspiracy theories and exclusionary worldviews often at the base of violent extremism.  Even if education is one of the most effective for impacting on large segments of the population, the problem for policy is that there are no quick wins or quick fixes. Education is a mid- and long-term prevention strategy.  What the Guide does not cover is how to bring together different (and sometimes warring or temporary) Ministerial departments to forge a long term coherent national policy on PVE in education.

Anyone  want to join me in drafting this?

Check more details  of our resources, workshops (staff and students) and videos on www.connectfutures.org