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RadicalizationFour things schools can do to help tackle extremism and radicalization

By Sue Roffey

Published 14 June 2017

The terrorist attacks in Manchester and London renewed discussions about how to stop young Muslims being radicalized. A lot of the ideas focus on closing down social media sites, reporting “at-risk” individuals or organizations, and educating pupils on the evils of extremism. But while it’s important to be having these types of conversations, most of these suggestions are reactive. If there is any chance of stopping it, there has to be understanding of its roots, along with long-term strategies to undermine the causes. And as most terrorists are “home-grown” – in that they are often born and raised in the country they then go on to attack – what happens in schools may well be critical.

The terrorist attacks in Manchester and London renewed discussions about how to stop young Muslims being radicalized.

A lot of the ideas focus on closing down social media sites, reporting “at-risk” individuals or organizations, and educating pupils on the evils of extremism. But while it’s important to be having these types of conversations, most of these suggestions are reactive. In that they are about what to do when the seeds of terrorism have already been planted, meaning there has been little mention of strategies to reduce the chances of young people coming under the influence of violent extremism in the first place.

There is no excuse for terrorism, but if there is any chance of stopping it, there has to be understanding of its roots, along with long-term strategies to undermine the causes.

And as most terrorists are “home-grown” – in that they are often born and raised in the country they then go on to attack – what happens in schools may well be critical. Of course, putting things in place in education is not a cure all, but it may help to keep all of us safe and also ensure that communities are not divided.

The following are strategies that can be used by teachers and schools to help to stop those extremist seeds from being sown. They are not targeted to specific groups but can be of benefit to all pupils.

1. Foster an inclusive environment
A sense of belonging is a basic psychological need and the groups to whom we are affiliated shape who we are and who we become. Schools that only value high flyers create “exclusive belonging” where bullying and marginalization can thrive.

Social exclusion inhibits feelings of belonging, self-esteem, perceptions of control over the environment, and of leading a meaningful existence. It can also lead to powerful, negative, deep-rooted reactions.

Research by The Australian Policy Unit found three shared characteristics of young people who become violent Islamist extremists. They had a sense of injustice or humiliation, had a need for identity and purpose, and a need to belong.

Ultimately, all students need to believe that they matter, their contributions are valued and others care about them. Whether or not this happens will depend on the values and practices that predominate in school culture.