Thwarting Extremism through Educational Institutions

Azaz Zaman

7th May, 2019 01:07:29 printer

Thwarting Extremism through Educational Institutions

In the wake of extremism worldwide, Facebook has announced to have a redesign of its app at its F8 conference this week, reiterating its new focus on privacy and social responsibility. These moves of this social media giant look more like an entire re-branding: a completely new approach for the company beyond just aesthetics and PR speak. In order to put their new policies in practice, the company has declared that a range of extremist commentators will be banned from the platform entirely under its “Dangerous Individuals or Organizations' regulations”.

Threats from violent extremism and terrorism have dramatically proliferated in recent years. The recent massacre in Sri Lanka and New Zealand reverberate this issue across the world. Little by little, we are becoming less tolerant toward differences among us. Moreover, we are becoming extreme in our opinions and interpretations. Expressing that extreme views has been bourgeoned by the advent of social media. Individuals with extreme assessments are now enflaming others to become extreme too using the social platforms, especially Facebook. That’s why Facebook has taken the recent solid move towards extremism.

There is a lot of discussion focusing on closing down social media sites, reporting “at-risk” individuals or organisations, 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. Most of the outcomes of these discussions are on 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 extremism in the first place. Since most terrorists are “home-grown” — they go on to attack the country where they are born and raised, what happens in the educational institutions may well be critical. Learning about the people mentioned above— who have been banned from Facebook—from news and documentaries, it is well-known that their childhood was not that smooth and auspicious. 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 educational institutions to help stop those extremist seeds from being sown:

Cultivate 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. Educational institutions with little or no moral education create “exclusive belonging” where bullying and marginalisation 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. Therefore, it is important to make every pupil feel included. Research by The Australian Policy Unit found three shared characteristics of young people who become violent 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 the institutions’ culture. An inclusive sense of belonging goes beyond wearing a school uniform and includes ways in which schools demonstrate respect for the communities they serve. This could include encouraging teachers to get to know all their students, as well as identifying ways of improving communication with families. In total, cultivate an inclusive environment at all educational institutions in order to prevent extremism in the young people!

Education outside the academic

Education is more than gathering facts and passing exams, it is also about learning how to grow into who you are as a person and learning to live together. It is not only what young people believe about themselves that matters, it is what they come to believe about others. That’s why teaching morality in classes is important. It will help to reduce absenteeism among pupils, improve the sense of diversity, reinforce positive personal traits, and equip youngsters with practical life skills. Children must be taught the difference between good and bad, to respect human rights and refrain from aggressive behaviour. Therefore, education institutions should adopt a proactive approach to social and emotional learning: they encourage young people to find out what they have in common, making it more difficult to dehumanise others. This effort of providing education outside of academic would positively affect the students’ behaviour towards others, creating more tolerance among themselves.

Reassure empathy

Empathy—the ability to understand others and feel compassion for them—is arguably the most defining human quality, setting us apart from smart machines and even other animals. Without it, we couldn’t function in social areas such as the schools, colleges, universities, court rooms and office workplaces that are the cornerstones of our society. Educational institutions should aim at identifying positive values and strengths, and helping children to understand the skills that are required to build healthy relationships—including the development of empathy. When young people are given opportunities to understand more about their emotions, they may come to a better understanding of why they feel what they do, and also find safe ways to express feelings. And they may also begin to appreciate how their emotions may be manipulated by others. Empathy should and must remain a priority in our classrooms. Teachers should apply his/her own ideas to teach empathy to the students. A plethora of materials are available online on how to teach empathy to our students. Try those out!

Make student’s voices heard

Young people are often idealistic, want to be heard and want to make a difference. And research suggests that young terrorists have a similar motivation: they want to show the whole world something—even though this is demonstrated in their acts of destruction. The recent New Zealand attacker also went live on Facebook to show the world his heinous act of killing innocent people. Therefore, educational institutional must make such a campus environment that will make students feel listened to. Educational institutions can provide constructive channels—on campus or off campus— that engage pupils positively with their communities in ways that provide them with a sense of being agents of good and positive change. This can be done through engaging them in different club activities on campus or volunteering activities in off-campus social organisations.

Mentoring students

Apart from all the points mentioned above, personal mentoring or counselling is very important to know the psychological conditions of the students. From my own experience of mentoring mentally challenging young people, I can easily contend that actively listening to them and engaging them in different productive works— either on-campus or off-campus— have been transformative. I have seen several students feeling confident and significant for the first time after taking part in different tasks.

To conclude, it is imperative that the curricula should encourage multiple viewpoints and develop critical thinking skills among students. Teachers should be recruited to represent a diverse range of social and ethnic groups and differing views within a society. Schools should create an atmosphere of tolerance and harmony, and engage with the community, religious and political institutions, and provide a safe space to everyone, including minorities. Education should support each child as an individual with opinions, needs, and aspirations. Most importantly, educational institutions should be safe places to discuss differing opinions, and safe environments to learn new ideas and skills. Thus, we can present the development of extremism among the young people, leading to an innocuous and adoring world.

The writer is a Lecturer in Finance at Bangladesh Army International University of Science and Technology (BAIUST), Cumilla Cantonment. Email: [email protected]