According to the 2017 Europol TE-Sat report, almost one-third of the total number of people arrested for terrorism-related crimes in Europe were 25 years old or younger. Furthermore, IS propaganda contributed to attract European minors in the conflict in Syria and Iraq. The problem of young people embracing extremism and the necessity to safeguard youth from the risk of radicalisation that can lead them to violence are urgent matters for Europe.
There are no clear-cut answers to explain why young people join extremist movements. Many different contributing factors include identity crisis, marginalisation, unemployment, and real or just perceived injustices among others. Radical groups exploit the concerns and grievances of young people to promote their ideologies that divide people into a “us vs. them” worldview and recruit them.
Teachers and front-line practitioners have a crucial role to play in helping to protect young people from extremism. Indeed, a review of the existing literature indicates a number of school practices across EU member states that fall under the scope of P/CVE: fostering democratic values; ensuring balanced debate in the classroom; offering competencies for democratic citizenship; integrating students from different cultural backgrounds; managing discourses reflecting societal polarisation; addressing debates on identity and religious issues; protecting pupils from indoctrination attempts by radical individuals; engaging in dialogue with students to discover the reasons behind changing looks and attitudes; detecting possible cases of radicalisation.
This non-exhaustive list highlights the increasing challenges teachers and front-line practitioners are facing across Europe. Whilst significant efforts have focused on spotting the signs of radicalisation in the classroom, or on training teachers on how to deal with general controversial issues, to date minimal effort has been put to offer practical guidance to teachers and first-line practitioners on how to respond to specific challenges and concrete controversial questions posed by young people.
In order to fill this gap, my colleague Toufik Bouarfa and I have recently completed a guide for France as a support tool for teachers, social workers and educators. The project started with a collection and analysis of the main and most frequent challenges that teachers and social workers face on this topic as part of their work. Drafted in a Q&A style (“What do I have to do if…?”), the guide provides answers, practical examples and options for action. It also includes a cross-reference to other sources of information and an extensive list of organisations as a source of additional support for educators.
The general challenge in implementing projects related to prevention of radicalisation is how to ensure the effectiveness of programmes and how to measure results. With this in mind, we have engaged directly with teachers and other front-line practitioners from across France so as to confirm and validate key questions and elaborate answers.
We have also worked closely with experts from both government and civil society organisations with a view to bridging approaches and efforts in the field of prevention of radicalisation. In sum, they follow a very pragmatic approach: a response to every real and concrete cases. The guide for teachers and social workers in France builds on our previous experience developing similar tools in Germany, Kosovo, Italy and Belgium.
In spite of different contexts, legal frameworks and threat levels, dynamics of radicalisation are often very similar and equally similar is the sense of helplessness shared by teachers and educators. Europe must play a much more effective role in supporting and empowering them. The role of teachers is too often taken for granted and we forget the impact they have in shaping young people and developing their resilience and critical thinking.