Discussing Extremism With Students


Discussing Extremism With Students

Posted on: 8th January 2018
Jo Malone
Senior Project Manager, Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

The next generation will shape the future in a world of relentless change and diversity. Generation Global is the Institute’s pioneering global education programme for 12- to 17-year-olds, providing them with the skills and experience they need to navigate difference in a peaceful way.

In late 2016 we started to receive messages from our Generation Global teachers that they needed additional help. From New Delhi to Nablus to New York, our teachers were telling us they were struggling to create safe spaces and lacked the practical tools and techniques to help them talk to their students about extremism. They were worried that they did not know enough to counter extremist narratives, they were concerned they might fuel extremism by allowing discussions about it, and they were afraid of creating conflict in their classes, with students falling into different camps about who to blame and how to deal with this most contentious of issues.

Consequently, Generation Global joined forces with the Institute’s Co-Existence research team to create a package of resources and training materials to equip teachers to meet this challenge.

In early 2017 we published our Difficult Dialogue resources: a briefing note on religious extremism and a pedagogical toolkit for teachers for handling difficult dialogues. But we knew we needed to do more. As a former teacher of citizenship, I knew first-hand that these resources were in danger of gathering dust on shelves in classrooms and offices without training on how to use them. The winning formula for embedding classroom expertise is:

resources + training + practice + reflection and refinement + ongoing support

We wanted to be serious about what we were offering teachers, and we wanted our materials to have real impact. So from March to December 2017, the Institute’s analysts—Mubaraz Ahmed, Rachel Bryson and Milo Comerford—and I delivered a series of 90-minute global webinars to give teachers the skills, knowledge and confidence to start having these dialogues in class.

We were taken by surprise at the demand for these events. In total, we trained 285 teachers and headteachers across 12 countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America. Our evaluation of the first round of five webinars indicated that teachers found this training very valuable, with 89 per cent reporting increased knowledge of religious extremism and 95 per cent declaring greater confidence in handling difficult dialogues. One teacher in the United States described the training as follows:

One of the best professional development opportunities I have attended in years. The challenge many teachers face is getting direct access to experts without knowledge—many teachers simply avoid difficult topics altogether because they don’t want to get in trouble. It was so wonderful to be able to ask questions.

Teacher from the United States

We are now excited to learn how these resources have been implemented in classrooms across the different regions. We have recently conducted a series of Skype calls with a sample group of teachers from six countries. From these calls, we know that some teachers have been encouraged to work with colleagues from other schools to have these dialogues: in Ukraine, one teacher has engaged a colleague in a local Jewish school. We know that others have been inspired to have a more dialogue-based approach to teaching and learning generally in their classrooms. And we know that there are lots of brave teachers and students out there having these difficult dialogues, seeking to draw out the complexities of extremism, and listening openly and resiliently to views different from their own.

JM news pic.jpg

Teachers from across the world discuss the radicalisation process during a Generation Global Difficult Dialogue video conference.

Teenage years are always a confusing time. I know this as I live with a couple of them, have taught hundreds of them and was one myself once. Grappling with identity, working out where they belong, being able to discern truth from fake news, being resilient to attractive hateful narratives and avoiding falling prey to those who peddle a binary view of the world: these are significant challenges for young people. It’s our job as educators to help them make sense of all this and try to keep them safe by encouraging them not to be afraid of difference, by teaching them to think critically about the material they are exposed to on- and offline, and by showing them how they can be manipulated by those who want to radicalise them.

Generation Global can help educators and others who work with young people to navigate these challenges through our package of resources, training and expertise in making global connections for dialogue.

Visit our website to learn more about the Generation Global programme and our work on Difficult Dialogue.

Find out more