Since when did fighting become an acceptable educational policy?


Violent radicalisation ‒ using, threatening with, encouraging or justifying violence based on one’s own view of the world, or on ideological grounds ‒ is an ongoing process in the lives of a small percentage of the youth of today. Since just one young life soaked in helpless hatred and fear is too many, and schools have to react. But what to do so as not to stir up the terror?


Finnish National Action Plan for the Prevention of Violent Radicalisation and Extremism (2017) states that “the education sector plays a key role in preventing violent radicalisation and extremism”. In the UK, schools’ duty to prevent extremism was enshrined in law in Section 26 of the 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act which requires that schools have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.


The recent, drearily frequent terrorist attacks across Europe have created horror, grief and distrust. How drastically terrorism has increased on a global scale is a different story, but it is for sure that most Europeans are increasingly afraid of terrorism. The 2016 Eurobarometer concludes that Europeans see immigration and terrorism as the major challenges facing the EU at the moment. So, of course, schools have to have and take an active role.


A quick Google search into schools’ role in preventing radicalisation and extremism generates page after page of headlines such as:


Schools are a crucial weapon in the fight against extremism

Rules to fight extremism ‘creating fear among teachers and pupils’



While violent radicalisation definitely is a phenomenon one would wish to vanish, all these belligerent metaphors make me concerned. They sound very aggressive and yet we know that violence only begets violence. Make peace, not war, eh?


So why not use rhetorics of reconstruction, empathy, and possibilities. Why not focus on what schools can do to promote pupil participation and wellbeing.


Adam Deen, who calls himself a former “Islamic extremist”, writes that “creating a sense of belonging for individuals who feel forgotten or excluded in our fast-moving world” is key in building alternatives to violence. A former Finnish Neo-Nazi leader Henrik Holappa writes in his biography that he wishes there had been just one wise adult to guide him when he started to become drawn into extremism in his late teens.


Researcher Leena Malkki from the Finnish University of Helsinki, whose areas of expertise include radicalisation and counter radicalisation and school shootings, sees terrorism also as an educational challenge. In a recent presentation (9/2017), she said that finding meaning in life and feeling dignified are often crucial factors in the processes of seceding from and resisting violent extremism.


According to studies, Finnish adolescents, and young boys especially, are biased against ethnic minorities. Prejudice, and the associated fear of otherness, often seems to be the result of ignorance. Thus, Finnish schools and policymakers are taking measures to intensify cultural and global education in schools and during leisure activities, as well as increase opportunities for engaging in dialogue and interaction among different cultures. Teachers, as a part of the teaching process, are able to improve pupils’ media literacy skills and help them understand how decision-making in society can be influenced through non-violent means.


It’s important to recognise that there’s no single route to radicalisation. Similarly, there must be many roadblocks to guide young people towards other directions. It has been suggested that a successful approach to tackle radicalisation can be found in strengthening community cohesion by focusing on the links between all communities. Another recommendation for schools is to be prepared to react to major extremism-related events by creating space for discussion and questions. These activities are hoped to empower students to become active citizens and to participate more fully in democracy – through hearing and understanding different ideas and opinions, and learning how to constructively critique and challenge ideas.


“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King Jr.


Katri Meriläinen

Lyfta Admin