The UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) hosted the International Conference on the Prevention of Violent Extremism through Education: Taking Action in Delhi, 19-20 September. This unique conference gathered a diverse set of policymakers and officials from the education sector alongside staff from UN agencies, research institutes and NGOs from all over the world to discuss the role of education in preventing violent extremism. The conference followed the adoption of UNESCO’s Executive Board decision on ‘UNESCO’s role in preventing violent extremism through education’, taken at its 197th session in October 2015 and was in line with the UN General Assembly Resolution on the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy Review 70/291, that was adopted in July 2016.
The conference offered an opportunity to launch the UNESCO Guide for Teachers on the Prevention of Violent Extremism (PVE) and to present the preliminary recommendations of the UNESCO Guide for Policy Makers. The latter aims to: assist and direct the work of curriculum developers, teacher trainers and school heads among others; identify appropriate actions; and build the capacity for preventing violent extremism through education.
A combination of plenary and parallel sessions enabled participants from different fields and communities of practice to unpack the various aspects of education as a tool to prevent violent extremism. Specific sessions were dedicated to, for instance, online learning, the role of intercultural dialogue in schools and exploring ways to build resilience by using rational inquiry. Practitioners and policymakers also showcased their experiences and shared best practice from their professional and country contexts.
One of the overarching conclusions from the discussions was that education systems urgently require significant reform in order for education to prevent extremism. Extremism can be defined as the adherence to values that do not recognize other views, and the inability or unwillingness to accept diversity. The alternative values of inclusion and diversity are therefore crucial to help pupils resist the drivers of violent extremism. However, education systems tend not to be fully prepared to invest in and make space for inclusion and diversity. Instead, notions of peace and freedom are largely more represented and reflected in teacher training, policy and curriculum design, and there is a resistance to change the current approach.
Experts from different domains advocated for an inquiry-based education approach, which helps pupils deconstruct and question assumptions rather than mere instruction. However, as the Director of UNESCO MGIEP argued, being a critical rational thinker is not sufficient in changing the mindset of pupils, who also need to develop emotional skills, like empathy and compassion, as well as the moral courage to change things, make a difference and strengthen their voice.
Finally, the conference concluded that youth, as a great demographic force, should become a key actor for change and young voices should be an integral part of any reform processes. In this spirit, the conference hosted the first plenary TAGe (talk across generation) where senior policymakers and young experts and practitioners could engage – as equally relevant stakeholders – the challenges and good practices related to education and conflict prevention. This part of the discussion led to an opportunity to present a youth statement with a set of recommendations. The conference was then followed by a one-day Youth Peace Workshop, where young experts presented project ideas and initiatives in the context of education and peace to a panel of senior UNESCO officials.