Standing with European Parliament against violent extremism
“Building a more just, more peaceful, more sustainable future for all must start on the benches of school,” said the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, in her keynote address on 21 March, during an event on the role of “Education for preventing violent extremism” held at the European Parliament, organized in partnership with UNESCO.
This was held on the eve of the first anniversary of devastating terrorist attacks in 2016 against Brussels.
The event took place in the presence of Mr Pavel Telicka, Vice-President of the European Parliament, and was led by Mr Ilhan Kyuchyuk, Member of the European Parliament, as well as Members of the European Parliament.
On this occasion, the Director-General called for new forms of education and for new approaches to education.
“We need education of quality that reaches every girl and boy, education that promotes dialogue and understanding between cultures,” she said. “Education today must be about learning to live in a world under pressure, it must be about new forms of cultural literacy.”
This was echoed by Pavel Telicka, who said young people "are not born as terrorists," and Ilhan Kyuchyuk, who underlined the vital importance of education, skills and opportunities for employment, "to empower young people while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms."
Irina Bokova said “we must act early, not just to counter violent extremism, but to prevent its rise,” underlining that education as the most powerful way to build peace, to disarm processes that can lead to violent extremism.
“We need to build the defences of peace in the minds of women and men, starting with education,” declared the Director-General highlighting the importance of ‘soft power’ to counter a threat that draws on an exclusive vision of the world, based on false interpretations of faith, hatred and intolerance.
The event featured a Panel Discussion that explored “How to prevent violent extremism and radicalisation through education”.
Paolo Fontani, UNESCO Representative to the European Institutions, moderated the panel that included Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair Child and Family Research Centre, Hans Bonte, Federal Representative for the constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde and Mayor, and Sara Zeiger, Senior Research Analyst, Hedayah.
Professor Pat Dolan stressed the vital importance of nurturing empathy in young people, to build engagement and advance empowerment while deepening solidarity. "For all this, education is key."
Mayor and MP Hans Bonte shared the experience of the city of Vilvoorde in preventing and countering radicalisation leading to violent extremism -- the city having seen a steep challenge of radicalised young people travelling to Syria.
"Young people face enormous stress today," he said. "This is something we must face in discussing what education we need and the shape of educational systems, to support young people, keep them in learning. We have to work on all sides, with youth and on schools -- this is where we will win or lose."
He underlined the need for bridge-building at the local level to deepen the sense of belonging and solidarity for young people of all backgrounds.
Sara Zeiger, of Hedayah, the International Centre of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism, based in Abu Dhabi, UAE, spoke of the need for comprehensive approaches to education for maximal impact, tailored to specific contexts. She shared good practices from two cases in Pakistan and in Nigeria, to foster critical thinking and resilience building as well as employment skills, in young women and men.
Discussion followed on the importance of strengthening media literacy with young people as well as deepening dialogue with religious representatives -- including to counter hate speech on the Internet, while respecting human rights. The vital role of supporting teachers was underlined in all this.
"We must provide young people with a renewed sense of belonging, with new skills, and new confidence in the future -- and this must start on the benches of schools," concluded Irina Bokova.
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