Professor Patrick Dolan from the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway has spoken at a conference in Brussels, on the eve of the first anniversary of the devastating terrorist attacks against Brussels. The event explored the subject, ‘How to Prevent Violent Extremism and Radicalisation through Education.’
The event was held at the European Parliament and was organised in partnership with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Pavel Telicka, Vice-President of the European Parliament, Ilhan Kyuchyuk, a member of the European Parliament, and several other EP members provided keynote addresses’ in Brussels.
Speaking at the event, Professor Patrick Dolan stressed the vital importance of nurturing empathy in young people, to ‘build engagement and advance empowerment while deepening solidarity’. He also stressed that education is key. Professor Dolan will also lead an international secondary schools pilot empathy education programme in autumn 2017, to ‘enhance empathy and compassion, and minimise racism and hate language’. The international pilot project will include schools in Ireland as one of the ‘champion country sites’ for the initiative.
“Building a more just, more peaceful, and more sustainable future for all must start at the benches of school”, said UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova in her keynote address, which discussed the role of education in preventing violent extremism. The Director-General called for new forms of education and added, “We need a quality of education that reaches every girl and boy, education that promotes dialogue and understanding between cultures. Education today must be about learning to live in a world under pressure, it must be about new forms of cultural literacy. We must provide young people with a renewed sense of belonging, with new skills, and a new confidence in the future.”
The UNESCO Director-General’s comments were echoed by Pavel Telicka, Vice-President of the European Parliament who said that young people “are not born as terrorists”. Ilhan Kyuchyuk, who underlined the vital importance of education, skills and opportunities for employment said it was important, “to empower young people while respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Hans Bonte, Federal Representative for the constituency of Brussels-Halle-Vilvoorde shared the experience of the city of Vilvoorde in preventing and countering radicalisation leading to violent extremism, with the city having seen a steep challenge of radicalised young people travelling to Syria. 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. Mr Bonte said: “Young people face enormous stress today. This is something we must face in discussing what education we need and the shape of educational systems, to support young people and keep them in learning. We have to work on all sides, with youth and schools because this is where we will win or lose.”