Teachers in England have reported a rise in extremist views and conspiracy theories among their students and have warned that without adequate funding and support, such ideas will fester and spread.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the Institute of Education, the government’s approach at tackling extremism in schools is focused on identifying signs of radicalization instead of guiding children on how to reject extremists’ thoughts and ideas.
“This is a wake-up call for us all ... We know that right now extremists are trying to lure young people into a world of hatred and violence, both online and in person,” said Kamal Hanif, a member of the research team and trustee of the Since 9/11 group that commissioned the study.
“We must use the power of education to fight back and help young people stand up and reject extremism and violence. We need far more clarity from government about the need to have time in the curriculum for frank and open discussions about extremism,” Hanif added.
Some 96 teachers were interviewed across schools in England and the study found that over half of school officials had come across or heard children expressing views in support of far-right ideologies with up to three-quarters displaying Islamophobic and misogynistic opinions.
Moreover, almost all students used racist language with 90% believing in baseless conspiracies pandered by the far-right.
On the issue of approaching the subject, teachers expressed their worries over discussing such sensitive topics out of fears that students would react in a verbally abusive manner.
According to the research, a fifth of the teachers interviewed did not feel confident enough to hold discussions and debates with such students who expressed support for far-right views and conspiracy theories.
As part of their advice given to the government, the Institute of Education, which is run by the University College London, recommended that schools strengthen their anti-discrimination policies, promote opportunities for all children to hold open discussions and improve the teaching of critical literacy to help children understand the differences between fact and opinion.
In response to the publication of the study, the Department of Education said the research is an example of how confident teachers are in teaching about such issue related to extremism and that the government has provided a number of resources for schools to tackle the threat of extremism.
“The new Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum requires secondary age pupils to be aware of laws relating to terrorism and hate crime, and the Educate Against Hate website features over 150 free resources to help pupils, teachers and parents tackle radicalisation in all its forms,” the department said.
A Guardian report in August revealed a rise in the number of young children being radicalized by right-wing extremist groups. 13% of anti-terror arrests included young people under the age of 18, while people under the age of 24 represented up to 60% of right-wing anti-terror arrests./agencies