Creating safe spaces in schools is an important part of PVE-E

The polyphony of voices, identities, and diversifying worldviews are increasingly visible in the Finnish classrooms and confrontations between these create tensions also in and through the natural habitat of the youth, social media, which, with its algorithms, increases societal polarization and conflicts between identities and groups of people. However, the ability to coexist peacefully with people with diverging values and lifestyles without forcing anyone into certain societal norms and moulds is necessary to operate in a democratic society. 

Based on our studies, we argue that in order to prevent hostility and radicalization, students’ minds need to stay as open as possible to new knowledge and perspectives. What schools can do to guide young students to positively and peacefully engage with each other and the society is to offer them a safe environment in which their awareness and understanding can be nurtured, and which gives them tools to assess and analyse the way societal and global phenomena and the (social) media affect their thoughts, emotions, and construction of beliefs, values, and identity. We suggest that creating safe spaces in schools for discussion and addressing challenging, sensitive topics recognizes safety not only as the absence of harm, such as scorning, bullying, and exclusion, but also as providing students the space to express and discuss their concerns, questions, and opinions, thus giving them the autonomy to become who they are in respect to their identities, values, beliefs, and practices. While the dignity and safety of the identities of all students must be respected by upholding certain rules regarding the freedom of expression, this type of safe space in school allows for the growth of cognitive resources and social skills in students that are key in the prevention of radicalization and extremism. These resources and skills, also referred to as “transversal competences” in the Finnish national core curriculum, enhance interpersonal understanding and create means in which dialogue and peaceful co-existence can be advanced on interpersonal, community, and global levels.

Teachers are important and central facilitators in these processes. Instead of controlling and limiting the topics of discussion, we believe that the aim of PVE-E should be to broaden and diversify the epistemic foundation of the students by letting them explore the depths of topics that at surface may seem sensitive, controversial, and potentially dangerous. However, it should be noted that these processes are enabled only by a teacher’s self-reflection—the understanding of one’s own epistemic foundation—in order to find ways to reduce its potentially harmful effects on the construction of worldviews and identities of the students.

Read more in our article:  Safe space, dangerous territory: young people’s views on preventing radicalization through education – Perspectives for pre-service teacher education