Paris, January the seventh: two radicalised Muslim youths storm the editorial office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and slaughter 12 people. The next day in the same city a jihadist shoots and kills five people in a kosher deli.
A week later three fatal shots are fired in Copenhagen at a cultural centre and at a synagogue, again by a Muslim youth, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State ISIS.
The dust from the attacks has since settled but the debate is ongoing: how should secular Europe with its values of free speech address the threat of radicalization and terrorism within its borders?
Per Paludan Hansen from Denmark and Estelle B. from France are adult education professionals with experience in immigrant integration through education. Both think extremism is a sign of failure in domestic immigration policy. Adult education should partly take on the duty of transmitting pluralistic values to new immigrants and act as an open debating space. Danish adult educators have taken concrete steps into this direction, kicking off non-formal AE courses for mixed refugee-native student groups.
France: Secular values should be embedded in French education
According to Estelle, The Charlie Hebdo attack has prompted a sense of failure within the French education community for not safeguarding the principles of secularism in neither basic nor adult education.
-The Charlie Hebdo terrorists had gone through French schools. This causes me to wonder about the core values of the French educational system, Estelle says.
Integration depends on job opportunities
France offers many forms of basic training courses (named e.g. Compétences Clés (Key skills) and Avenir jeune (Youth Future) designed to upskill youth and adult populations for the workplace. According to Estelle, a large part of new immigrants to France take part in such trainings. The content of such courses is pragmatic and does not include much cultural content.
Adult education directed specifically at immigrants often consists of just language and literacy training. Transmission of Western values is not considered a priority.
-If a course helps an immigrant find a job, then the avenue for integration is open. If not, there is a risk of a “closed identity”, separate from the host culture.
How to teach values?
For Estelle it is too early to say whether the attacks lead to any changes in French adult education.
-In the future I think we should include Western values as a topic in all education offers for immigrants.
She thinks, however, that extremism will not be eradicated easily. “Teaching” free speech and tolerance will hardly have an impact on the world view of a frustrated, marginalized immigrant youngster.
Moreover, the fact that many adult education courses for immigrants focus on employability implies a vision of integration based on merit: first you must be successful in the job market, then you may join the surrounding society.
-This kind of normative vision of integration works poorly with potential terrorists who are often former offenders, Estelle thinks.
Denmark: Mixed education for refugees and natives bursts identity bubbles
After the Copenhagen attacks Danes have debated the nature of freedom of speech, security resources for the police and how to prevent extremism. According to Per Paludan Hansen adult education can help in the latter. His local umbrella organization Danish Adult Education Association reached out to its member organizations to start offering non-formal education for mixed refugee – native population student groups.
Education offers are already springing up, with courses ranging from debates over extremism to health and exercise. The key point, Hansen explains, is that refugees and native Danes study side by side and get to know each other’s background and culture.
-This kind of activity is very fitting for our tradition of “folkbildning”, as it is in the nature of non-formal education to create open debate spaces.
Extremism is home-grown
In Hansen’s analysis the root cause of extremism is two-fold: on one hand, global political developments such as the rise of the Islamic State has given the opportunity for extremism also for Europeans.
-On the other hand our handling of immigrants on a national level must be scrutinised. Extremism means we have failed in some aspects.
EAEA: non-formal learning could curb extremism
In the time between the attacks in Paris and the attacks in Copenhagen the umbrella and lobby organization European Association for the Education of Adults (EAEA) released a statement on adult education’s role in preventing extremism. According to the statement, non-formal learning helps bolster people’s sense of autonomy and respect for pluralism.
In short, the EAEA recommends:
• To strengthen non-formal learning for both adults and young people across Europe
• To strengthen outreach to disadvantaged groups
• To strengthen adult education institutions as meeting places and safe environments for debate
Read the full statement.