A conference to explore ways to address the kind of youth radicalisation, that can lead to atrocities such as those in London and Manchester, opens tomorrow in Galway.
Hosted by the Unesco Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, it will focus on the use of compulsory empathy education as a tool to prevent violent extremism, particularly among young people.
The International Family Support Conference will also highlight the perceived decline in empathy, care, and social solidarity, which, according to the organisers, is both an Irish and global concern among youth radicalisation.
“Violent extremism is a threat that knows no borders as witnessed from the recent horrific attack at Manchester Arena, again highlighting the vulnerability of innocent children,” said the research centre, in a statement.
“One out of 10 of the world’s children live in conflict zones and 24m of them are out of school. Political instability, labour market challenges and limited space for political and civic participation have increased the pressures on young women and men in societies across the world, deepening their vulnerability to violent extremism.
“Any lasting solution to prevent violent extremism must place youth at the forefront. Young people are the most affected by multiple and often interlinked forms of violence. They also play vital roles as agents of positive change which must be nurtured and empowered, through skills, training and new forms of educational engagement.”
Speaking in advance of the conference, Pat Dolan, Unesco chair of the Child and Family Research Centre at the university, said it was now known that empathy education is recognised as one of the key ingredients in the prevention of youth violent extremism.
“Ireland should not be complacent about this serious issue and needs to lead the way in the development of empathy education in schools,” said Prof Dolan. “This is no longer just an issue in the UK, France, and Belgium; it also has real resonance for Ireland, and the challenges of intolerance, hatred and fear is now a global humanitarian crisis.
“Through Unesco and global counter-extremism organisations, we have worked with youths who were formally radicalised. Through an empathy education programme such as ours, these youths are no longer engaged in radicalised thinking and have now become activists for peace.”
Speakers from Canada, India, and Ireland will lead the discussions, while Irish and international practitioners and researchers will provide 36 workshops on key conference themes. A special talk will be given by social justice activist Fr Peter McVerry.
Prof Dolan added: “From hate crime, including racism, bullying, and all the way to violent youth extremism — the enablement of empathy belonging to cultural integration in the lives of young people in Ireland is a key part of the true, and only long-term solution.
“Empathy education should be specifically provided in schools and part of compulsory education — it is no longer a matter of choice but a necessity.
The conference, entitled ‘Rediscovering Empathy; Values, Relationships and Practice in a Changing World’, will touch on topics from emotional intelligence to social justice. It will take place in the Institute for Lifecourse and Society at the university’s North Campus.
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