Katja Schipperheijn (sCool) believes that edtech start-ups can help to prevent radicalization at an early stage, by supporting digital and ‘socially responsible’ education methods. 

In today’s world children are exposed to violence, wars and terrorism at a very young age. Youngsters do notice the relatively recent changes in society, and are exposed more than ever to the harsh reality of the modern world.

The media, both traditional and social media, show violent images and spread sensational titles. This creates fear and unstable emotions. A radical vocabulary is being used by all parties involved. Sometimes people get carried away and their words turn into hate speeches and racist remarks.

We can’t keep children in the dark anymore. They hear and see everything anyway. Prohibit them to see things doesn’t work and is almost impossible when they’re already active on social networks at the age of 6. But that doesn’t mean that we as a society, parent or teacher, can’t do anything about it.

There’s no single measure that will reduce radicalization, the best way to fight it is by targeting the vulnerable groups and trying to assimilate them into our society by providing citizenship and digital, socially responsible education.

“Citizenship and media literacy seem inseparable. Citizenship education makes students more tolerant, gives them perspective and teach them to reflect on themselves and others. Media literacy teaches children to become social responsible citizen online.”

Every time we witness terrorist attacks across Europe, our children are drawn to their digital communication tools because they’re afraid and can express this fear only in a virtual conversation.

We are seeing that virtual communication tools have the power to open the floodgates of conversation for many children. I remember a child that seldom spoke to adults because of emotional and trust issues, but that - when given digital tools to communicate - suddenly began to talk to teachers in the virtual space.

The fears of our kids are expressed in pictures, blog posts, virtual flowers and chat conversations. Children express solidarity and warmth, like they want to say ‘I’m not part of this hate speech thing’

We also see that - while playing with digital media to express their feelings -  children are uncovering hidden talents. For example, they start to use code to create web pages, develop animations and even make games to share. Children who previously felt they were not creative, are discovering new talents, giving them tools that make them more resilient.

And what about the teachers? They find it difficult to engage with children about issues like extremism and terrorism in their classrooms, out of fear that extreme views might arise and take them out of their comfort zone.

How do you talk online with children or how do you react to emotional messages and fear? What do you do when when you see children struggling with radical or racist thoughts? Especially in schools and classes with large number of immigrant and refugee students, teachers find it difficult to start the conversation.

We’ve seen that some fun assignments can get the conversations going and stimulate social learning in climate of respect and No Hate.

A very nice example is a project week about the ‘fake news’ topic. We used the blog channels of our pupils for the sCool Paper to find and create news. The tricky part of the assignment was that children could make it up, or find news that was hardly believable. It proved to be an eye opener for the conversations about how easy it is to trap people or how difficult to see what is false.

Another creative media tool is to use Photoshop. Children love to play with images, as we know from Snapchat, Instagram and other popular social media apps. Ask children to play with a normal picture to make it more scary and dark.

Many cool new apps and tools that support media creation, coding and gaming for education emerge these days, and the Belgian edtech scene has some fun and successful start-ups. We do believe that the ecosystem of edtech start-ups will support digital and socially responsible education, that prevents radicalisation at an early age.

Katja Schipperheijn is the founder and ceo of sCool, a social network for children.