Radicalisation: The Role of Health and Education

As policymakers grapple with the threat posed by violent extremism, increased attention is turning to the ways in which practitioners in education and health sectors can provide a supportive role in countering radicalisation.

The Commonwealth Secretariat hosted a panel discussion of experts on 2 December 2015 which examined the role of formal and informal education and drew from the perspectives of health workers and other experts. The discussion was chaired by Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Josephine Ojiambo.

Speakers included:

  • Professor Joyce Kikafunda, High Commissioner of Uganda
  • Professor John Ashton, President of the Faculty of Public Health UK
  • Mr Graham Robb, Chair of the UK’s Restorative Justice Council
  • Mr Shaun Collins, Assistant Director of Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Mental Health NHS Trust

Risk, Resilience, Respect and Rehabilitation – the panel discussion is available in full below, or listen/download the podcast here.

Key points raised in the discussion

Violent extremism and radicalisation were presented and discussed as global issues, to which every country is vulnerable. Panellists cautioned attempts to pinpoint the type of individual to be radicalised, stressing that radicalisation should not be linked to one religion, gender or ethnicity. And whilst there is no clear evidence base for radicalisation, there is nevertheless still a need to take action in the absence of clear evidence.

The tendency of radicalisation to exploit individual and societal vulnerabilities and tensions was discussed. Potential risk factors include socio-political history, inequalities and lack of opportunity, corruption and lack of government transparency, and rapid urbanisation. Social media is an important mechanism for radicalisation, but other influences such as individual grooming also need to be addressed.

All panellists stressed the importance of prevention over reaction, and the need for a preventative strategy to intolerance. A unifying approach should promote a sense of belonging and cohesion; it should work to bridge social capital to build reciprocity and trust between individuals and communities as a preventative strategy.

Health and education were discussed as having potential to effect change as key mechanisms for both prevention and rehabilitation. This includes the opportunity to highlight and address risk factors, develop and circulate resources, mitigate harmful effects, mobilise partnerships and provide frameworks to help tackle the issues involved. Practical solutions discussed included the use of adult literacy, a focus on positive examples over pathology, and efforts which work to bring youth and communities together.


The discussion was convened to stimulate a productive dialogue which can be built on to support member countries in countering violent extremism and radicalisation through multi-sector approaches based on the Secretariat’s Civil Paths to Peace model.

This model played a central role in talks at CHOGM 2015, in which the Ministers Communique condemned violent extremism, acknowledging the serious threat this presents globally and encouraging the implemntation of this report’s recommendations. The role of education was also specifically highlighted as having the ability to address the conditions conducive to grievances and alienation which can contribute to radicalisation.

The report recognises that governments must go beyond traditional approaches to security, to cultivate ‘respect and understanding’ between people. The basis of this understanding is that cultivated violence is generated by fuelling disrespect and fostering confrontational misunderstandings. This focuses on understanding the mechanisms which cultivate and contribute towards violence.

The Secretariat adds value to this agenda by providing a comprehensive policy approach to address this complex and challenging issue. A multi-sector policy approach engages all different sectors to cooperate and work collaboratively towards a combined effort to counter radicalisation and violent extremism.

This approach engages the Commonwealth’s ability to act as a forum for dialogue and consensus-building across borders, to foster and strengthen inclusive initiatives and cultivate mutual understanding. This is critically important to tackling the underlying mechanisms influencing violent extremism and moving away from the compartmentalising of individuals at risk and engaged in radicalisation.

The full Civil Paths to Peace report can be found here: Civil Paths to Peace

Concurrent eDiscussion through the Education Hub Community of Practice

On the eve of the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta, the Education Hub launched a discussion related to critical talks to take place at CHOGM exploring the strengthening of peace efforts and countering radicalisation and violent extremism. Education has an important role to play in formulating an effective response to radicalisation, building resilience and respect, and in rehabilitation.

The objective of the three-week discussion is to engage a wide range of education stakeholders from various professional and geographical backgrounds to critically reflect the role education can play in addressing radicalisation and violent extremism.

The discussion summary report is available here.