Preventing Violent Extremism

The number of violent extremist attacks committed across the world has increased sharply in recent years. And there are more attacks on schools and students than ever before.

An important step to prevent violent attacks in the future is to examine and tackle the root causes of violent extremism. Preventing violent extremism (PVE) is complex and involves various actors and stakeholders. While education is frequently the target of violent extremism, it can also be part of the solution to reducing forms of violence.

© E. Kinskey, IRC

There are two ‘faces’ to education: education can promote inclusion, strengthen social cohesion, and develop a more engaged citizenry. Conversely, education can exacerbate existing tensions and divisions, reproduce structures of exclusion and inequality, and promote harmful practices and violent behaviour. Education initiatives must therefore look both within and beyond the classroom to address the root causes that contribute to forms of violence and violent extremism.

Violent extremism refers to the use of violence in line with an ideological commitment to achieve political, religious, or social goals. These violent acts can be carried out by any individual or group from a range of beliefs and ideologies.

One way of conceptualizing the factors that may lead to violent extremism is the idea of ‘push’ and ‘pull’ influences:

  • ‘Push Factors’ may include: marginalization, inequality, discrimination, persecution or the perception thereof, the denial of rights and civil liberties; and environmental, historical or socio-economic grievances, whether actual or perceived.
  • ‘Pull Factors’, by contrast, might nurture the appeal of violent extremism at the individual and psycho-social level. For example: violent extremist groups may be a source of services and employment. Groups may attract new members by providing outlets for grievances, the promise of hope, justice, and a sense of purpose. This social network can be a significant pull factor for youth as extremist groups can offer a sense of acceptance and validation (UNESCO, 2016).
  • However, there remains limited evidence of exactly whether, how, and in what way these push or pull factors may influence people's choices to join extremist groups or commit violent acts.

Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) refers to an approach which aims to address the root causes of violent extremism through non-coercive approaches.

Some examples of how education can contribute towards preventing violent extremism and address “push and pull factors” are:

  • Curriculum: Curricula should encourage multiple viewpoints and develop critical thinking skills.
  • Teachers, schools and educational institutions: Teachers should be recruited to represent a diverse range of social and ethnic groups and differing views within a society. Schools should create an atmosphere of tolerance and harmony, and engage with the community, religious and political institutions, and provide a safe space to everyone, including minorities.
  • Children and Young People: Education should include the voices of children and young people and give them power over their own lives. Education should support each child as an individual with opinions, needs, and aspirations.
  • Safe Places: schools should be safe places to discuss differing opinions, and safe environments to learn new ideas and skills.
  • Access: Access to education should be universal. Socioeconomic status should not be a barrier to a quality education. Nor should gender, ethnicity, or language.


This collection was developed with the support of Peter Simms, Plan International Canada, and Laura Davison, INEE.

28 September 2017 White Paper Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE)

INEE Thematic Paper: Preventing Violent Extremism

This paper highlights some of the more commonly used concepts and working definitions, though INEE does not take a particular stance. The paper presents current thinking and up-to-date research, and provides some examples of how education can contribute towards preventing violence.

1 May 2017 Video Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE)

Preventing Violent Extremism Whiteboard Video

A whiteboard video to illustrate education’s role in preventing violent extremism (PVE) and looks at some definitions of PVE and education’s role in fostering inclusive and equitable environments, encouraging critical thinking, promoting tolerance and respect for diversity, and thereby contributing to wider social cohesion and the reduction of violence in all forms

1 January 2016 Manual/Handbook/Guide United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organziation (UNESCO)

A Teacher's Guide on the Prevention of Violent Extremism

Violent extremism and the underlying forces of radicalization are among the most pervasive challenges of our time. With this concern in mind, this Guide was designed for teachers in upper primary, lower secondary and upper secondary education. It was also developed with the hope that it can support the efforts of teachers working in both formal and non-formal educational settings.

1 January 2017 Manual/Handbook/Guide United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organziation (UNESCO)

Preventing Violent Extremism: A Guide for Policy Makers

In reference to the strategies endorsed by the United Nations and UNESCO’s Executive Board, UNESCO’s Education Sector is seeking to build the capacities of key education stakeholders, namely education policy-makers, teachers, school staff and actors working in non-formal educational settings. This is being done through the development of guidance materials for their use.

1 June 2019 Manual/Handbook/Guide
Search for Common Ground, Hedayah

Countering Violent Extremism: An Introductory Guide to Concepts, Programming, and Best Practices

This module clarifies the evolution of countering violent extremism over the past decade, and engages participants with key documents and resolutions. It lays the foundation for understanding the countering violent extremism field of practice and offers insights into the opportunities as well as the common pitfalls in this space and suggestions on how to avoid them.