October 21, 2021

The value of independent thinking in the fight against violent extremism

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Violent extremism is not a one-day phenomenon, there are steps to radicalization. Nobody wakes up one morning and becomes a terrorist or a violent extremist. That being said studies have shown that children and young adults are still undergoing cognitive development and as such tend to act more impulsively and lack the maturity of judgment and moral compass. As a result, they often fail to fully grasp the consequences of their actions.

Applying these insights to violent extremism means that their level of ideological commitment is likely to be less developed and hence malleable.  Back in 2015, Reuters wrote an article titled   “Peer pressure, not propaganda crucial to IS recruitment: experts” which suggested that peer groups and kinships were crucial in luring young fighters, rather than IS videos and Internet messages.

The recruitment of children and young adults is quite simpler because more often than not they can be forced or influenced by their peers or persons of authority in their lives. The ability of one to make their own independent choices determines the paths they take in the future. Independent thinking fosters the value of self-reliance. Reliance on one’s own capacities and capabilities are fundamental for one to attain identified goals in life.

Critical thinking and independent thinking are conjoined twins. Critical thinking is a skillful, reasonable thought which brings about good judgment through its use of criteria. Critical analysis requires reflective thinking, which is thinking about one’s thoughts. It is a process of questioning one’s own understanding of an issue.

There are innumerable ways for teachers to help students develop independent thinking skills. Independent thinking skills are at the forefront of learning how to be not only a great thinker but a great leader. Such skills teach learners how to make sense of the world based on personal experience and observation, and to make critical well-informed decisions in the same way. As such, they gain confidence and the ability to learn from mistakes as they build successful and productive lives.

10 effective ways to promote students independent thinking

  • Create an open environment
  • Reward initiative
  • Scrutinize independent work
  • Assign research projects
  • Let the students ‘’teach’’
  • Let the students pretend/imitate life in the past
  • Encourage dissenting views
  • Encourage brainstorming
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Focus on positives


In light of the above, the government of Kenya in its fight against terrorism has sought to engage the youth in this fight through its National Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism as implemented through the Kenya Youth Development Policy (2019) Framework which supports youth to depend on their individual capabilities and judgment while restraining from conformity and false consistency.