UK Schools Pilot Anti-Radicalization Software


Schools in Leicester, UK are testing software designed to flag student radicalization attempts over the Internet. The program, which was developed by Impero in collaboration with the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation, will be piloted in two undisclosed Leicester schools and will notify school administrators when students use any of one thousand radicalization terms such as “jihadi bride” and  “YODO”.

Britain’s Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015 requires that schools take measures necessary to prevent student radicalization and pull into terrorism.

The software, which is estimated to be adopted in 40 percent of British secondary schools to flag hate speech, names of known terrorists and extremists, their organizations as well as violence and radicalization terms including words and phrases from the “44 ways to support Al Qaeda” manual and the film “Although the disbelievers dislike it,’” an Islamic State propaganda film.

Impero’s software, launched as a prototype in London, Essex, Yorkshire and Leicester, lets teachers capture and save screenshots of any suspicious student activity that is flagged by the software. The pilot program was launched in five U.S. locations as well.

While some schools welcome the initiative, others are concerned about the actual role schools have been assigned by the counter-terrorism legislation, The Guardian reports. Several schools expressed their awareness of the issue while other schools are embracing the responsibilities and offering teacher and parent workshops on how to spot radicalization signs in students.

Sally-Ann Griffiths, e-security spokeswoman for Impero, said:

The system may help teachers confirm identification of vulnerable children, or act as an early warning system to help identify children that may be at risk in future. It also provides evidence for teachers and child protection officers to use in order to intervene and support a child in a timely and appropriate manner.”

The Impero spokeswoman said that the program is useful in that it will help establish support practices and counter-narratives to educate children potentially prone to radicalization.

In May 2015, a radicalization-seeking questionnaire that was given to students in five primary schools in a London borough with substantial Muslim populations caused controversy. Among the questions asked were whether students would consider marrying someone with different religious beliefs or if they could hurt someone ridiculing their faith. Bill Bolloten, an education consultant, says:

“Workshops for parents on extremism, as well as other activities such as radicalisation questionnaires for children and software that spies on pupils’ internet activity in school, are based on the discredited idea that there are signs of extremism that can be detected in young children.”

He added that “these actions are alarming many parents and may compound a growing climate of mistrust.”

According to the Daily Mail, Jonathan Russell, Quilliam Foundation’s political liaison officer, said that online counter-extremism is needed to shield students from radicalization. He added that technologies like Impero’s software are an important asset in such a mission.

Impero offers anti-bullying and anti-racism software to at least four in ten secondary schools in Britain.