Teacher takes fight against terrorism to the classroom

Former physical education teacher Salim Mohamed Nasir has traded in his sports shoes for weighty lesson plans on how to keep at bay the terrorism beast.

Rather than train students to keep fit in body, he now works with young people to keep their minds sharp and their hearts in the right place, so their value systems help them reject extremist views on religion that might lead them astray.

He visits schools, giving talks on terrorism and engaging the young to think of different ways of promoting racial understanding and resolving conflicts.

He was seconded to a think-tank as a research fellow in 2009 from the Education Ministry. Since then, he has held about 60 sessions in schools with over 5,000 students.

The sessions can be a 40-minute school assembly talk, a two-hour talk or a two-day seminar on the topic.

In school, the genial man with a wide smile approaches the topic of terrorism by looking at its historical evolution, its manifestations and solutions.

With younger pupils, he nudges them to speak frankly as the subject itself is sensitive and difficult to comprehend. This gentle reassurance is needed as pupils often cast nervous glances at their teachers seated behind them.

"I tell the children to be brave and that all their questions will be answered," he says.

When he refers to terrorists as nasty bullies, some begin confiding in him, revealing that their classmates are bullying them.

He offers a solution by advising them to fight fear as bullies use fear to intimidate people.

Some of the students' questions are revealing. Some have asked why they must work with children from different races during group work. He urges them not to look at a person's race but accept him as a human being.

Instead of using words like tolerance, which can connote a person's inferiority, he suggests the word "compassion".

Why compassion?

"The value of compassion is love, showing empathy and understanding. The need for revenge will no longer be there if there is compassion," he replies.

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