Europe is currently at a crossroad, facing multiple challenges such as an economic and fiscal crisis, a migration crisis, terrorist attacks and the rise of political far-right ideology. According to the latest report of the Council of Europe’s Commission against Racism and Intolerance, these changes have resulted in a growing climate of racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and intolerance that filters to the younger generations. For example, racism and religious discrimination was voted as the number one issue of concern among young people in the UK in 2016 (British Youth Council, 2016). Especially among young children, discrimination is frequently expressed in the form of bullying. A recent pan-European survey found that 46% of school students had observed bullying acts directed towards immigrant/Roma students in the last three months (Elame, 2013).
However, the same survey also confirmed that there is no evidence-based educational approach for discriminatory bullying currently in Europe. This is a huge gap considering that prejudice-reduction initiatives have most potential to be successful with young children (Scottish Government, 2015). Discriminatory bullying targets the most disadvantaged and socially excluded groups of children and is a critical predictor of poor school attendance and school drop-out, thereby damaging these children’s future chances of seeking employment and integrating in the labour market. Developing a theoretically informed, integrated and innovative approach for this problem can, therefore, have a long-lasting impact on the lives of vulnerable children.
General anti-bullying programmes are unlikely to yield positive results in this area mainly for the following reasons: a) existing programmes have been criticised for not including prosocial inclusion objectives and, therefore, failing to teach students to be part of a community (Elame, 2013) and b) traditional learning approaches (e.g. curriculum, whole school policies, peer education) do not provide a safe environment in which students can explore the emotionally charged topic of discrimination free from group pressure and fear of retaliation and/or further social exclusion (Nocentini et al., 2015). Thus, there is clearly a need for an innovative learning approach that allows students to manage emotions and beliefs that may be fuelling discriminatory bullying without the group pressure.
To address these challenges, this project will develop an innovative approach to tackling discriminatory bullying that integrates an e-learning component with an intercultural pedagogy and curriculum. The approach will consist of two elements: First, the project will develop an immersive virtual environment to provide a safe environment where school children can develop inter-cultural and social competencies by interacting with NPCs (Non-Player Characters) in a simulation of real-world discriminatory bullying scenarios. Students will engage with simulations and be required to navigate their way through choices to arrive at the best solution. Second, the project will develop a complementary inter-cultural pedagogy and curriculum for use by the teachers who will implement the e-learning component in class.