PAVLODAR -- About 5,500 schoolchildren and more than 300 teachers from Pavlodar Province on May 5 attended Kazakhstan's first-ever large-scale online conference on fighting extremism and terrorism.
The effort comes as the country concedes the presence of several hundred radicalised citizens in Syria and Iraq.
The teachers and the schoolchildren, who are in grades 7 through 11, work at or attend 60 schools in Pavlodar Province.
Presenters spoke at High School No. 4 in Pavlodar city, from where the conference went out online to other Pavlodar Province children and teachers watching on projector screens in their own schools' auditoriums.
The reason for holding the forum on "Informational Resistance to Modern Religious Extremism and Terrorism" online was to "reach a large number of participants ... situated in various places", Gulnaz Razdykova, director of the Pavlodar city-based Centre for Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations, told Caravanserai.
Different agencies put together the conference, including Razdykova's workplace, the provincial Administration for Religious Affairs (URD), the provincial police, the Republican (National) Research and Practical Centre for Mental Health and the Pavlodar municipal Centre for Support of a Healthy Lifestyle, according to Zaida Asanbayeva, outreach director for the provincial URD.
"Preventing extremism and terrorism in teenagers and youth is a vital job because they are the demographic most often subjected to the influence of extremist ideology," Lt. Col. Bibegul Kamzina, chief juvenile officer for the provincial police, told Caravanserai.
Warning about recruiting methods
The presenters focused on the dangers of extremism and on possible recruitment methods, said Kamzina.
"We showed videos with examples of extremist recruitment and of the legal consequences that come from becoming an extremist," she said. "This is a pressing problem. We have to conduct this work regularly."
Lesya Biketova, a researcher at the Republican (National) Research and Practical Centre for Mental Health, and Kaptas Sakenov, a doctor at the municipal Centre for Support of a Healthy Lifestyle, told the schoolchildren about extremists' psychological recruitment methods and about the need to practice healthy living that will give them the mental clarity to defeat extremist recruiters' manipulation.
Asanbayeva described the threats of extremism and terrorism, reasons for the spread of extremism, the characteristics of radical groups, and methods for thwarting extremist recruitment.
She encouraged anyone who had encountered extremists to call a Pavlodar psychological hotline (8  32 50 50) or to consult the Pavlodar Centre for Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations' website, www.carmo-pvl.kz.
"We need to foster a sense of tolerance in teenagers, give them immunity to radical ideology and develop their ability to think critically about their surroundings," said Asanbayeva. "All of that will help the fight against the spread of radicalism, improve their spirituality and help them self-actualise."
The schoolchildren actively participated in discussions during the conference, said Kamzina.
"They asked many questions about extremism, terrorism, and traditional and non-traditional religious movements," said Kamzina. "Speakers gave professional, intelligent and comprehensive answers to all questions."
"I was able to ask a question," Yuliya Kolentseva, a ninth-grader from Pavlodar city, told Caravanserai. "Even if we didn't all get to ask questions, our peers did. The answers interested all of us."
The conference aroused many discussions among the children, said Yermek Bulambayev, a 10th-grader from Kashyr District, Pavlodar Province, told Caravanserai.
"We discussed the subject with our friends the rest of the day," Yermek told Caravanserai. "We watched videos. They gave us real examples of people who ruined their lives by going to war for 'jihad'. I'll be able to understand now where propaganda goes on, whether it's an online video or a conversation on the street."
Such online conferences will become a staple, according to the Pavlodar Centre for Analysis and Development of Inter-Faith Relations.
"By the end of the year, we plan to hold two similar internet conferences for Pavlodar Province university students," said Razdykova.