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We've been noticing something disturbing in Africa - more terrorists have educations. And now a Kenyan teacher says schools can do more to fight back. He's been nominated for a $1 million teaching prize for his work. NPR's East Africa correspondent Gregory Warner went back to high school in Eastleigh, a mostly Somali area of Nairobi.
GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: When a suspected terrorist recruiter approached 18-year-old Abdulahi Meyow, he did not talk of holy jihad or the pleasures of an afterlife. He offered money - $50 if Abdulahi would do a project.
ABDULAHI MEYOW: He just said that I have this project whereby you can actually gain money for your family.
WARNER: Abdulahi wasn't told what the project was. He was told he was singled out because he's a good student. He's captain of his high school class at Eastleigh Boy's School.
MEYOW: Yeah, because you're a good student because your head boy, I can see you're working hard and some other stuff.
WARNER: Ayub Mohamud is the Somali-Kenyan founder of a group called Teachers Against Violent Extremism.
AYAB MOHAMUD: These extremist groups, they like young men who are educated, like in the Garissa University attack.
WARNER: In the attack on Garissa University last year in Kenya's northeast, 147 students were killed. One of the lead gunmen was himself a graduate of Nairobi's top law school.
MOHAMUD: He was educated. He was a university student. He has done law. So you find these recruitment groups are trying to change strategy.
MOHAMUD: You want someone who understands. You want someone who you can instructions.
WARNER: Like any employer, terrorists are also competing for top talent. There's more to modern terrorism than carrying a bomb. They need people who can boost their brand on social media.
MEYOW: First I thought, let me do it.
WARNER: Eighteen-year-old Abdulahi still didn't know what the project was. And he had doubts enough to ask his parents.
MEYOW: That's when I started to go back to my family and asked them the questions.
WARNER: But his family did not believe him. It was too much money they said not even a Kenyan teacher could make $50 in a day.
MEYOW: They actually said that I was making up the stories. So it is then that he approached me the second time, the same guy and he told me do you think about it? So I was like, OK. So that's when I approached my teacher. It's when my teacher explained everything.
WARNER: That teacher was a member of Ayub's group, Teachers Against Violent Extremism. So what can schools do to inoculate kids against recruitment?
MOHAMUD: Good morning my class.
UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Good morning, my teacher.
WARNER: I watched a brief example of this, Ayub Mohamud led his high school class through a lesson on the rules of Jihad.
MOHAMUD: So what are Islamic teachings on going to war?
WARNER: The students, all boys in matching green sweaters and neckties, eagerly raised their hands. Jihad means that you can't kill women and children, yes. Jihad means that you can't destroy crops or infrastructure, yes. Jihad means that you have to ask your parents first. All of these rules if followed would put a crimp in any terrorist plan. But what's important, Ayub says, is not just the answers themselves, but the fact that they're even allowing the question in the classroom. Not long ago, he says simply leading a discussion about jihad would make you suspect.
MOHAMUD: And if we don't teach the students, then chances are very high they learn from other places like social media, from bad companies and so on. And then that makes them vulnerable.
WARNER: Listening to the teacher talk, I realize that you could substitute the word extremism for sexuality, jihad for condom and he could be pushing for more sex ed., which incidentally he also thinks that Kenya should do much more of.
MOHAMUD: In the African context, people don't like talking about it. But I think that's living in denial.
WARNER: Ayub would like to see countering violent extremism as part of the national curriculum. His work has made him one of only 10 teachers around the world and the only African on the short list for The Global Teacher's Prize issued by the Varkey Foundation. On Sunday, he finds out if he wins the $1 million top award. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.
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