Wed | Apr 1, 2020

Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock | Teach students empathy

Published:Tuesday | February 25, 2020 | 12:07 AM
Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock
Shawna Kay Williams-Pinnock

In light of the increasing incidents of physical altercations in our schools, it is important that we consider teaching our children empathy. Such instruction must be explicit and consistent.

For one hour per week, guidance counsellors and other trained personnel could teach students critical empathy skills. These skills and related content may be further integrated into other subject areas, and therefore reinforced. For example, in English literature, students may be engaged in exploring amicable alternatives to the violent face-offs used in resolving conflicts in The Young Warriors.

Schools in Denmark have been teaching empathy for years. In fact, the teaching of same was made mandatory in 1993. The results have been rewarding. Note that Denmark is ranked among the happiest countries in the world. Moreover, the country has consistently registered a low crime rate and so, it is also listed as one of the world’s safest places. Even corruption is significantly low in Denmark.

Notably, Danish children start empathy classes from as early as the preschool years. This practice would also augur well for our children as, during the early, formative stages of development, they are most malleable, and, thus, more receptive to such instruction.

According to various longitudinal studies conducted globally, empathy instruction can help students to develop emotional awareness, tolerance, acceptance of self and others, and key interpersonal skills that can promote social harmony and connectedness.

We have to be more proactive in treating with the plethora of social ills filtering into our schools. Teaching our educators self-defence skills, equipping them with protective resources or deploying security personnel to our schools is solely reactionary. This response may actually heighten existing tension and reduce our schools to mere battlefields.

Let us try empathy instruction. In the end, we are likely to produce happier adults, and safer schools and communities.

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