“We are on the cusp of the development of empathy as a core part of education systems which will benefit not just youth but civic society as a whole.” Prof Pat Dolan

Cillian Murphy, Actor and Patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, pictured with the 200 Transition Year students who attended NUI Galway’s Youth Empathy Day

Cillian Murphy, Actor and Patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, pictured with the 200 Transition Year students who attended NUI Galway’s Youth Empathy Day

Youth Empathy Day was held at NUI Galway on 1 February 2018. The event brought together 200 Transition Year students from six secondary schools participating in the new pilot education programme, Activating Social Empathy.  The programme supports adolescents to learn empathy in schools.

The six schools involved are CBC Monkstown in Dublin; Comeragh College, County Tipperary; Grange Community College, Donaghmede, County Dublin; Dominican College Galway; Stratford College, Rathfarnham, Dublin and Galway Community College.

Part of an international project

‘Activating Social Empathy’ was developed by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, in collaboration with Foróige. The programme being piloted in Ireland is part of an international project backed by UNESCO that will see it rolled out in the US, Canada, Nigeria, Myanmar, France, Cameroon and Tunisia.

The Youth Empathy Day was about youth participation and about listening to the youth voice on empathy in their lives. Cillian Murphy, actor and patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, spoke to the students about the importance of empathy in his work as an actor.

“You can’t really be an actor without employing empathy as a very important tool in your arsenal. If I can help young people to see that everyone has a different story and everyone’s story is valuable, hopefully that will help them in the future. It’s helping kids help themselves.

“It seems to me that if we’re going to help or encourage young people to behave in a certain way, then they should be at the forefront of it, and they should be telling us how they feel and telling us what they need, which is what this day is about.”

Research links empathy to better academic performance

Research shows that empathy is linked to a range of positive effects in young people from reduced prejudice and aggression to better academic performance. Empathy education in schools aims to help reduce bullying, discrimination, racial profiling and violence, and increase young peoples’ sense of belonging in school.

Empathy education in schools aims to help reduce bullying, discrimination, racial profiling and violence.

At the highest international level, empathy education has been identified by the UN Youth Office, UNESCO and UNICEF as key to preventing youth radicalization leading to extremist violence, an issue which has not been considered enough in Ireland.

Professor Pat Dolan, Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, said:

“We are on the cusp of the development of empathy as a core part of education systems which will benefit not just youth but civic society as a whole.

Empathy education is now being recognised as vital to education, something that is part of youth wellbeing development.

Empathy education is now being recognised as vital to education, something that is part of youth wellbeing development, but goes far beyond this by changing behaviours and promoting action, with radical implications for social connection and social solidarity.”

Youth Empathy Day at NUI Galway closed with a group brainstorm on developing an Empathy Charter that can be carried into schools, setting out how empathy can be fostered within school communities.

For more information about the Empathy Pilot Education Programme contact Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre, NUI Galway at [email protected]