The UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway today last week hosted a Youth Empathy Day with the highlight being the visit by actor and Patron of the Centre, Cillian Murphy, who spoke to the students about the importance of empathy in his work.
The youth-led day brought together 200 Transition Year students from six secondary schools in Galway, Dublin and Tipperary, all of whom are taking part in a new pilot education programme called Activating Social Empathy, which supports adolescents to learn empathy in schools.
Students attending the Youth Empathy Day travelled from 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.
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. 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.
Activating Social Empathy was developed by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre in collaboration with Foróige, and it is being piloted in Ireland as the lead version of the programme which forms part of an international project strongly backed by UNESCO that will see the programme rolled out the US, Canada, Nigeria, Myanmar, France, Cameroon and Tunisia.
Today’s youth-led event is about youth participation and listening to the youth voice on empathy in their own lives. Cillian Murphy, the Patron of the Centre, took part in a Q&A on empathy in his work as an actor and how having a capacity to empathise with the characters you play is vital. A series of workshops on literature, drama, music, yoga, mindfulness and social media will explore how these areas can be used to teach and promote empathy. Two of the Centre’s Youth Researchers will host a peer-led session on their own experience of developing empathy. The day will close 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.
Speaking about the event, Cillian Murphy, Actor and Patron of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, said: “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.”
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, but goes far beyond this by changing behaviours and promoting action, with radical implications for social connection and social solidarity.”
For more information about the UNESCO Family Child and Research Centre, visit: http://www.childandfamilyresearch.ie/cfrc/home/ or on Twitter at @UNESCO_CFRC and #youthempathyday.