A common theme in society these days is the lack of empathy we show towards others. But apparently not in Denmark…
Ever since 1993, Danish children have been required to learn all about it as they grow and progress through school and we firmly believe that this should be something that more countries take part in.
Denmark’s approach is working. The UN’s World Happiness Report has listed Denmark as one of the happiest countries in the world. Residents and government officials believe that is down to the education that their citizens receive. For those of you who are unaware of what empathy means, it is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
Each and every week in Danish schools, children are taught something called ‘social learning.’ This is one hour per week in which children between the ages of 6 and 16 are taught about empathy.
According to the website The Danish Way, this is a fundamental part of the Danish curriculum.
Students are encouraged to use this hour of empathic learning to openly discuss their problems with the rest of the class. This includes their teacher and together, they come up with solutions to the different problems each student is facing.
The students listen and work with each other to better understand what everyone is going through. This form of social education is documented in Jessica Alexander’s book ‘The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People In The World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids’ and she deeply believes in the movement.
This form of schooling takes away the competition aspect of education and allows the children a moment to be themselves. Within Danish schools, awards, trophies and other things of the sort are not given out. When students achieve sporting success or success in other areas of the school, they are doing so because they want to and the only person they are challenging are themselves.
Do you think this concept could work in the UK or USA?
It’s very important to teach our children about empathy, more so now than in any other time in human history. According to Good Start’s website, empathy is more important now in this day and age than it has ever been before.
Empathy helps children to build a solid foundation of security. It promotes tolerance and acceptance in society and has drastically reduced bullying at school and the workplace. If it is developed properly, empathy can benefit all those who choose to tune in and the positive effects are felt throughout life.
Talking about teaching empathy in school, The Salon publication reported as follows:
During the Class’s Hour, the teacher brings up any issues they may have observed, in addition to what the students themselves mention.
Anne Mikkelson, a Danish high school student from Strøer said:
“I remember when we were 10 or 11, we often talked about girl cliques. That was a common topic, and we would discuss it and try to solve it together. Sometimes that just meant the girls being more aware and trying to interact more with others, but it always helped us to talk about it together.”
Jesper Vang, a middle school teacher at Tingkærskolen in Odense says:
“The important thing is that everyone is heard,”
“Our job as the teacher is to make sure that the children understand how the other feels, and see why the other feels as they do. This way, we come up with a solution together based on real listening and real understanding.”
Although it is not clear about what is discussed and what isn’t, it is clear that the Danish way of teaching empathy in school is dramatically helping students learn to understand others’ feelings and problems, not just their own.
Empathy brings us closer together, instead of dividing us.