By Caoimhe Killeen
Actor Cillian Murphy has launched a new programme with the UNESCO Chair Professor Pat Dolan at NUI Galway that aims to introduce empathy education to second-level students across Ireland. The programme was launched on January 23rd and is part of a body of work carried out by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre (UCFRC) based in NUI Galway.
The “Activating Social Empathy” is intended to form part of the Junior Cycle’s Wellbeing Programme, with four key modules to target student learning: Understanding Empathy, Practicing Empathy, Overcoming Barriers to Empathy, and Putting Empathy into Action. It has now entered its evaluation stage, which is being carried out on over 2,000 students in 25 schools nationwide.
The evaluation will assess students’ empathic attitudes and interpersonal links, with the full programme being available as a free resource to schools from September 2020.
The programme is a result of research that was conducted by UCFRC on teenagers that showed the need to focus more on social values and developing an aptitude for empathy in secondary schools.
The launch was also attended by youth advocates for empathy education and provided an opportunity to showcase the Youth as Researchers Video Resource Library for Schools and Community Groups. It was developed in collaboration with Foróige, and narrated by Cillian Murphy, who is also a Patron of UCFRC. He also commented that as an actor, empathy is an important acting tool and that in “supporting this education programme which we are launching today, my hope is that it will help young people see that everyone has a different story and everyone’s story is valuable”.
John Gaffey, a UNESCO Youth Researcher and second year Creative Writing student at NUI Galway, got involved with UNESCO last year by a “mix of volunteering and luck”, after finding himself as stand-in MC for the night at an event. John adds that the “UCFRC has a good ethic of having youth events be youth-led and that was largely our purpose on the day as hosts”, giving credit to Professor Pat Dolan and researcher Charlotte Silke, as well as praising Cillian Murphy’s work as patron. He says that, “He is a great patron, because of course, he attracts interest to events but more importantly, he has something to say, he strongly believes in the work that the UCFRC does and brings his own anecdotes of his childhood and his experiences with the Leaving Certificate”.
UNESCO supports the Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway on a range of international collaborations on education programmes and policy initiatives. The Centre also undertakes its own research, education and training in the area of Family Support and Youth Development, as well as focusing on practical and community–based approaches for young people. UNESCO Chair and Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, Professor Pat Dolan, added that the programme is intended to “equip young people with vital skills in social emotional learning as well as offering them opportunities to engage in active citizenship.” He further commented that education like this is needed “to curb hate speech aggression and racial and other forms of negative profiling” and called for the new incoming Minister for Education and Skills to consider empathy education alongside Maths and other STEM subjects