The importance of empathy: Five questions on education with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed

October 15, 2012
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Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. EST (10 a.m. GMT), BRAC will participate in a Tweetchathosted by the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report to support the launch of its 2012 edition.

Tomorrow morning at 6 a.m. EST (10 a.m. GMT), BRAC will participate in a Tweetchathosted by the UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report to support the launch of its 2012 edition.

The hashtag for the Tweetchat (and the theme of the 2012 report), #YouthSkillsWork, refers to the growing recognition that education systems around the world need to do a better job equipping the growing percentage of young people who will be entering the workforce in the next decade – the so-called “youth bulge.”
Vocational skills are important. But empathy is also increasingly seen as a skill that is crucial to a wider and wider array of jobs, including many that don’t exist yet. That’s why, for example, Ashoka Changemakers ran a competition this summer on best models for teaching empathy in schools, and Harvard Business Review Blogger James Allworth argued that empathy is the most valuable thing they teach at Harvard Business School.
The subject of empathy came up right away when we asked BRAC founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed to name one educator that inspired him.
Here’s what Sir Fazle said:

“I would say my mother was my greatest teacher. She taught me the importance of even the poorest among us. More than anything, she taught me the value of empathy.”

“Mothers are always the best teachers. Any teacher has to teach with affection, to be affectionate like a mother. A child should feel like she’s been loved, and then the child learns because it’s coming from a loving person.”

Some of Sir Fazle’s comments may be surprising for some, coming from a man built the world’s largest development organization with a lifetime of hard work:

“My whole life, I did not have a disciplinarian. Neither my mother nor my father. Even my father, at 9pm, would say, ‘Go to bed, you don’t have to study anymore. You’ll do fine on the exam.’ I was actually taught not to work too hard!”

We asked if it’s better to be a tough teacher or a “soft” teacher. Sir Fazle replied:

“Being tough is not necessarily always good. Softer skills get the better out of children. Softer skills for me are always the more interesting approach, though I suppose there is always a role for a disciplinarian. Not too tough – but a disciplined teacher, because children do need to learn discipline.”

“Children should have their childhood – not just discipline, discipline, discipline, and study, study, study. My parents were all for me getting an enjoyable childhood.”

In these comments, you can start to see the origins of BRAC’s approach to education.BRAC started its primary education programmes in 1985, and from the beginning it adopted a different approach toward educating young minds. Rote learning was discouraged. Teachers were trained to teach in a more engaging and encouraging way, because school should be a place where children learn to think in their own.

Using this approach, we’ve already seen 10 million children pass though BRAC’s nonformal primary and pre-primary schools, the vast majority of them transitioning into government schools – where they perform better, on average, than their peers.

BRAC, of course, isn’t just about quality primary schooling, although it is the world’s largest private, secular education provider, with over 1 million students currently enrolled.Education continues into adolescence – and beyond the classroom.
For instance, our global network of adolescent girls’ clubs now has well over 270,000 members, with livelihood skills training combined with social empowerment – including life skills, conflict resolution and reproductive health for girls.
Skills training for adolescents is an important part of the puzzle, but the pathway out of poverty should start early. Primary schools in the developing world need to teach creative thinking, for those with an enterprising mindset, as Sir Fazle writes, are “more likely to spot and seize the opportunities their parents never had, giving them a chance to navigate their way out of the clutches of systemic poverty.”
We hope to hear from you tomorrow on Twitter at #YouthSkillsWork to discuss further.
For more, check out these links:

 

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