Conference to Highlight the Necessity for Compulsory Empathy Education in Preventing Violent Extremism

Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair of the Child and Family Research Centre, NUI Galway. Photo: Aengus McMahon
Jun 06 2017 Posted: 10:47 IST

NUI Galway conference will focus on the perceived decline in empathy, care and social solidarity, which is both an Irish and global concern among youth radicalisation

Are empathy, care and social solidarity in decline and what are the consequences of this in Ireland and globally? These are some of the questions to be addressed at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway when it hosts its 8th Biennial International Family Support Conference in June.

The role of compulsory empathy education to address radicalisation among youths will also be a key focus at the NUI Galway conference. Violent extremism is a threat that knows no borders as witnessed from the recent horrific attack at Manchester Arena, again highlighting the vulnerability of innocent children.

There are currently 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world. This ‘youth bulge’ is the largest youth population ever. One out of 10 of the world’s children live in conflict zones and 24 million of them are out of school. Political instability, labour market challenges and limited space for political and civic participation have increased the pressures on young women and men in societies across the world, deepening their vulnerability to violent extremism. Any lasting solution to prevent violent extremism must place youth at the forefront. Young people are the most affected by multiple and often interlinked forms of violence - they also play vital roles as agents of positive change, which must be nurtured and empowered, through skills, training and new forms of educational engagement.

Speaking in advance of the Conference, Professor Pat Dolan, UNESCO Chair of the Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, commented: “We know that empathy education is now recognised as one of the key ingredients in the prevention of youth violent extremism. Ireland should not be complacent about this serious issue and needs to lead the way in the development of empathy education in schools. This is no longer just an issue in the UK, France and Belgium, it also has real resonance for Ireland, and the challenges of intolerance, hatred and fear is now a global humanitarian crisis.

“Through UNESCO and global counter-extremism organisations, we have worked with youths who were formally radicalised. Through an empathy education programme such as ours these youths are no longer engaged in radicalised thinking and have now become activists for peace.”

Professor Dolan continued: “From hate crime including racism, bullying, and all the way to violent youth extremism – the enablement of empathy belonging to cultural integration in the lives of young people in Ireland is a key part of the true, and only long-term solution. Empathy education should be specifically provided in schools and part of compulsory education – it is no longer a matter of choice but a necessity.

“While for society, there is an urgent need for empathy informed policy and action to address structural inequalities and disparities, a guarantee that professionals working with children and youth demonstrate empathy and compassion is assumed, and it should not be. It is time to reassess the role of empathy among professionals including social workers and teachers.”

UNESCO’s role in promoting education as a tool to prevent violent extremism are already underway with the following activities currently being implemented.

  • The promotion of Youth and Parliament – youths working in partnership with Government and agencies.
  • Building peace in the minds of men and women.
  • A Teacher’s Guide on the ‘Prevention of Violent Extremism’ is in development to provide guidance and practical tips to teachers on how to manage classroom discussions on radicalisation and prevent violent extremism.
  • Work is in progress to tackle the importance of social media in promoting violent extremism. Global research studies are being carried out to examine the role of social media in processes of radicalisation. Policy guidelines are being developed on digital citizenship to identify, advocate and promote values, which can guide responsible online behaviour.
  • The promotion of holistic and humanistic visions of learning, which convey values for just and inclusive societies, a set of multimodal online modules on violent extremism are being developed that are promoting critical thinking and enquiry-based learning from the perspective of global citizenship.

High level keynote speakers from Canada, India and Ireland will lead the discussions, while Irish and international practitioners and researchers will provide 36 workshops on key conference themes. A special talk will be given by Fr Peter McVerry SJ, social activist and advocate for those who have no voice in society.

The conference is entitled ‘Rediscovering Empathy; Values, Relationships and Practice in a Changing World’ and will touch on topics from Emotional Intelligence to Social Justice, and will address the need for empathy education in schools. It will take place in the Institute for Lifecourse and Society on the North Campus at NUI Galway on 8 – 9 June.

For more information and to register for the Conference, visit:


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