Activating Social Empathy

Social Empathy Education

The promotion of empathy among adolescents is a priority area of work undertaken by the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre (UCFRC). Researchers at the UCFRC have spent the last number of years studying the development of empathy among young people and understanding the barriers to empathy promotion. The focus on empathy, specifically, social empathy, recognises the growing importance, nationally and internationally, of the need for competencies in social and emotional learning across formal and non-formal education targeted at adolescents. Programmes fostering Social and Emotional Learning incorporating humanistic and citizenship education are increasingly part of the curricula in schools and youth NGOs and are a key priority for UNESCO’s transformative education agenda and SDG 4.

The Activating Social Empathy Education (ASE) programme was developed by UCFRC researchers in collaboration with Foróige and the UNESCO Chair in Community, Leadership, and Youth Development at Pennsylvania State University. The ASE Programme has two versions: A Schools Programme, which is designed for teachers working with secondary school students, and a Community Programme, intended as a resource for youth workers working with youth in non-formal education settings. A key objective of the ASE team is to mainstream social empathy education in schools, teacher education, and youth work.

Launched in October 2022 by actor Cillian Murphy, Ionbhá: The Empathy Book for Ireland is a companion to the Activating Social Empathy curriculum that includes contributions from well-known figures and everyday citizens.

The Activating Social Empathy School Programme

Activating Social Empathy (ASE) is an interactive, student-focused, social and emotional learning programme was developed in 2017 as a resource tool for post-primary schools. The ASE schools programme is supported by the Irish American Partnership.

The aim of the ASE programme is to improve empathy skills and foster positive peer relations among secondary school students. The ASE programme is designed to form part of the Junior Cycle Wellbeing Programme and, in line with these guidelines, sets out to help students “build life skills and develop a strong sense of connectedness to their school and to their community”. This short unit of learning aims to achieve these objectives by centring students’ learning and skill building around four key principles: Understanding Empathy, Practicing Empathy, Overcoming Barriers to Empathy, and Putting Empathy into Action.

The Activating Social Empathy programme is comprised of 12 individual sessions, with one session designed to be delivered over the course of one class. Teachers are guided to facilitate the programme through the use of a Teacher’s Manual, which provides all details and resources needed to run the programme with students. The programme draws on activities and educational resources used in other Social and Emotional Learning and youth lead initiatives, including the Youth As Researchers programme.

Evaluation of the ASE Programme

Following a pilot phase, a school randomised trial was carried out indicating that young people benefit from taking part on the ASE programme.  More information about this evaluation can be found  here.

Information for Schools

A sample of the type of activities included in the Activating Social Empathy programme is available here

See Introduction to the programme for teachers 





The ASE programme is freely available to all post-primary schools. One electronic and one printed copy of the ASE Teacher Manual and accompanying Student Workbook is provided to teachers on request. Upon completing the programme with their students, teachers may be asked to provide feedback to the CFRC about their perceptions of the ASE programme.

Teachers interested in facilitating the ASE programme can request the programme by contacting Roisin Hanley (, or completing the Request Form.


For more information about the Activating Social Empathy programme or empathy research please contact Dr Charlotte Silke: