The Dubai Student Wellbeing Census 2017 revealed that 77% of Dubai’s private school students feel safe while in school. The numbers reported from this census show that close to half of Dubai’s private school student population enrolled in Grades 6-9 (Years 7-10) has been free from physical, social and cyber victimization at school. While this portion of students reports good news, concerns persist for those who report otherwise.
There is a growing body of research that shows that teaching children empathy can go a long way to decreasing the likelihood of bullying. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another – to imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes. Students with a high level of empathy tend to be well respected by their peers and are more often successful across academic and social domains. Empathy facilitates prosocial behavior and inhibits antisocial behavior. Those with low empathy fail to respond to alleviate the distress and discomfort in others because their actions are not informed by the emotional states of others.
Roles in bullying situations are often fluid in students’ lives. One day a student may be exhibiting bullying behavior while the next day they are experiencing it. Then, they may be witness to it. Teachers, parents and students alike are in a position to positively influence the learning environment to be free of bullying regardless of the fluid nature of bullying situations. Learning to be empathic towards one another may help students better regulate feelings triggering bullying behavior.
In this KHDA Chatter, we talk about how Dubai private schools promote safe and supportive environments that encourage empathy among students. We focus on the efforts of Dubai International Academy (DIA) and GEMS Wellington Primary School (GEMS Wellington).
DIA seeks to promote a positive, value-drive culture throughout its primary and secondary schools. Awareness of empathy and other values is built among students through its Personal, Social and Health and Economic (PSHE) education. As an integral part of the UK curriculum, PSHE aims to develop knowledge, skills and attributes necessary for students to manage their lives, now and in the future. PSHE serves as a foundation for exposing students to empathy and related values. Events such as Friendship Week in the primary school highlights the importance of making and keeping friends by having an understanding for each other. In secondary school, PSHE continues by ensuring a positive and collaborative school culture. It serves as the platform to instill the core values of integrity, respect and responsibility. School-wide activities and student organizations such as Student Council and Senior Student Leadership are guided to uphold these core values.
GEMS Wellington also builds empathy and other values among students through its PSHE education. Stemming from PSHE, GEMS Wellington has a Positive Behaviors Policy and a Caring policy that promoted students to create the school’s Children’s Charter. Through a series of workshops and assemblies focused on values education, the Children’s Charter was formed which is a set of promises and principles of respect, kindness and empathy.
Practices to build empathy among students are DIA and GEMS Wellington focus on the whole school environment. The PSHE education serves as the launching point for both schools to define core values for students through activities, organizations and student-led policies for acceptable behavior. Overarching policies and values education are key ingredients to building a safe and supportive environment where students empathize with each other.
In essence, when a school’s mission is to promote values, along with skills and knowledge, it can help to guide student behavior now while contributing to citizenship later.
 KHDA (2017). Dubai Well-Being Census. Data show: 45% of students reported that they never experienced verbal victimization, 52% never experienced social victimization, 60% never experienced physical victimization and 77% never experienced cyber victimization.
 Ersilia Menesini & Christina Salmivalli (2017) Bullying in schools: the state of knowledge and effective interventions, Psychology, Health & Medicine, 22:sup1, 240-253, DOI: 10.1080/13548506.2017.1279740
What are your experiences in building empathy among students? Please share your thoughts!