British School Jakarta: Empathy Week
Posted: 18 December 2018
The idea for running an Empathy Week came from our Student Round Square committee. They felt there was a lack of empathy among our students for the less privileged and disadvantaged in Indonesia because they did not really understand what their lives were like on a daily basis. The initiative was welcomed by the school leadership who saw such an approach as essential in helping students engage with service work and commit to future volunteering projects.
Author: Ian Paterson – Assistant Head: Secondary Well-being
The Committee took about two months to plan the event. They brainstormed ideas and came up with projects that they thought would interest students and develop empathy for others’ daily hardships. A group of teachers were asked for input on the ideas to gain a wider perspective on the activities that would best engage students.
The Week was promoted through school emails and bulletins and helped all involved understand the purpose of the Week and anticipate the activities to follow.
Outdoor Classroom Exhibition
The students came up with the idea of creating an outdoor classroom to show what life is like in many government schools in Indonesia. The students ‘built’ an outdoor classroom with no air conditioning, a simple blackboard, a canvas cover, and a few chairs. Teachers volunteered (were persuaded!) to take classes there during the week to give the students some experience of being taught in such an environment.
An ‘Empathy Lunch’
Students paid a higher sum for their lunch (to include a charitable donation) and were entered into a draw. 10% of students had a much better than average lunch, 20% received a normal lunch and 70% ate a very basic rice and vegetable lunch. The cafeteria was set up to accommodate this. Whilst this initiative is not a unique idea, it gave a visual representation of food scarcity in Indonesia and raised money for good causes.
Tutor Time Activities
Students organised a couple of activities to carry out during our 15-minute tutor time at the beginning of the day. One example of this is the Diversity Circle exercise.
On each day of the Week, we invited an entire year group of students to assemble in our ‘homeroom’. They formed a circle and listened to a series of questions read by two nominated members of the Round Square Committee. If a question applied to any of the students, they stepped into the circle. The questions were adjusted for each year group to ensure they could relate to some of the scenarios suggested. Examples included:
- I have gone an entire day without using the internet
- I’ve never had a problem affording what I want
- I have never gone without eating for over 12 hours
- I have never felt like a minority
- I have at least 1 vehicle and a driver to bring me to places
The activity was designed to “open” the eyes of the students to the kind of lives they live and to make students aware of how their lives may be drastically different to one another’s and to those who may not have the opportunities that they have been given.
No Technology Day
In the middle of the Week, we held a ‘No Technology Day’. On this day, students were banned from using any form of technology during the school day, including during or in between lessons. The exercise was designed to help students realize how much of their learning is facilitated by technology, a resource that many people do not have as they simply cannot afford it.
It was a challenge to get the community engaged and find volunteers for both the outdoor classroom and the empathy lunch. The students were not always totally onboard: it’s a busy school and they did not always understand the reason why certain activities were being held. The committee has learnt a lot of things about planning a similar event in the future, particularly the importance of communicating the purpose behind all the activities.
The students and teachers who did get involved benefited from the programme and really enjoyed it. Older students understood the purpose and engaged well; the younger students were keen to join activities but didn’t always know why a certain activity was being done. This underlines the importance of awareness-raising in the future.
We are reviewing the format for any future Empathy Weeks.
It would be better to do a shorter event (potentially over a few days) as maintaining the focus for a week was too long and interest couldn’t be sustained in a very busy school. Future weeks will also focus more on WHY we are doing this rather than just what we do. Parental involvement will be key and we are already speaking to the PTA about our plans for the future.
- Keep the activities focused and sustainable. Fewer high impact activities are better than lots that only a few students can engage with.
- Tell people well in advance WHY you are doing the activity and make it very clear what the intended outcomes are.
- Have personal conversations with as many staff as possible to get them on board.