The UNESCO project “Learning for Empathy*: A teacher exchange and support programme” was launched in 2019 with the generous contribution from the Government of Japan. The project targets teachers as key influencers in social transformation linked to the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG4.7 highlighting the appreciation of cultural diversity and promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence.
Because the Asia-Pacific is such a culturally diverse region, UNESCO promotes Learning to Live Together and Global Citizenship to cultivate a culture of peace and respect for all diversity. Such concepts also prepare learners to be active and responsible contributors to sustainable development and world peace. Diversity should be considered an asset for social, cultural and economic development of the region.
However, we are aware that, without mutual respect for diversity and differences, our societies can be divided. We witness this today as the world experiences a rise of intolerance, conflict and violence despite the growing interconnectedness and interdependency among peoples and nations. There is growing demand for collaboration to address the root causes of this division, which is based on factors like poverty, gender, disability, language, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, culture, origin, etc.
Teachers can have a direct impact on strengthening students’ resilience to discriminatory and violent narratives as well as to model values of respect and trust. In many countries, school leaders and teachers share similar concerns and challenges in terms of the quality and relevance of learning in the twenty-first century, when societies are rapidly changing in terms of technology, human relationships and how we relate with the natural environment.
The empathy project offers education professionals from different countries opportunities through study visits and school and community based activities, to learn from each other, find inspiration and generate changes in mindsets. The concept of “empathy” is at the heart of the project philosophy, and partners from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka exchange their ideas and practices on promoting empathy, focusing not only on “People” but also “Planet” for building the just, peaceful and sustainable future of the region.
The project mobilizes multiple partners from various types of schools, including public schools and madrassas. Teachers, school and community leaders, government officials, students and parents are invited to collectively reflect on the notion of empathy and take action for further promoting it in school and community.