There are a lot of values and skills that most schools fail to cover, some more important than even a lot of the subjects already covered in the program. One thing that’s consistently missing from most programs, however, even though it’s a value that’s crucial for a social species such as ours, is empathy.
As with many other things such as health care, the Happiness Index, education, and more, Denmark leads the rest of the world in this aspect as well. (1) In accordance with the country’s core values of peace, compassion, and empathy, the Danish are the first to introduce “Empathy” as a school subject. The reason why the Danish have incorporated empathy into their standard national curriculum is that they’ve realized the importance of teaching children what it means to understand and share feelings.
Unlike children in the U.S. and in the rest of the world, Danish children are also taught how to come to terms with the many different emotional states they’ll encounter later in life, as well as to develop the ability to recognize and identify feelings people usually misinterpret. (2)
The CAT-Kit program
Developed by psychologists in Denmark, the Cognitive Affective Training Kit (CAT-Kit) program consists of various visual, interactive, and other customizable tools that teach kids how to communicate effectively with their peers, with adults, and with other authority figures.
For example, one of the many tools in the CAT-Kit program is called “Measure” – it’s based on the thermometer and it displays levels from 0 to 10. Kids can use the Measure tool to display the intensity of their feelings without verbalizing them. This helps children to better understand the depth and the concept of their own feelings and from there – to more easily notice and identify them in other people.
Another good tool in the program is the “Feelings” tool which consists of 100 different faces that express different moods and emotions. These moods are divided into 10 different categories – anger, love, sorrow, joy, fear, surprise, shame, pride, disgust, and safety. The one hundred different moods divided between these ten categories allow the kids to easily express and communicate their feelings non-verbally and without exaggerating or downplaying them. This has proven to be very effective as it helps both the child displaying the emotion to better understand it, and to those around him/her to more easily recognize it.
The “Circles” tool is another good example of an effective educational method. It helps kids describe their relationships with family and friends. They can also use it to relay their attachment and preferences to different hobbies and interests.
Simple but effective tools like these ones and others such as “The Wheel, The Week, The Draw and the Behavior Palette, The Body,” and others, have made the CAT-Kit program a very effective and popular instrument that’s making its way to other countries as well.
The Step by Step Program
Another crucial program in the Danish educational system is the Step by Step program. It’s a mandatory program that asks the children to articulate their feelings with the facial expression of pictured children. The kids have to do this using cards of other kids that show various emotions such as fear, frustration, shame, sadness, etc. After that, the children discuss these emotions together with their tutors. They are taught to not be judgmental and why it’s important to listen to others when they share their emotions and how to react to them.
Jessica Alexander of the CPH shares in a review of the Danish happiness programs that cooperative learning is one of the most potent programs in their system. (3) A big part of this program falls on the teachers who have to organize the children in specific groups depending on the task at hand – for each task children with exemplary skills should be grouped together with those that are lagging behind so that they can better learn off of each other.
This program means that extroverts and introverts are mixed in debate classes, more physically active kids are grouped with less physically active ones in gym classes, children that are strong in math class are asked to work with slower learners, and so on.
This is in stark contrast with most other educational programs where children are divided from each other based on their skill level so that the “better” ones are not “slowed down” by the ones who aren’t doing as good. Instead, the cooperative learning program encourages kids to learn from each other so that everyone’s level increases simultaneously. And the added benefit of that is that not only are there fewer “weak links” in Danish society, but the children that were doing better anyway also benefit from this program by learning how to cooperate with others, how to help lift others up, how to teach, how to empathize, and more.
The anti-bullying Mary Foundation
Named after the Princess Mary of Denmark, the Mary Foundation runs an educational anti-bullying program for all children between the ages of 3 and 8 years. (4) In the program, kids are encouraged to discuss the harm and damage of bullying, as well as the ethics behind it, thus learning from a younger age how to behave with their peers.
The program acknowledges the fact that most bullies are not “evil,” they are simply kids with problems of their own. In this way, the program solves the problem from its root – by helping children understand and communicate with each other in a healthy manner. The program is credited with the massive reduction of bullying all throughout the country’s schools.
The end results
Denmark, as well as only a few other countries around the world, have realized a simple truth. The best, quickest, and most effective way to build a society with little to no crime, corruption, and other social problems is to raise a generation of kids that understands empathy better than their parents. Such a generation of mentally-stable, social-minded, and empathetic children is all that’s needed to not only solve most social problems but to eliminate them from the get-go.