Danes are happy people. In fact, Denmark has consistently reached the top three of happiest countries in the world in the UN’s World Happiness report over the past seven years!
The secret to their happiness may lie in the heart of their education system where, in 1993 the Denmark education curriculum introduced mandatory empathy classes.
Many people don’t realize that empathy is a learned skill and that teaching empathy from a young age has not only been proven to make kids more emotionally and socially competent, it also greatly reduces bullying and can also help them be more successful as adults in the future.
The empathy program starts at age six in the first year of school and continues until age sixteen. For one hour each week, the children have empathy lessons during ‘Klassens tid’ or ‘The Class’s Hour’. Set for a special time once a week, and a core part of the curriculum, the purpose is the students to come together in a relaxed and comfortable setting to discuss any problems they may be having and the class tries to find a solution.
Any problem is open for discussion and could be personal problems or problems between individual students or groups, anything regarding the school or even unrelated to school. The rest of the class, and the teacher then debate ways to solve the problem. The teacher helps the students by teaching them how to really listen to and understanding others. When no issues are raised for discussion, the group come together and just chill.
“Together, the class tries to respect all aspects and angles and together find a solution,” Iben Sandahl said. “Kids’ issues are acknowledged and heard as a part of a bigger community. [And] when you are recognized, you become someone.”
It’s all about their upbringing. Danish parents raise happy children who grow up to be happy adults who raise happy children and the cycle repeats itself.
Klassens tid, is the student’s opportunity to be heard and receive encouragement and inspiration from others through listening and simultaneously learn the importance of mutual respect.
According to journalist, Carlotta Balena, “The children are not afraid to speak up, because they feel part of a community, they are not alone.”
According to Sandahl’s and Alexander’s study, Danes teach empathy in two ways. The first way is through teamwork. 60% of school tasks already do this, instead of the focus being on the best among their peers, the Danish curriculum focuses on building and improving the skills and talents of other students who are not equally gifted.
The second way is through collaborative learning. When the authors talk about upbringing being the secret to happiness, they mean it’s about a humane and cohesive society, with systems in place to support everyone.
“A child who is naturally talented in mathematics, without learning to collaborate with their peers, will not go much further. They will need help in other subjects. It is a great lesson to teach children from an early age since no one can go through life alone,” Jessica Alexander said.
Collaborative learning allow children learn more about the subject at hand as well as learning new ways to communicate with others.
“You build empathy skills, which are further strengthened by having to be careful about the way the other person receives the information and having to put oneself in their shoes to understand how learning works,” Jessica Alexander further explained.
Iben Sandahl is a Danish psychotherapist, educator and co-author of The Danish Way of Parenting, along with Jessica Alexander, an American author and cultural researcher.
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