The elite boarding school’s head of teaching says empathy is ‘not an inbuilt trait’
Eton College has begun teaching pupils to say “thank you” as part of a new focus on how to be more empathetic.
The boarding school in Berkshire – where annual fees are over £40,000 – has added gratitude, kindness and empathy coaching to the curriculum in an effort to boost “character” among its privileged students.
The move followed an internal review at Eton in which both teachers and pupils were asked about the kind of values the school needed to do more to promote.
Jonnie Noakes, Eton’s head of teaching and learning, claimed pupils can be taught how to care more about other people’s feelings.
“You can teach empathy – it’s not an inbuilt trait,” he told TES. “It’s about imaginative identification with others. You can teach people to use that, and overcome their natural wariness and mistrust.”
Eton’s pupils are now instructed on how to take a moment each day to acknowledge how other people have helped them and what they have to be grateful for.
Noakes says simple acts of kindness could involve writing thank you cards. “You don’t have to be hugely privileged to be grateful – all of us can be grateful. You don’t have to be an Etonian to be grateful,” he says.
It comes as Bristol University announced it would launch a 12-week course on happiness to students, who will be taught about sleep and meditation.
Lectures will address a series of issues, including whether happiness is in the genes and if it can really be changed, how our minds distort happiness and the role of culture in happiness.
Taught by Professor Bruce Hood, the Science of Happiness course will count towards 20 of the 120 credit points needed for their first year. More than 400 students signed up to a pilot version of the course last year.
“We’re anticipating hundreds of students taking it, right across the spectrum from not just psychology but every area of interest – engineering, chemistry, medicine and so on,” says Hood.
It follows the death of 12 students at the Russell Group university, several of which have been confirmed as suicides.