How Might We help students develop empathy for distant issues?

I see empathy as a key step in gaining a deeper understanding of issues and it is something I am trying to develop in students in my Social Studies (and Geography when I get back to teaching senior students again!) classes. When focusing on local issues or the local impacts of global issues, this is a step that is straight forward to implement. Exploring, observing, interviewing, listening etc to how it is affecting people. How do we do this effectively though for issues or case studies that don’t have such a local impact though?

Films can sensationalise and/or trivialise the impacts on people

Documentaries can be extremely biased

Role plays (thinking land mine victims by tied up legs etc.) are well meaning but do they really get students truly feeling what it is like – have seen plenty of giggles and laughter while doing this, definitely not how a true victim reacts.

Distance, time zones, language and cultural barriers can reduce our ability to interview, survey etc. whilst cost severely limits our ability to observe and explore the area.

In Geography and Social Studies we rightly study issues from all around the world. I want my students to be able to develop the deep understanding of these global case studies. How might we help students develop empathy for distant issues?


This post is Day 17 of my Questioning Quest.


1 thought on “How Might We help students develop empathy for distant issues?

  1. Perhaps we don’t develop “empathy for distant issues” we just develop empathy (fullstop). We put ourselves in places that are unfamiliar, where we are a minority (e.g kid from Northshore goes to K Road, Otara markets, Diwali festival) so as to encourage us to see our normal as not everyone else’s normal. Being “in” this place forces the cognitive dissonance to question and understand others as different from us. Once we have experienced being “other” or an outsider we can empathise with those not like us or faces issues not like ours. This is why one of the aims of exchange student programmes is to encourage empathy – some great links here:

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