“He doesn't attend classes regularly." "Remember how he missed his project?" "Don't include her in this project” – We often make such comments about the classmate who misses classes or fails to work on class projects. Instead of looking into the reason for their tardiness, we just make them feel more vulnerable.
The student may have family problems or other issues for not being able to attend classes regularly or contribute to the teamwork for class projects. Instead of empathising with them, we often leave them behind selfishly.
Such self-absorbed attitudes motivated Mamunur Rashid, a teacher of BRAC Institute of Language at BRAC University, to introduce a project ‘Shaping the Youth with Empathy Education’, inspiring the practice and culture of empathy in educational spheres.
The project brought him international recognition at the Committee on Teaching About the United Nations this year. UN honours academics working or researching on various topics realted to education and global issues every year.
Rashid came in touch with people coming from different cultural backgrounds while attending New York University (NYU) as a Fulbright scholar in the Foreign Language Teaching Assistant programme.
He realised the importance of cultivating and nurturing empathy and spreading it to global spheres.
Rashid believes it is important to stand by a person when in need rather than showing just sympathy.
He thinks we should get rid of our prejudice and share the pain or feelings of others. This particular thought inspired him to introduce incorporation of empathy in educational syllabuses.
Rashid’s project has been incorporated in the curriculum of different courses of English languages at BRAC Institute of Languages. The students try to understand the plight of less privileged people, come up with solutions on how to be more generous with them and have peer group discussions.
“Lack of empathy and understanding are the biggest reasons for the intolerance engulfing the world. That is why I want to work at the grassroots with this project,” said Mamunur Rashid.
"If people have the opportunity to practice empathy from their childhood, even in school, they they will naturally develop respect for difference of opinion and nurture humanitarian qualities. That will bring peace and harmony to the world," he said.
*This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat