How to educate the heart

23 mar. 2018 |

The great philosophers across the ages have always known that the heart needs educating.

“Educating your mind without educating your heart is no education at all,” said the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.

The spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama picked up the theme a couple of millennia later: “It is vital that when educating our children’s brains we do not neglect to educate their hearts by nurturing their compassionate nature,” he said.

Indeed, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says that one goal of education is to “promote understanding, tolerance and friendship of all national, racial or religious groups”.

Some would argue that this area of education has been somewhat neglected in many schools which are exam-oriented and driven by the need to learn facts rather than emotional maturity.  

But in the view of Varkey Foundation Founder, Sunny Varkey, the need to foster diversity and tolerance is greater than ever, as mass migration has increased tensions around the world, while politics has become increasingly divisive in recent years.   

A lasting impact

“Without tolerance, our young people will not be prepared for 2030. Our graduates must be people of good character, secure in their belief and values and with empathy and genuine concern for others, His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Cabinet member and the Minister of State for Tolerance in the UAE told the Global Education & Skills Forum 2018.

“The challenge facing educators is daunting – technologies that impact teaching will come and go. But it is the values that educators instil in their students that will have a lasting impact,” he said.

The rise of artificial intelligence is changing almost every aspect of life, including both the future of work and the future of education.

Technology is reaching such levels of sophistication that it is capable not only of manual tasks but cognitive ones too, putting a wide range of jobs are at risk.

One leading British educationalist has predicted that robots will begin to replace teachersin the classroom within 10 years, as part of a revolution in one-to-one learning that can be adapted to each individual child.

But others disagree, predicting that the human aspect of of teaching will actually be needed more than ever.  

The importance of interaction

Ambarish Mitra, the chief executive of the augmented reality start-up Blippar believes that visual learning will soon overtake conventional computer learning which requires reading and typing, saying that we see and understand a picture far more quickly than we are able to describe it with words.

But even he doesn’t think teachers will become irrelevant. This was no doubt a relief to hundred of teacher attending the Global Education & Skills Forum in 2018.

“In no point in the future will the role of teachers disappear,” says Mr Mitra, adding that there could even be a flow of people from other professions who retrain as teachers.

He argues that routine tasks such as checking homework will be taken over by machines. But that the actual job of teaching will become a lot more engaged with kindness and empathy.

Professor Justine Cassell from the Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Institutealso warns of the dystopia of allowing computers to become a replacement for teachers, saying that  interaction with children is paramount.

Nevertheless, she says technology can be enormously beneficial as long as it used in the right way and with the right intentions.

Listening to technology

She cited a study of children with Asperger’s who were being taught how to interact with virtual children online. While this idea might initially seem rather worrying, with the potential to further isolate the children and stop them participating fully in society, the end result actually had the opposite effect.

“The children with Asperger’s who had learnt their social skills from virtual children were better able to socialise with real children,” she said, highlighting that it is the purpose of technology that needs to be right.  

“Don’t let technology tell you what to do. Don’t be a listener to technology, but listen to children. Make it happen the way you want it to happen,” she says.

Greater socio-emotional skills not only create better rounded individuals who contribute to peaceful societies, they may also help a person’s overall intelligence and makes them highly desirable in the workplace.

Time to revamp our schools

Professor Ricardo Paes de Barros of the Ayrton Senna Institue at Insper argues that many workplaces such as hospitals, factories and stock exchanges have changed almost beyond recognition over the past two centuries. But education has not been through such a revolution, with the role of the teacher as a disseminator of knowledge to groups of children staying broadly the same.

Perhaps now is the time to overhaul classrooms and the role of the teacher. But not to replace them with technology. But rather to help them to adapt to the need to teach kindness, empathy and love rather than facts.

Teachers are all modifying the socio-emotional skills of children all the time, says Prof Paes de Barros.

“But what we need are well-structured, explicit and intentional programmes to make this more effective.”

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