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Culture of Empathy Builder:  Patrick Dolan

Activating Social Empathy in Schools
12 week empathy program for secondary schools

Patrick Dolan

Patrick Dolan is a professor and director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre at  the National University of Ireland Galway. Pat is co-developing and testing the Activating Social Empathy program. Social Empathy Education aims to develop and mainstream Social Empathy Education program in schools and in teacher education.

The program is structured around 4 key learning principles:

1. UNDERSTANDING EMPATHY: Students learn what empathy is and why it is important.


2. PRACTICING EMPATHY: Students practice and strengthen their empathy skills.


3. OVERCOMING THE BARRIERS: Students discuss the barriers to empathy and identify ways they can overcome these obstacles.


4. PUTTING EMPATHY INTO ACTION: Students take part in a social action project of their own choosing.



Activating Social Empathy in Schools: 12 week empathy program
Patrick Dolan interviewed by Edwin Rutsch and Marta Neto
View Video On Facebook or On YouTube 


Articles and Videos


The Youth Empathy and Social Values (YES) Project has three components.


‘Actor Cillian Murphy, our patron and friend, has been incredibly supportive and this has culminated in Ionbhá’
October 02 2022
Professor Pat Dolan is joint founder and director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre in the University of Galway, and co-editor of Ionbhá, a book on empathy. He lives in Galway


Cillian Murphy: ‘Irish people are afraid of emotion. Acting saved me from that’
Ireland needs ‘an empathy revolution’, says the actor, who is part of a ground-breaking educational campaign on emotional awareness

Activating Social Empathy

Activating Social Empathy is an interactive, student-focused, social and emotional learning programme, which was developed by Dr Ciara Boylan and Professor Pat Dolan in 2017 as a resource tool for post-primary schools. The aim of the programme is to improve empathy skills and foster positive peer relations among secondary school students. The activating social empathy programme is designed to form part of the Junior Cycle Wellbeing Programme and, in line with these guidelines, sets out to help students “build life skills and develop a strong sense of connectedness to their school and to their community”. ...


Empathy in education: ‘It’s just as important as learning maths’
Actor Cillian Murphy promotes plan to bring empathy training to secondary schools
by Carl O'Brien 
It’s one reason why Murphy has opted to get involved in a new project being developed by Prof Pat Dolan, director of the Unesco Child and Family Research Centre at NUI Galway, on promoting empathy among schoolchildren. Empathy, says Dolan, is key to preventing bullying behaviour, tackling racism, promoting understanding and improving social connectedness. “Empathy isn’t sympathy,” says Dolan. “It’s about valuing, respecting and understanding another person’s view.”


New Pilot Education Programme on Social Empathy

“We are on the cusp of the development of empathy as a core part of education systems which will benefit not just youth but civic society as a whole.” Prof Pat Dolan

Youth Empathy Day was held at NUI Galway on 1 February 2018. The event brought together 200 Transition Year students from six secondary schools participating in the new pilot education programme, Activating Social Empathy.  The programme supports adolescents to learn empathy in schools.


How empathy education in schools can benefit everyone
Tuesday, 24 Apr 2018
By Pat Dolan and Cillian Murphy, UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre
"We believe social empathy is now a crucial global issue that needs further discussion and attention in our society"

Book: The Routledge Handbook of Global Child Welfare
Chapter 25: Activated Social Empathy in child welfare and youth development

Pat Dolan, James Kenny and Danielle Kennan


Actor Cillian Murphy and NUI Galway Launch New Empathy Education Initiative

23 January 2020

UNESCO Chair Professor Pat Dolan and actor Cillian Murphy today (Thursday, 23 January) launched a new initiative to introduce Empathy education for secondary school students in Ireland. The programme, Activating Social Empathy, is part of a suite of work undertaken by a team of researchers at NUI Galway that has developed a concrete basis for understanding empathy education among adolescents. A major focus of the UNESCO Chair’s work both nationally and internationally, is the role of empathy in the development of social understanding and its potential to enable young people to foster better social responsibility, civic behaviour and critically, action.:

Time to Take Empathy Education in Secondary Schools Seriously | Pat Dolan | TEDxGalway 

Prof Pat Dolan, Director of the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre NUI Galway shares why we have to get real and serious about introducing specific empathy education into secondary schools and we need to do it now. Sharing recent evidence from neuroscience which shows that when children and youth are taught empathy and understanding their academic achievements improve – he states this alone should be enough for schools to embrace it.  More importantly, in a world where narcissism, hate speech, racism and self-centred behaviours are increasing through to fears around youth violent extremism albeit unspoken in Ireland, the solution of developing altruism in youth through empathy education in school and community settings may be key to the future stability of Irish society.



UNESCO CFRC Conference 2017 Highlights

Youth Empathy Day at the UNESCO Child and Family Research Centre


Study on empathy; some key findings 



Mark Brennan & Pat Dolan: Connecting Activated Social Empathy in Youth
Sep 14, 2016
Drs. Mark Brennan and Pat Dolan focus their talk on youth and their role in community and building empathy. They have recruited young people to ask and answer compelling research questions in their program: Youth as Researchers. Young people are an underused resource when it comes to change and advocating for themselves. They were speaking at the 2016 Roots of Empathy Research Symposium.