Teaching Kids Empathy: NOT Soft Skills At All

By Shlomo Maital

Shirli Ramon Bracha

   The school year will open in Israel on Wednesday Sept. 1, despite Delta.  An unusual lesson will greet some of the kids in Sderot, a city in the south of Israel (often in the news, as it undergoes rocket attacks from Gaza).

    The children will sit in a circle.  A baby will be there, and they will be invited to sing to him, play with him, interact with him.  These interactive sessions will take place during the whole school year, once a week.  Regular classes will be halted, and the kids will sit around in a circle with the mother and the baby, with the teacher present.  They will observe how the baby responds, and reacts to his mother.  Over the course of the year, they will watch how the baby develops, acquires skills – and they will become close friends with him.

    This program was initiated by an NGO, “V’ahavta”, and is being replicated in Tel Aviv.  The head of the Education Administration in Tel Aviv, Shirli Rimon Bracha, stresses how we need to use the right terminology.  “When you call skills ‘soft’,”  she says, “you diminish their importance at once.  Without empathy, without human contacts, with persistence, kids cannot succeed in their studies.  Without resilience and optimism, they lack high aspiration.  We need to call these skills,  “critical skills”, not “soft skills”  “. 

     I would call them “core skills”.  Why? Because increasingly, employers are seeking them – and they are largely untaught, unexplored, in conventional school settings. 

     According to McKinsey, and based on their comprehensive global survey, here are the 10 core skills employers seek today:  complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgment and decision making, service orientation, negotiation, cognitive flexibility.   

     How many of us parents help kids with these skills? How many schools?

  • Based on an article by Education Correspondent Lior Dattel, Haaretz daily newspaper, August 27.