Last week the Education Society, Eton’s Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning (CIRL) and Society Impact Society welcomed David Johnson, reader in Comparative and International Education at St Anthony’s College Oxford.

With a focus on ‘education, purpose, and human flourishing in uncertain times’ Dr Johnson argued that global phenomena such as war, pandemics, or economic downturns create uncertainty. If this uncertainty affects us materially, there is a tendency for human beings respond by searching for hope. In contrast, if events do not affect us directly and instead affect others, we develop a sense of collective empathy. Dr Johnson suggested that searching for these points of uncertainty is essential to human flourishing, using his work in the slums of Faisalabad in Pakistan, where he witnessed incredibly resilient communities, as an example.

Whilst schools and other educational institutions can teach traditional virtues such as ambition and magnanimity, genuine empathy comes from situated learning, where people experience events and their impact. Rather than separating skills and character traits through a curriculum, we need to recognise that they are intertwined.

You can read more about Dr Johnson’s work here