x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Early lessons in good leadership

Businessman aims to fill 'empathy gap' in school education.

DUBAI // Inspiration struck Aman Merchant last year when his son Ayan, 7, wrote an essay on why he should be a class leader.

"What got to me was there was no feedback," said Mr Merchant, a Pakistani businessman in Dubai. "Those few children who came forward to lead should have had that energy utilised and developed."

Ayan's British curriculum school has an after-school group to develop skills such as critical thinking, but it has room for only 10 pupils.

So Mr Merchant set up the Future Leadership Academy (Fla), an online initiative that will hold its first sessions next month.

The academy will offer seminars, courses and projects for pupils.

Mr Merchant said when pupils left school they needed skills such as leadership and compassion.

One of the Fla's first workshops will teach children between three and six the concept of empathy, something the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) has identified as missing in leadership.

Other sessions will cover ethical leadership, and right and wrong.

In 2002, Unesco began an initiative to promote social and emotional learning, based on 10 principles of teaching it sent to education ministries in 140 countries.

"Emotional intelligence and empathy are life skills Unesco wants to promote through educational systems," said Dr Christina Gitsaki, who heads Unesco in the UAE.

"Empathy, especially in school education, has been found to prevent bullying and antisocial behaviour, which is a big problem in society these days."

One parent keen for her children to take part is Geetali Bajbai, from India. Mrs Bajbai's two daughters, who are eight and 10, attend Emirates International School, a school she says places more emphasis on leadership skills.

"If your kids aren't extroverted, which most aren't, the schools don't have any means of developing leadership skills," she said. "So with the Fla, these after-school activities will be very useful."

Romshi Sinha was keen to involve her son Anshul, 8, and is now a project manager for the academy.

"I've been trying to put Anshul into a lot of team sports as he has a natural capacity towards teamwork, and we even encouraged him to set up his own groups, which he has done through Facebook already," Mrs Sinha said.

"But it's important for him to have a more structured group that can develop these skills in him. As parents we can only do so much with our limited knowledge and skills."