Consequently, anxiety disorders are widely prevalent among school children in India (Deb et al, 2010; Khemka & Rathod, 2016; Karanda et al, 2018). The unforgiving system that requires students to perform to exacting standards have led to various psychological problems like learned helplessness, childhood depression and examination phobia. It has been reported that a student commits suicide every hour in India (Garai, 2020). The problem is worsened by that fact only a small percentage of private schools (3%) employ adequately trained counsellors (Gaur, 2019).
Moreover, the overwhelming urge for higher test scores has created a space for some schools to indulge in competitive marketing over test scores. This ensures that while the high scoring students are treated as assets the others are just liabilities. The resultant outcome is the creation of a neo-class divide between the so-called achievers and laggards. The approach leads to bad school outcomes with students feeling humiliated and ashamed for their below par performance.
The system is unforgiving and does not allow for mistakes thus leading to low levels of psychological safety.
In order to create a more humane system of school education, it is widely felt that the Indian school system needs to be more empathic towards children. Empathic school systems not only lead to better school outcomes but in turn create more empathic societies. Some Indian schools like Birla Open Minds International School, Hyderabad; Army Public School, Hisar; Podar International School, Powai, Mumbai and several Delhi Public Schools (Varanasi; Nagpur; Nashik; Sitamarhi; Haldwani: Rudrapur) have recognized this aspect and taken the first step towards creating empathy driven school systems. These schools have conducted pilot studies of a new diagnostic tool which seeks to assess the levels of empathy within school organizations. The tool named School Empathy Audit Battery (SEAB) was pilot tested among over 2300 students in nine reputed Indian schools during the months of July-September, 2022.
The School Empathy Audit Battery uses an artificial Intelligence algorithm and a machine learning model to assess empathic input variables: school culture, leadership, justice system as well as an outcome variable psychological safety. Each of the components contain several subscales, the scores of which are also reported. Moreover, the SEAB Empathy Diagnostic System reports certain critical indicators of student wellbeing; Critical wellbeing score, Confidence index and Critical Trust Index. In addition, the diagnostic system uses a machine learning model to identify the variables that are the best predictors for student motivation and psychological safety in school. The results from the pilot studies were promising. Siddharth Rajgarhia, a well-known educationist and the director of Delhi Public Schools; Nashik, Nagpur and Varanasi concurred “The seab is a great tool to understand what’s going on in the school. It can help a school leader identify various aspects which are very difficult to assess but contribute heavily to the school climate. We have found a lot of value when we conducted the seab. The seab gave us an opportunity to reflect and learn from our mistakes.” Similar thoughts were echoed by the Principal of Birla Open Minds International School, Hyderabad, Ms Syamali Chowdhury who said “The School Empathy Diagnostic Survey is a wonderful exercise sharing insights of the school’s learning culture. The School Empathy Audit Report is a reflection where the school is and where the school should be. The Audit is conducted as a machine learning model to identify the variables that are the most important influencers for motivation and psychological safety of students in the response group. The evaluation framework is based on a blind study and hence the privacy of the participating students is maintained.” The Principal of Army public School, Hisar was happy with the results of the SEAB study and observed “lt was a wonderful and enlightening experience for team ApS, Hisar.”
While the majority of the respondents within the pilot studies included high school students of grades 8-12 (age 14-18) a separate study was conducted in one school among students of grades 6-7. Interestingly there was no significant variation of scores between the responses of the high school students and the younger students from the same school. A meta-analysis of the results from the pilot study involving the nine schools revealed that over 89% of the respondents felt safe at school, likewise almost 89% of the respondents felt they were highly motivated at work in school. Over 81% of the respondents reported that they were helped by teachers if they had any physical discomfort in school and over 84% reported that the school principal never insulted or demeaned them. The resultant positive atmosphere evidently led to enhanced inclusiveness and a sense of belonging with over 80% of the respondents reporting that they felt they belonged to their school. Some results of the study are presented in Table 1. An analysis conducted through a machine learning model revealed that Psychological Safety of Students within this study was strongly influenced by whether all children are treated equally in school, schools’ encouragement of co-curricular activities and whether the schools’ authorities and teachers were respectful of the parents. A similar study to identify the most influential variables affecting student motivation in school revealed that psychological safety was the most influential predictor for students’ motivation at work in school followed by the manner in which teachers correct the mistakes that students might make (warm and friendly approach to correction of mistakes leads to enhanced student motivation at work). A very large percentage (89.68%) of those who took part in the exercise reported that their school authorities and teachers were very respectful of their parents. However, it should be clarified that if the current results are contextualized within the existing school system in India it could be inferred that the results from the pilot study might represent the higher thresholds of benchmarking empathic approaches, since the schools that took part in the pilot study were already taking empathic perspectives seriously and were aware of the importance of empathy in school systems. The same might not present as the case in many other schools.
||Percentage of positive responses
|Feel Safe at School
|Teachers help during physical discomfort
|Teachers don’t write bad comments in notebooks
|Sense of belonging to school
|Teachers encourage Students to ask questions in class
|Teachers know students’ name
|Teachers encourage students to do well
|Teachers help students when they need help
Table 1: Selected results from the pilot study of SEAB
It is observed that in countries like India just as in the other countries of South Asia school performances and outcomes are solely judged through the performance of students in standardized examinations and/or through their successes in later life. The SEAB arguably presents with the potential to create an alternate approach to evaluate school efficacy and performance. The current model of evaluating schools might not present as rational and leaves the system open to manipulation. The fundamental problem with judging schools solely on the performance of students presents within the possibility that the schools might usurp the credit for the student’s good performance while apportioning the blame for students’ mediocre performance solely on the students and absolving themselves of all responsibilities in such cases. The most important stakeholder in the school system is the student and if the students are empowered to evaluate their schools through a scientific research driven method, it creates an opportunity for functional and objective evaluation of school efficacy. Such evaluations might then be correlated with student performance to enhance school outcomes. The SEAB might also be used by governments and no-profit agencies to evaluate school systems efficiently and effectively. In this regard it is pertinent to state that the SEAB battery can be used effectively and efficiently among most if not all types of schools; private as well as government schools. In fact, since empathy and empathic school systems design are universal prerequisites for functional and effective school education systems, the SEAB presents with the potential to diagnose and sustain empathic school systems all over world. However, the most important value of the SEAB Empathy Diagnostic System lies within the philosophy of empowering students and thus minimizing the asymmetric power balance that defines most school organizations.
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Deb, S., Chatterjee, P., Walsh, K. (2010). Anxiety among high school students in India: Comparisons across gender, school type, social strata and perceptions of quality time with parents. Australian Journal of Educational & Developmental Psychology, 10:18– 31.
Garai, S. (2020). Student suicides rising, 28 lives lost every day. Retrieved October 9, 2020 from https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/student-suicides-rising-28-lives-….
Gaur, P. (2019). Indian Schools Need Counsellors As Mental Illness Strikes Early In Children. Retrieved September 30, 2022 from https://www.indiatimes.com/news/india/indian-schools-need-counsellors-as-mental-illness-strikes-early-in-children-367015.html
Karande, S., et al (2018). Anxiety symptoms in regular school students in Mumbai City, India. Journal of Postgraduate Medicine, 64(2): 92-97. Doi: 10.4103/jpgm.JPGM_445_17
Khemka, N. O., Rathod, R. R. (2016). A Study of Academic Anxiety of Secondary School Students. TechnoLEARN,6(1):31-34.
Nayak, A. (2018). An antidote to rote learning. Retrieved September 29, 2022 from https://www.forbesindia.com/blog/uncategorized/an-antidote-to-rote-learning/
Author Information: Dr. Debarshi Roy is an independent researcher and author on school organizational behaviour. His current research interests include complex adaptive behavioural systems, psychological safety and empathy in school behavioural systems and their relation to school outcomes and student motivation. His books ‘Skinned Knees and ABCs – The complex world of schools’ (Routledge) was released in 2020 and ‘Empathy driven school systems: Nature Concept and Evolution’ (Routledge) was released in January 2022.
Suggested Citation: Debarshi Roy. 2022. ‘Auditing for Empathy- The New Trend in Indian Schools‘, Think Pieces Series No. 30. Education.SouthAsia (https://educationsouthasia.com).