Stepping into the future of education, a novel approach emerges from the corridors of classrooms where tales of animals and the interconnectedness of life are making young minds more empathetic outlook. This transformative journey, spearheaded by Drs. William Samuels and Nnenna Onuoha-Jackson from The City University of New York, stretches beyond the bounds of traditional education. Their pioneering work is part of a grander vision to bridge cultural divides and cultivate a global ethos of kindness and compassion through education. Partnering with ACTAsia, an internaltional non-profit, and set in schools in cities in eastern China, this initiative marks a significant leap towards understanding empathy’s universal language, transcending geographical and cultural barriers.

In their groundbreaking study showcased in the International Journal of Educational Research Open, Drs. Samuels and Onuoha-Jackson reveal the significant impact of ACTAsia’s “Caring for Life” program on nurturing empathy among young learners. This program, rooted in the ethos of humane education, weaves the delicate threads of life’s interconnectedness into the fabric of education, aiming to foster a sense of compassion and responsibility towards animals, fellow humans, and the environment. As part of a broader research effort that spans continents, from the bustling cities of China and Pakistan to the diverse landscapes of North America, this study underscores a global commitment to redefining educational paradigms.

Understanding others’ feelings and sharing in those emotions are a big part of fostering prosocial behavior, essential for harmonious interactions throughout life. The work of Drs. Samuels and Onuoha-Jackson delves into the effectiveness of integrating stories about animals and the environment into school lessons, a method that promises to enhance empathetic growth in children. By embedding these narratives within the curriculum, the “Caring for Life” program underscores our shared existence with the natural world, aiming to cultivate a generation that holds empathy as a guiding principle.

Reflecting on the broader impact of their research, Dr. Samuels shared that, “the capacity to understand and share in others’ feelings holds great promise for improving interpersonal relationships across the globe.” He emphasizes the study’s focus on both the cognitive and affective—the “intellectucual” and “emotional”—domains of empathy, illustrating the comprehensive approach taken to understand and nurture empathy’s multifaceted nature in children from various cultural backgrounds.

The outcomes from this randomized control study not only highlight a significant enhancement in empathy but also contribute to a dialogue that transcends cultural and geographical boundaries. Dr. Samuels pointed out the practical significance of their work, stating that, “[t]hrough animal and nature-themed content, a school program can effectively enhance human-directed empathy among young students.” This statement resonates with the essence of their research, which is anchored in the belief that education can serve as a powerful conduit for fostering global empathy and cooperation, especially in addressing pressing issues like the climate crisis.

The implications of this study extend beyond the classroom walls, suggesting a scalable and impactful model for fostering empathy and caring behavior on a global scale. By demonstrating significant improvements in empathy among participants, the research of Drs. Samuels and Onuoha-Jackson underscores the potential of humane education to contribute to the comprehensive development of children across diverse cultural contexts. As empathy plays a pivotal role in building strong relationships and maintaining societal harmony, programs like “Caring for Life” emerge as crucial steps towards nurturing a future generation that champions compassion and empathy.

Journal Reference

William Ellery Samuels, Nnenna Onuoha-Jackson, “Learning to care: An in-school humane education program improves affective and cognitive empathy among lower-elementary students,” International Journal of Educational Research Open, Volume 5, 2023, ISSN 2666-3740, DOI:

About The Author

Dr. William Samuels is an assistant professor of research and biostatistics in the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing in New York City. He earned his Ph.D. in psychometrics and experimental psychology at the University of Texas and his Master’s in animal learning from the same. Before returning to academia, Dr. Samuels worked as the director of humane education at the ASPCA; he is still very active in the animal welfare and animal-assisted interventions communities, serving on the boards of several non-profit organizations and collaborating with researchers and practitioners in Asia, South Asia, Europe, and North America.

His research centers on using careful measurement in field-based research both to understand how to promote kindness and compassion, especially in children and adolescents and how people can overcome adversity to thrive. Dr. Samuels investigates resilience primarily through the lens of executive functioning among disadvantaged adolescents; he investigates the developments of prosociality and empathy through animal- and nature-based educational and service learning programs for children in diverse cultures.