Tel Aviv University campus.
(photo credit: PR)
A Tel Aviv University exchange program between Jewish and Arab elementary school students is producing “sustainable tolerance” as it works to combat racism and prejudice, according to a study published by the university in the August 2016 issue of the Journal of School Psychology.
“We’ve taught Israeli Jewish and Israeli Palestinian children to be compassionate and empathetic – not only toward their friends in the program, but also toward people outside the classroom,” said Dr. Rony Berger of the Stress, Crisis and Trauma Program at TAU ’s Bob Shapell School of Social Work, who, together with Dr.
Hisham Abu-Raiya, also of the Shapell School, leads the Extended Class Exchange Program (ECEP).
Geared toward third- and fourthgrade Jewish and Arab pupils, the program was launched with the Arab-Jewish Community Center in Jaffa and the Tel Aviv Municipality to respond to growing tensions resulting from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its bimonthly meetings and classes are based on direct and structured contact, a curriculum that promotes mutual respect and acceptance of the “other,” and skill training that focuses on empathy and perspective-taking – understanding other people’s thoughts, feelings, desires, motivations and intentions.
“People don’t want to interact with people they feel uncomfortable around. In this research, we targeted various skills such as perspective-taking, empathy and compassion that can be taught to promote sustainable tolerance,” explained Berger.
The program featured bimonthly “school days” that included art activities, classes promoting respect and acceptance of the “other,” as well as empathy and perspective- taking training directed by the students’ homeroom teachers and the six facilitators.
“Contact alone is not enough,” said Abu-Raiya. “You need a system that includes a variety of different approaches. We demonstrated that giving the children direct contact with each other, providing unbiased knowledge about the children and their communities and building perspective- taking and empathy-nurturing skills have long-term positive effects.”
These effects, Abu-Raiya said, were still maintained 15 months after the end of the program even while the region was engulfed by violence.
“This highlights the ‘hate-preventative’ potential of the program to prevent stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination that often lead to hostilities between ethnic groups,” he added.
To examine the effectiveness of the program, researchers conducted two studies. The first, on 262 fourthgrade pupils from Tel Aviv and Jaffa, found a dramatically higher inclination to interact with students from other ethnic groups, more positive thoughts about “the other,” and less emotional prejudice.
The second study, conducted on 322 third- and fourth-grade Jewish and Israeli Arab students, included new sessions on empathy and perspective-taking training and assessed the extended impact of the program.
“All of our results showed that the ECEP decreased stereotyping and discriminatory tendencies toward the other and increased positive feelings and readiness for social contact with the other upon termination of the program,” said Berger.
Abu-Raiya explained that empirical support for the ECEP is particularly important in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “given the evidence that negative views and stereotypes held by both Arab and Jews fuel the animosity between these ethnic groups.”
The researchers believe the ECEP also can be used in other regions characterized by ethnic tensions and violent conflict.