Social and emotional learning is crucial for young learners

Social and emotional learning is crucial for young learners

Parents must encourage instructors to create a well-structured classroom environment with a positive climate, an organised routine and develop necessary study skills.

social and emotional learning for kids
Children are increasingly prone to emotional isolation. (Source: Dreamstime)

For pre-teen students, it is necessary for parents to collaborate with the school in helping them gain the inner confidence to ward off emotional challenges.

By Beas Dev Ralhan

The intent of true education is not to fill the minds of learners with information, but to develop in them the desire and ability to critically reflect upon the phenomena around them. This demands the growth of character and a sense of self in learners, so that they can find resources without and within themselves to solve their own problems and of the society at large. This is the purpose of Social and Emotional Learning, the process of applying knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, empathise with others, establish and maintain relationships, set and achieve positive goals and make responsible decisions.

Parents must collaborate with the school

Nowadays, children are more prone to emotional isolation due to decreasing attention at home, exacerbated by further psychological violence in the form of bullying, punishment from teachers, peer violence and sexual harassment. While organisations such as the UNICEF are working on providing a number of measures to curb this growing problem, such as introducing laws for the safety of schoolchildren, the organisation has highlighted the greater need for change within the school setting itself. This is where the role of SEL in schools is paramount. For pre-teen students, it is also necessary for the parents to collaborate with the school in helping them gain the inner confidence to ward off other emotional challenges. Most importantly, it teaches students who they are and the skills necessary to handle all kinds of challenges that they may face in future.

Research says that the implementation of social and emotional learning as an integral part of K-12 curriculum leads to reduced violent tendencies in children, improved academic achievement and a greater ability to tackle social challenges. Students feel secure in their learning environment and are respected and can easily thrive in educational environments and the wider world. It helps to break stereotypical thinking and challenge the prevalent social-cultural bias that has proven to be destructive to world peace.


Learning to communicate

Self-awareness and empathy go hand in hand. This is best achieved by encouraging learners to speak about themselves to others. One’s perception of oneself is often coloured by others’ view of him or her, which may be crystallised by a singular point of view. Therefore, it is important for learners to be aware about all facets of their self. Communication plays an important role in this, which can be achieved by one-on-one interactions, group discussions and, in a recent development, via AI-powered digital classroom assistants.

Management of emotions are an important part of SEL, which allows learners to control emotions in a way so as to serve their needs and help them reach their goals easily. Students often find themselves in situations where it is difficult to check emotions such as anger, frustration and sadness, which is not conducive to learning. Additionally, students with psychological and learning issues, trauma and even attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may find it difficult to keep their emotions in check and focus. To overcome this, parents must encourage instructors to create a well-structured classroom environment with a positive climate, an organised routine and develop necessary study skills. Building resilience to one’s own emotions is not easy for children, and scaffolding the process — a three-step process of identifying the stressors, gradually coming up with ways of dealing with the stressors and maintenance of the coping skills — can make it easy for them.

It is also important to use positive behaviour modelling so as to influence the young minds in maintaining a proper code of conduct. To this end, value education is gradually becoming an important part of the K-12 curriculum.

Life lessons through storytelling

There are other ways to inculcate life lessons in students, such as fictional-character therapy, in which students analyse fictional characters and the relatability with fictional characters, enhances their emotional intelligence. Other approaches such as restorative justice in the form of peer-conflict circles can also impact student behaviour in a better way than the traditional methods of disciplining students. This is because this practice allows students to resolve problems in a more peaceful, mature and collaborative method, which is better for their self-esteem and psychological safety. The practice of a high-quality recess with opportunities for students to navigate through the socio-cultural and emotional terrain, is also beneficial for their success in their future careers and relationships.

Teaching kids social skills

Social involvement comprises both social awareness and social skills, and the first step towards either is understanding others and communicating with them to form a functional community. While social media is helpful in both, it has several detrimental effects such as cyberbullying and resultant depression. Hence, SEL instructors have come up with several other ways to foster social involvement. For instance, a few American schools have implemented a pedagogy called Student Taking Action Together (STAT) to help middle school students plan and take social action within the existing social studies curriculum to promote active civic participation among students. Sharing one’s own perspective on another student’s views via paper tweet boards and group writing assignments can also help them understand and respect differences.

The most critical stage in SEL is making responsible decisions, which requires cooperative learning and project-based learning as an integral part of the school curriculum. The more the students participate in such real-world scenarios, the more habituated they become in making ethical and constructive choices to positively impact their field of study as well as social behaviour pertaining to their project. This creates a student-centred environment for their opinions to be expressed and valued and encourages the exploration of rational thought for building strategies.

A partnership between parents and teachers

The need to incorporate SEL is being rapidly felt in schools across the world. The primary reason is that it has a transformative effect on the learners’ development in all spheres, especially in an age where the learning community is plagued with anxiety and stress due to myriad academic or socio-cultural reasons. In particular, pre-teen learners are the most impeded by the social and emotional challenges due to the lack of confidence and resources to handle emotional upheavals during those years. Moreover, they are typically the most influenced by their bio-social environment as well. In countries such as US and England, it is already an important part of the K-12 experience, promoting fruitful collaborations and building an optimal learning environment via a healthy learning community. The implementation of SEL requires a sound strategy on part of the school regarding its inclusion in all school practices, curriculum choices and classroom instruction, and the school’s partnerships with the students’ families and communities so as to create a welcoming, caring and highly participatory atmosphere for learning.

Becoming aware of the prospects of SEL in India

Parents must be aware of that fact that while SEL has been implemented in the United States and parts of Europe, it is yet to be incorporated as a mandatory part of the K-12 curriculum in India. However, private organisations in India are working towards promoting SEL in Indian schools. For instance, Mind and Heart Education is an organisation that helps children across 700 schools in India to support more productive and sustainable communities. Recently, the Government of India has announced a revision of the CBSE curriculum to include important co-curricular activities, one of which is value/moral education. This will nurture the students’ emotional development, bringing forth far-reaching effects beyond the classroom and helping them gain a positive and all-round educational experience.

(The writer is Co-founder and CEO, Next Education India Pvt Ltd.)