Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions.
Today, in an ever-diversifying world, the classroom is where students are often first exposed to people who range from different backgrounds, hold differing beliefs, and have unique capabilities. SEL accounts for these differences and helps students attain an equal footing. That is important because people are not born knowing how to manage emotions, solve problems, and get along with others. These skills have to be developed, and schools can help students acquire them. It is also important to know that some students may need targeted support to fully benefit from SEL, as it is also beneficial to the academic performance of students and the overall achievement of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
There are five core SEL competencies; one, self-awareness in recognizing the relationship between our emotions and behavior; two, self-management to control and own our thoughts, emotions, and actions in various situations, as well as setting and working toward goals; three, social awareness in acting with empathy and ethically; four, relationship skills to build and maintain healthy relationships with people from a diverse range of backgrounds and; five, making responsible decisions.
The question we ask ourselves is how we can develop these competencies? One such avenue could be our formal education system. Recent experiences with SEL in schools show promise in improving pro-social behavior and inculcating actions that go beyond just the self but towards the collective goal. This, however, suggests a radical change in our education systems. We are advocating here for a whole-brain approach to our education systems whereby the focus shifts from purely building intellectual intelligence to one where there is a balance of both intellectual and emotional intelligence.
As mentioned earlier, individuals equipped with the core competencies of SEL are able to improve themselves and their surroundings, including the achievement of SDGs. SDG 4 promises the achievement of quality education and citing target 4.7 that ensures all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including among others through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and appreciation of cultural diversity and of cultures contribution to sustainable development.
Challenges facing countries and different schools may vary widely, bringing in a set of roadblocks in implementing SEL programs. A Vietnamese study highlights some of the challenges of SEL integration such as the incompatibility between the current curriculum and the teachers’ pedagogical capacity; the perceived difficulties in integrating SEL into educational activities; the limited focus on understanding the students’ psychology; and students’ inadequate development of social-emotional competence.
Currently, 193 out of 195 countries globally adopted the SDGs; this is encouraging as SEL can be taught not only in these countries but governments, international organizations, schools, educators, parents, and students are able to partner and participate in the implementation of SEL programs as competency programs to promote sustainable development both of the individual and the society.
Relevant case studies and research can be made in schools and neighboring school environments by ministries of education to make efficient and effective SEL integration in various areas in the country. International organizations and policymakers play a critical role in creating and promoting policies that are beneficial to SEL integration and effective competency transference to the relevant audience.
Apart from the stakeholders, reworking learning materials and textbooks to align with SEL competencies allow for greater implementation of these competencies as students and teachers spend the most time in schools going over textbooks. Additionally, equipping teachers, policymakers and SEL advocates with these competencies allows for fruitful discussions and debate on implementing SEL programs in schools.
There are benefits of SEL programs in schools but the major challenge is in the effective and efficient integration and implementation not only in one school but on a national and global scale. However, understanding the vital importance of each stakeholder in the process, taking further steps in taking action towards strategies that promote SEL programs make all the difference towards the sustainable development of the individual and society.