Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), a process through which individuals learn to recognize and manage their emotions, develop empathy, and make responsible decisions, has been found to have considerable positive impacts on students and teachers by a plethora of studies . While much of the extant research highlights the value of SEL in driving students’ individual development and self-empowerment, what remains under-explored though is the potential of SEL in advancing an education which aims at the transformation of the wider society. Global Citizenship Education (GCED) is a quintessential example of such education, which targets preparing students to become active global citizens who voluntarily take the responsibility of addressing inequalities and social injustice.
So why is it crucial to look into the under-explored area of SEL — reconsidering the significance of the SEL elements in GCED? And how can SEL be effectively and critically utilised to support the implementation of GCED?
Utilizing SEL to Teach Students How to Engage with Controversial Topics
For an education that aims at addressing inequalities and injustice, teaching controversial or sensitive topics is inevitable. The discomfort students might experience, and their resistance to the discussion is a foreseeable challenge that GCED needs to handle carefully. For example, White Fragility, a state of white people’s defensiveness when confronting race discussions, is found to prevail in higher education classrooms. However, by implementing SEL in the classroom, students can be more aware of their emotional responses to controversial topics, better manage their emotions, and hence process those topics with a more open attitude. Evidence has shown that by integrating the SEL approach to discussions around controversial political topics, the level of tensions has reduced, and students are able to have deeper reflections on the topic.
Transformative SEL: For GCED to Build Upon
Transformative SEL, which aims at preparing students with knowledge, attitudes, and skills required for uncovering and addressing the root causes of inequalities in the society, could also well incorporate itself into and leverage the implementation of GCED. While GCED seeks to educate students to become active, engaged, and critical global citizens, transformative SEL builds the foundation for GCED to be more effectively implemented. To be more specific, cultivating transformative SEL allows students to develop the skills and the critical mindsets to analyze the reality and see through the root causes of social problems. Understanding the nature of the inequalities is the first step, and one of the sharpest tools to address inequalities in the world.
How to Implement SEL for a More Effective GCED?
To incorporate and practice SEL in a GCED curriculum, the most important thing to consider is the contents and the teaching practice used.
For SEL elements to be incorporated into a GCED curriculum, the relevant content should be designed in an equal, inclusive and diverse manner. Curriculum content which continues to make the visibility of certain groups dominant while making the others marginalized can by no means cultivate genuine active and insightful global citizens. Inclusive curriculum frameworks can be used to assess the different aspects of the contents, such as if students are able to see themselves reflected in the curriculum.
Educators need to practice SEL for their professional developments before teaching their students how to do so. SEL is synergistic and integral to educators’ development of culturally responsive teaching practices , which ensures the equal learning experience of all students, and that all students feel they are respected and included in the classroom. SEL also empowers educators to increase their awareness of diversity and inclusion, and a critical understanding of the controversial civic topics that they are going to cover in class. Teaching citizenship-related topics demands teachers to put effort into creating a welcoming and safe learning space. This demand can be met by incorporating SEL into teacher education in preparation for teaching GCED, and into the GCED curriculums for students.
Young people, including me, are living in an age that is more globalized than ever. An ideal stage has been set for people to stay connected with people from all over the world and take collaborative actions to bring positive changes to society. To develop social-emotional skills under such a context allows global citizens to appreciate the differences and diversity of voices and opinions, and make the most out of such discordance.