Time to establish emotional resilience

The current crisis caused by the pandemic is a good opportunity to establish the relevance of SEL.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The education sector was one of the first to react and respond to the pandemic by shutting down institutions to ensure the safety of the students. In mid-April 2020, at the peak of the pandemic, nearly 1.57 billion students — more than 90% of total enrolled learners — were affected as educational institutions closed across 200 countries. According to a report by UNESCO, in India, 28.6 crore children from pre-primary to secondary levels have been affected by the pandemic.

With regular education having been disrupted for close to a year due to the lockdown, the focus has largely been on learning loss. Experts feel that the mental health consequences, the resulting isolation and the socio-economic changes brought about by the pandemic have also to be addressed. This will help mitigate a larger mental health disaster in the making. This is where Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) can play a significant role.

Usually on the fringes of formal education, SEL is yet to earn its rightful place in the Indian education system. The New Delhi-based UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) sees this crisis as the right opportunity for SEL to establish its relevance. The institutes’s initiatives are designed to mainstream SEL in education systems, innovate digital pedagogies and to put youth as global citizens at the centre of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development in order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 4.7. In this context, Dr. Anantha Duraiappah, Director of the UNESCO MGIEP, shares his views.

Dr. Anantha Duraiappah, Director of the UNESCO MGIEP

Dr. Anantha Duraiappah, Director of the UNESCO MGIEP   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Challenges ahead
  • Implementing SEL at a system level is complex and multifaceted. Obtaining ‘buy-in’ from all levels of the system, including administrators, parents, teachers and the students, can be difficult.
  • One key ingredient, which has been given little attention, is ensuring that the teacher’s social and emotional competence and well-being is nourished and promoted.
  • There is relatively little knowledge and research on the ways in which SEL can be infused into academic subjects. Most extant SEL programmes focus on primary and elementary school children. There is an overall paucity of SEL programmes for secondary students.
  • A new and more personalised approach to learner assessment is critical to minimise the stress and anxiety caused by present education systems. Therefore, assessments, including those for SEL, must be benchmarked within the individual and not against others.

What is the relevance of SEL in the context of the Indian education ecosystem?

SEL is the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set, and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for the self and others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. SEL also helps build emotional resilience, which is the need of the hour today.

For long, SEL has been an unrecognised concept and missing from the Indian education system, until the recent National Education Policy was announced. This approach will help develop more resilience among individuals, while also inculcating empathy and compassion to help them live in peace with themselves by tackling stress, anxiety and depression and with each other by understanding the other better and with Nature.

How can SEL practices become a part of mainstream education?

There is a confluence of research from multiple studies showing that students who participate in SEL programmes demonstrate significantly improved social and emotional competencies, attitudes, and behavioural adjustment. In addition, research indicates that they also outperformed those who did not participate in on indices of academic achievement by 11 percentile points.

Integrating SEL activities within classroom lessons and as part of core subject areas can be a good starting point. SEL must be woven into all aspects of learning and teaching in schools and not as an independent subject; i.e. it must be practised when teaching mathematics, science, history, civics, geography ... are taught. In this way, we build the intellectual and emotional intelligence simultaneously.

Are SEL programmes gaining more prominence now, especially due to the pandemic?

People are gradually understanding the importance of adopting a holistic approach in education. This is particularly true during the pandemic that changed the way we functioned. In this period of unprecedented challenges, social distancing, and uncertainty, children arelikely in need of extra social and emotional support. The new-normal of learning has further increased their fear, anxiety, unease, and stress. As social distancing and learning at home continue, they may experience the negative impacts of isolation. This has further accelerated the need for SEL.

Is the digital space a suitable platform for the delivery of SEL programmes, considering that many beneficiaries are from the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS)?

The digital divide is narrowing and, frankly, we must see a future where every individual is connected digitally. The possession of a digital device is a must just as printed books are a must today. It is the future and not including beneficiaries from EWS communities is further disempowering them. Rather than arguing that EWS communities are not able to access online learning systems, we must be arguing for programmes that ensure they have access to these options.

What are the lessons to be learnt from the pandemic in the context of SEL programmes?

The COVID-19 pandemic has alerted us to the importance of emotional resiliency. Experts have predicted that the frequency of such major disruptions will only increase. Turbulent times requires us to not only hone our intellectual and rational skills but also our emotional resiliency skills. It is a necessary condition if we are to build peaceful and sustainable societies. Remember, just having an intellectual understanding of SEL is not sufficient. We must be given the tools to practice mindfulness, empathy and compassion.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 2:42:43 AM |

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