The social isolation caused by school closures due to COVID-19 could have devastating consequences for children and adolescents and puts their mental health and their socio-emotional and cognitive development at risk. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of having socio-emotional skills such as adaptability, empathy and stress management, which are key for facing the uncertainty and the challenges that arise from schools reopening in hybrid modalities. Even if some of these skills have always been essential, the accelerated changes in our society and the current crisis make it more urgent for children and youth to become more resilient and adaptable.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, there is a consensus about the importance of socio-emotional skills, but, are countries incorporating these skills into their learning standards? Are they strengthening their education systems to develop and measure these skills among students and teachers? Our new study Learning for life: The development of socio-emotional skills and the role of teachers addresses these questions for 12 education systems in the region: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico , Peru, Dominican Republic and Uruguay.
We found that, in the last few years, countries have made progress in incorporating socio-emotional skills into their education systems. For example:
• In Costa Rica, the 2015 learning standards include skills associated to socio-emotional development, such as critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration.
• In Uruguay, since 2018 student standardized tests in reading and mathematics, “Aristas”, include a questionnaire on students’ socio-emotional skills.
• In Mexico, the “Construye-T” program, implemented nationwide since 2014, provides socio-emotional learning lessons to be developed in classrooms.
However, we also identified four main challenges for Latin American countries to effectively promote socio-emotional learning in schools:
1. Clearly defining which socio-emotional skills should be developed in each education system and the expected levels of achievement
To effectively incorporate these skills into the learning standards, each country must define specific skills to develop in the education system and set appropriate learning objectives for the student’s age. Almost all the analyzed countries incorporate socio-emotional development into their learning standards, however there is a great heterogeneity in the way socio-emotional skills and the expected levels of achievement are defined.
For example, in the Dominican Republic, 7 fundamental competencies are defined in the curriculum such as problem solving, and logical, creative and critical thinking. For each competency, achievement levels are defined according to each of the education levels (preschool, primary and secondary), along with the respective evaluation criteria. On the other hand, in Brazil, the 2017 the national curriculum (BNCC) includes competencies linked to the development of socio-emotional skills. For example: empathy, dialogue, conflict resolution and cooperation. It also establishes competences and levels of achievement by education level and by class, but they are not explicitly linked to the general competences.
2. Measuring students’ socio-emotional skills and monitoring progress
The lack of clarity in the definition of socio-emotional skills in some learning standards, added to the limited knowledge about the most adequate tools for measuring them, has hindered the development of systemic measurement of these skills. However, it is important that countries have a measurement system that allows determining the status and progress of these skills. In the region, only 4 out of the 12 countries we analyzed assess students’ socio-emotional skills at the system level (see graph). These countries measure them mainly through questionnaires that complement the students’ standardized learning tests.
Systemic measurements of students’ socio-emotional skills in LAC
3. Establishing guidelines and strategies to support the school community
Guidelines and strategies include, for example, those to create a positive learning environment, those to apply socio-emotional skills in different school environments, and pedagogical and didactic strategies for teachers. All of these seek to facilitate implementing the standards and achieving socio-emotional learning.
Only 7 of the 12 countries analyzed in Latin America and the Caribbean provide these types of guidelines and strategies on how socio-emotional skills can be developed in the school. For example, in Colombia there are guidelines so that schools can establish better ways to develop their students’ skills and understand their application in different school environments.
4. Support teachers to develop socio-emotional skills through pre-service and in-service training
The success of initiatives to develop students’ socio-emotional skills depends, to a large extent, on the support and training quality that teachers receive.
Incorporating socio-emotional skills in teacher training in the region is still in the early stages. In relation to pre-service training, Mexico and Peru have developed new learning plans for teacher training in non-university tertiary institutions which include courses for socio-emotional development. The challenge for those institutions will be to implement the new learning plans.
Regarding in-service training, different public initiatives include virtual or face-to-face training, and spaces to share experiences. However, the great majority does not include mentoring and feedback to teachers, key components in teacher training. For example, in Argentina, since 2017 the National Institute of Teacher Training (INFoD) has offered virtual courses for teachers to understand the impact of emotions on learning and acquire strategies to develop students’ socio-emotional skills.
Educational systems must continue to make efforts to develop the socio-emotional skills of all children and young people in the region, especially in these difficult times when they are most needed. Identifying the challenges for these skills to become a central piece in learning is a first step towards achieving this objective.
What do you consider to be the most important socio-emotional skills to deal with the pandemic? Share your comments with us below, or on Twitter via @BIDEducacion #EnfoqueEducacion.