Social & Emotional Learning

The feeling of flying in the air is something completely different. You do not have solid ground beneath you, which feels strange at first, especially when you just jumped out of the plane. But when you make a free fall going 200 km per hour, and you feel the adrenaline rushing through your body, you feel like you are truly alive, truly living. However, we should be able to feel like this all the time, truly alive, truly living.

Unfortunately, this is not the case for a lot of people, loneliness and depression are common and many feel like they are missing out on something. I believe a lot of this is caused by our education system, which teaches us academic knowledge, but nothing about how to truly live a fulfilling life.

The goal of the education system should be to produce healthy and responsible individuals. Right now, it mainly focuses on theoretical knowledge, i.e. downloading as much relevant information in a student's head as possible. When a student finishes his education in business, for example, he knows everything about accounting, economics, finance and maybe some mathematics. However, he does not know how to avoid conflict with co-workers, how to manage stress effectively, how to maintain a healthy work-life balance and how to deal with colleagues and superiors. Basically, you acquire a lot of specific knowledge pertaining to the field you are studying, but you don't learn how to live a positive and rewarding life.

Luckily, people are waking up and initiatives are being taken. One of these is a project organized by SEALNet, which stands for South-East Asia Service Leadership Network. This organization was founded in 2004 as a cooperation between Stanford students and working professionals, all who wanted to invest in the young generation of South-East Asia. I take part in one of their latest projects, called Social and Emotional Learning, Mindfulness for Secondary and High School Students.

With this project we are looking to optimally prepare students for the real world, by improving emotional intelligence. This is done by focusing on three types of learning: social, emotional and academic. In the current system the emphasis is on academic learning, while with SEL (Social & Emotional Learning) the focus is on all three.

There are five keys to SEL, namely Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills and Responsible Decision-Making. This is further explained in the video below.

Self-Awareness is about becoming aware of your own emotions and the behaviors resulting from these emotions. By recognizing why you are engaging in negative behaviors and habits, you can prevent these by using Self-Management. For example, two students are sitting next to each other and disagree in their points of view. One student notices that he is becoming angry (self-awareness). Instead of getting into a fight with his classmate, he slows down his breathing, regains control over himself and tells the other kid to agree to disagree and move on (self-management). By becoming aware of a negative emotion and managing it constructively, you can prevent possible conflict with others and yourself.

Social Awareness is about being aware of the group, accepting diversity and being able to empathize with others, no matter their background. This is easier achieved when the classroom is more heterogenous; however, with roleplaying you can simulate this. Relationship skills are interpersonal, e.g. how do you communciate with others, listen to others, and maintain healthy relationships. This can be done by partnering children up in teams and making them work together.

Finally, Responsible Decision-Making is about making the right decisions that promote good health, positive relationships, a balanced life and all other decisions that are constructive in a student's life, even when faced with peer-pressure. You can simulate this by presenting students with a set of options to choose and letting them present their choices.

The most important thing for students is to connect with other people; classmates, friends, teachers, and others. When all the education that is given is purely academic, a student has to find out on himself how to behave socially and how to manage his emotions effectively. A little guidance from people that have more experience in life, wouldn't hurt so much. When proper education is given, everybody can learn how to fly!