School education is the key to developing character, building socio-emotional skills

The Creative, Human-Centred job economy

This morning, I happened to read an article in the Harvard Business Review that talked about the increasing value being attributed to strong social skills in the workplace. The article, titled ‘The C-Suite Skills that matter the most’, explained that companies seeking top leadership ‘have increasingly emphasised the importance of social skills and deemphasized operational expertise’. Advances in technology have made character and social skills more significant today. Why?

Experts say that we have not just moved from an ‘Industrial Economy’ to an ‘Information Economy’ but to a ‘Creative, Human-Centred’ Job Economy. Computers are mastering analytical processes quickly but are not as great at ethical or complex social processes that rely on understanding humans. People still seem like the best candidates for this ‘human-centred’ ethical and socio-emotional heavy lifting.

What are these ‘Human-centred’ ethical and socio-emotional skills that are needed for this new job economy?
Ethics also referred to as ‘Character’, ‘Values’ are moral principles that guide an individual’s decisions and actions.
Individuals with strong character have an awareness of their own rights as individuals but also an understanding of their responsibilities within families, communities, cities, states, countries, and the world, as they share resources, support and collaborate with each other.

Socio-Emotional skills:
Individuals with strong socio-emotional skills have self and social awareness. They are in tune with their own emotions and recognize how they react to things. What they like and what they don’t. They have the skills to empathise with others and understand the perspectives of those that might think differently from them.
School Education is the key to developing Ethical and Socio-emotional skills

If these skills are essential for the future of the workplace, and if Schools are responsible for equipping their students for success in that future, then School education programs should be developing these skills.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Ethics and Socio-Emotional Learning is that Children will pick up these skills incidentally. How can we risk leaving the development of essential skills up to chance or incidental learning? These skills need to be taught systematically in school.

Character Education and Socio-emotional Education must be a core part of school Education.

1. A comprehensive, research-informed curriculum
Because these skills have been ‘soft-skills’ or non-essential skills in the past, there is a tendency to assume that putting a curriculum together to teach these skills requires only ‘common sense’. However, schools must have a comprehensive curriculum built on research-based content to teach these skills. These curricula outline the key learning goals and help schools identify what is developmentally appropriate to teach at different ages.

2. Time
Another common misconception is that these skills can be developed through one-time workshops. These skills are complex and cannot be taught theoretically in one-time engagements. Schools need to prioritise these skills and have regular time allocated for learning these skills in the school day.

3. Opportunities for application and feedback
Students need opportunities to practice these and receive feedback from teachers. Theoretical knowledge is important but is not enough by itself. Students need opportunities to apply and practice. If I am learning how to deal with anxiety, I must have opportunities to use those strategies in stressful situations and reflect after. If I am learning to collaborate and to manage disagreements, I must have opportunities to work in teams in class and reflect on it afterwards.

4. Professional development for teachers
Finally, teachers are at the centre of this program because they will teach the skills, reinforce them throughout the day when students use them and help students reflect on their effort. Ethical and Socio-emotional skills come from a disciplinary area much like English, math, digital literacy etc. This means that teachers also need time to learn these principles and skills themselves first and then learn how to teach them effectively.

Character and Socio-Emotional Competences are essential and must be taught in schools.
This is why the National Education Policy 2020 too states as one of its key principles that Education should address ‘Ethics and human & Constitutional values’ and ‘Collaboration and teamwork’.

BY: (Radhika Zahedi, School Director, The Green Acres Academy)

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