Social Emotional Learning In Times Of Pandemics & Disruption

Renisha Bharvani, Project Rangeet

Due to the pandemic situation students are facing learning loss that is very critical. The situation could be described as almost two years of learning loss as in many countries students have not attended school for a year and are being automatically promoted to the next grade. (Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor, Access To Information Program, Bangladesh). Many children didn’t only miss out on learning new material during the pandemic. They also forgot some of the basic skills they previously learned. For primary school children, this means that they will be missing out on crucial formative years of their education, not just academically, but perhaps more importantly, the essential social emotional aspects. This can lead to feelings of confusion, loss of self confidence/esteem, demotivation and general apathy toward studies. 

In the case of students who have not had access to learning during the pandemic owing to socio-economic reasons or gender (2020 will see approximately 12.5 million child marriages according to Save The Children’s Global Girlhood Report, 2020), this presents an even deeper problem. This can give rise to bullying, and discrimination which will lead to greater demotivation in school. As our students and teachers re-enter classrooms, we need to motivate them not just with academics but speak to their hearts and minds to inspire them using engaging pedagogical techniques and making them active participants in their own learning. 

Life skills taught through social emotional learning (SEL) programs are even more essential as a way for individuals and communities to recover from various crises facing the world today, whether it be the pandemic or the many humanitarian crises around the world, including in Myanmar, the Middle East, Europe or Africa.  In a pre-pandemic world, where children generally lived highly pressured lives, many found it hard to cope with the social and academic pressures placed on them. This generation is more troubled, lonely, depressed, angry and aggressive.  They are less personally connected than any other generation, yet hyper-connected technologically, and even more so as a result of the pandemic.  Whereas before many lived a hybrid life of social media and meeting in person, the pandemic reduced physical social interaction to a minimum.

According to data provided by UNICEF, nearly 33 million children were forcibly displaced from their homes by the end of 2019. This includes international migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons. It does not include those displaced by natural disasters and other crises.  These children are suffering with no end in sight to their problems.  SEL interventions would teach them mechanisms to help alleviate their emotional distress.   

According to 2018 research performed by The Brookings Institution, half of all youth entering the workforce in 2030 will lack basic secondary-level skills needed to thrive, from literacy and maths to critical thinking and problem-solving (“How Playful Learning Can Help Leapfrog Progress in Education”, Rebecca Winthrop, 2019).  This problem has most certainly been exacerbated by the pandemic.  Winthrop states that student-centred, playful learning experiences are essential for children to develop the full breadth of skills required to thrive in our rapidly changing world.  It has now become widely recognized by educators, policy-makers, governments and even employers that the benefits of SEL are at least as important as academic success.  SEL teaches necessary life skills for school, work, relationships and life and promotes happy, well-adjusted people who are better learners, communicators and collaborators, thus functioning better in group environments. The World Economic Forum has reported that the top ten skills required in the workforce all involve social and emotional competence (Future Jobs Report, WEF) and according to a 2017 CASEL (Collaborative For Academic, Social and Emotional Learning) Study, 92% of executives surveyed agree. Therefore, competence in social emotional skills can help bridge the gap in educational inequalities worsened by disruptive events, be it the pandemic or another humanitarian crisis.  The CASEL study also indicates that SEL interventions can support the positive development of students regardless of race, socioeconomic background, or geographical contexts.  

We believe that SEL will not only provide children with important knowledge to increase empathy and human values but motivate and support them to become better learners of the future and help them to get back on track faster.

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