Monday, 14 September 2015

The power of social and emotional skills (2015 Term 3 Week 10)

Educating for cognitive skills is not enough. Literacy and numeracy are not enough. High performance in test scores are not enough. Teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiousity and time-management are just some of the other skills that young people need to develop in their education. 

According to Andreas SchleicherSpecial Advisor on Education Policy at the OECD,
Common sense tells us that social and emotional skills -- such as perseverance, self-control or agreeableness -- help individuals have more fulfilling lives. People who persevere and work hard are more likely to succeed in a highly dynamic and skill-driven labour market. Those who work hard are more likely to follow healthier lifestyles and remain fit. Individuals who are capable of coping with their emotions and adapting to change are more likely to cope with job loss, family disintegration or crime. And of course, social and emotional skills matter because they help develop and enforce cognitive skills. Children with self-control, for example, are more likely to finish reading a book, to complete a difficult maths problem or to follow through a science project.
I find Schleicher's case compelling. It is this thinking that lies behind our development of the Inaburra Learner Profile; the non-cognitive capabilities of our children are just as vital as their literacy and numeracy. These capabilities will determine the kinds of educational, social, economic, health and wellbeing outcomes our children can expect to experience in the decades to come.

The challenge for educators and parents is to work out how these characteristics, capabilities and 'soft' skills can be cultivated. Good schools have always wanted to achieve these outcomes, but it has not been easy to measure or assess a student's progress or a school's effectiveness. In addition, there has been a shortage of research to indicate that the various programs, interventions and approaches utilised by schools have much effect. All of which is to say, we have tended to put this matter in the too-hard basket, compared to the classic cognitive outcomes which are more easily measured and researched.

However, a recent publication from the OECD provides some hope for progress on this front, indicating that, in educational jurisdictions around the world, research is suggesting that these social and emotional skills are both measurable and malleable. Schools can make a difference and they can measure that difference.

There is increasing interest in NSW independent schools on this topic. The Association of Independent Schools NSW (AISNSW) recently published a summary of the OECD paper that provides a relatively accessible window into the key messages. with our Learner Profile, Inaburra is on the leading edge in exploring this topic.

Earlier this year Inaburra was successful in applying for a grant through AISNSW to participate in a three year trial of the Mission Skills Assessment (MSA). This assessment seeks to measure students' ability and progress in the character skills of teamwork, creativity, ethics, resilience, curiousity and time-management. The trial, which will focus on students in Years 6, 7 and 8, will include participating in a small network of other independent schools in NSW as we seek to cultivate and to evaluate these crucial skills. You will hear more about the MSA in the years to come!

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