OECD Skills Studies

2307-8731 (online)
2307-8723 (print)
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There is a shift from formal education to a broader perspective that includes a range of hard and soft skills people need to acquire over their lifetime in order to succeed in the labour market. Workers, students, parents, employers, education providers and government agencies now need reliable information on how supply and demand for skills evolve.

The OECD Skills Studies series aims to provide a strategic approach to skills policies. It presents OECD internationally comparable indicators and policy analysis covering issues such as: quality of education and curricula; transitions from school to work; vocational education and training (VET); employment and unemployment; innovative workplace learning; entrepreneurship; brain drain and migrants; and skills matching with job requirements.

Also available in French
Skills for Social Progress

Skills for Social Progress

The Power of Social and Emotional Skills You or your institution have access to this content

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10 Mar 2015
9789264226159 (PDF) ;9789264226142(print)

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Today’s children will need a balanced set of cognitive, social and emotional skills in order to succeed in modern life. Their capacity to achieve goals, work effectively with others and manage emotions will be essential to meet the challenges of the 21st century. While everyone acknowledges the importance of socio-emotional skills such as perseverance, sociability and self-esteem, there is often insufficient awareness of "what works" to enhance these skills. Teachers and parents don’t really know whether their efforts at developing these skills are paying off, and what they could do better. Policies and programmes designed to measure and enhance socio-emotional skills vary considerably within and across countries.

This report presents a synthesis of the OECD’s analytical work on the role of socio-emotional skills and proposes strategies to raise them. It analyses the effects of skills on a variety of measures of individual well-being and social progress, which covers aspects of our lives that are as diverse as education, labour market outcomes, health, family life, civic engagement and life satisfaction. The report discusses how policy makers, schools and families facilitate the development of socio-emotional skills through intervention programmes, teaching and parenting practices. Not only does it identify promising avenues to foster socio-emotional skills, it also shows that these skills can be measured meaningfully within cultural and linguistic boundaries.

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  • Foreword and Acknowledgements

    Children and adolescents need a balanced set of cognitive, social and emotional skills in order to succeed in modern life. Cognitive skills, including those that are measured by achievement tests and academic grades, have been shown to influence the likelihood of individuals’ educational and labour market success. They also predict broader outcomes such as perceived health, social and political participation as well as trust. In turn, social and emotional skills, such as perseverance, sociability and self-esteem have been shown to influence numerous measures of social outcomes, including better health, improved subjective well-being and reduced odds of engaging in conduct problems. Cognitive and socio-emotional skills interact and crossfertilise, and empower children to succeed both in and out of schools. For example, social and emotional skills may help children translate intentions into actions, and thereby improve their likelihood of graduating from universities, follow through healthy lifestyles and prevent engaging in aggressive behaviours.

  • Acronyms and abbreviations
  • Executive summary

    What are the skills that drive well-being and social progress? Policy makers, including eleven Education Ministers and Vice-Ministers, discussed this question at the OECD’s informal Ministerial meeting on Skills for Social Progress in Sao Paulo, Brazil on 23-24 March 2014. They unanimously agreed on the need to develop a "whole child" with a balanced set of cognitive, social and emotional skills so that they can better face the challenges of the 21st century. Parents, teachers and employers know that children who are talented, motivated, goal-driven and collegial are more likely to weather the storms of life, perform well in the labour market and consequently achieve lifetime success. Yet, there are considerable differences across countries and local jurisdictions in the availability of policies and programmes designed to measure and enhance social and emotional skills such as perseverance, self-esteem and sociability. Teachers and parents may not know if their efforts at developing these skills are paying off, and what they could do better. These skills are seldom taken into account in school and university admission decisions.

  • The role of education and skills in today's world

    Today’s socio-economic climate brings new challenges that affect the future of children and youth. Although access to education has improved considerably, a good education no longer secures a job; youth have been particularly affected by rising unemployment following the economic crisis. Problems such as obesity and declining civic engagement are also increasing while the ageing population and the environmental outlook are worrying. Moreover, inequalities in labour market and social outcomes tend to be widening. Education has strong potential to address these challenges by enhancing a variety of skills. Cognitive skills matter, but social and emotional skills, such as perseverance, selfcontrol and resilience are just as important. All of these skills need to be fostered for individuals and societies to prosper.

  • Learning contexts, skills and social progress

    This chapter presents a conceptual framework that describes the relationships between learning contexts, skills and social progress. Individuals’ skills are formed in diverse learning environments, including families, schools and communities. Each of these contexts is influenced by direct inputs, environmental factors and policy levers which can be used by decision makers to foster the development of the full spectrum of skills needed for achieving social progress. Social progress includes diverse aspects of individuals’ lives, including education, labour market outcomes, health, family life, civic engagement and life satisfaction. Skills encompass cognitive, social and emotional capabilities needed for achieving prosperous, healthy and happy lives. Social and emotional skills play a particularly important role when individuals pursue goals, work with others and manage emotions. Skills develop progressively, building on previously acquired skills and on new learning investments. Those that start developing skills early tend to achieve more than others, although adolescence is also a key moment for social and emotional skills development.

  • Skills that foster lifetime success

    This chapter details the impact of raising children’s cognitive, social and emotional skills on their future outcomes in nine OECD countries. The empirical analyses show consistent patterns although they were based on longitudinal data from a variety of countries using different measures of skills and outcomes of children across different ages. Increasing deciles of cognitive skills has a strong impact on enhancing access to education and labour market outcomes, while increasing deciles of social and emotional skills has a strong impact on improving social outcomes such as health, experience of anti-social behaviour and subjective well-being. Some interventions designed to increase skills among disadvantaged children have shown impressive long-term results for social outcomes. Successful interventions tend to focus on raising skills that enable people to achieve goals, work with others and manage emotions, with conscientiousness, sociability and emotional stability appearing particularly important. Policy makers interested in better enhancing diverse measures of individual well-being and social progress may consider tapping into this area of skill development.

  • Learning contexts that drive skill formation

    This chapter describes how the process of skill development unfolds, and highlights the elements involved in successful developmental pathways in which "skills beget skills". Social and emotional skills play a particularly important role in skills formation since they not only drive future development of social and emotional skills but also cognitive skills. Parental engagement and attachment have considerable impact on children’s early social and emotional skill development. School-based programmes can also play a role by promoting intensive interactions between teachers and children through mentoring. Programmes specifically designed to raise social and emotional skills in schools have shown positive results in the short term but there are rarely long-term rigorous evaluations. The few available ones, mainly aimed at disadvantaged children, have shown long-lasting effects on social and emotional skills development. Successful early childhood intervention programmes directly involve children and parents, and tend to include parental training, counselling sessions and mentoring. Successful programmes aimed at older children train teachers, while those aimed at older adolescents emphasise mentoring and hands-on workplace learning.

  • Policies, practices and assessments that enhance social and emotional skills

    Governments recognise social and emotional skills to be important skills to be developed through schooling. The skills most often targeted in national curricula include autonomy, responsibility, tolerance, critical thinking and intercultural understanding. Countries mobilise a variety of curricular and extracurricular activities to promote these skills. Most national curricula include subjects that target students’ social and emotional skills, either in traditional ways, such as through physical and health education, civic and citizenship education, and moral and/or religious education, or via dedicated subjects. Some countries also incorporate the development of social and emotional skills throughout the core curriculum. Extracurricular activities that are likely to positively affect social and emotional development are also widely available. They include sports, arts clubs, student councils and voluntary work. While countries do not require schools to employ standardised assessments of social and emotional skills, they usually provide guidelines to help schools assess students. Nevertheless, not many education systems provide detailed guidance on how to enhance social and emotional development. While this provides schools and teachers flexibility in designing their own lessons, this may not help teachers who are not sure how to best teach these skills.

  • How to foster social and emotional skills?

    Policy makers, teachers and parents can play an important role in improving children’s social and emotional skills. These skills, together with cognitive skills, are key ingredients of individual well-being and societal progress. Social and emotional skills can be reliably measured within a cultural and linguistic boundary. Policy makers can use this information to improve their understanding of the skill gaps and to better design policies to address them, while teachers and parents can widen the notion of children’s skill needs and create positive learning environments. Social and emotional skills can be raised and mobilised for improving the life chances of children and society. This report identified the types of skills that matter and the ongoing policies, practices and interventions aimed at fostering them. This concluding chapter evaluates the gap between "what works" and "what happens in practice" in order to develop better strategies to enhance the skills that matter for children’s lifetime success and for the well-being and progress of societies.

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