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Skills for Social Progress

The Power of Social and Emotional Skills

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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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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.

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