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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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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.

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