- In a Thursday afternoon session hosted by ed tech firm SMART Technologies, education experts from around the world discussed the results of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's global Survey on Social and Emotional Skills, its first-ever international comparative assessment of student social-emotional development.
- On average, 15-year-olds showed lower social-emotional skills than their 10-year-old peers, regardless of gender or social background, according to results detailed in a report titled "Beyond Academic Learning" as well as a series of additional reports focused specifically on 10 participating cities worldwide, including Houston, Texas.
- Additionally, the survey found that, among 15-year-olds, social-emotional skills like persistence, trust and curiosity correlate positively to academic performance, while skills like stress resistance, creativity and sociability were associated less with academic performance.
We know the importance of social-emotional skills for success in work and life, Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at OECD, told attendees. He added that in an age of artificial intelligence, people need to be educated to do more than just what they're told.
“We found, for example, the quality of student/teacher relationships was a very big predictor for social-emotional skills, as was the learning environment,” Schleicher said.
In regard to declines in skills like creativity in older students, Schleicher said, "Our education systems seem to sometimes inhibit the development of social-emotional skills rather than foster it."
Neurological changes as students age, including an increase in self-criticism and self-awareness, may also factor into this, he said. "But if that would be all of the story, we wouldn't see that same picture in the reports from parents or from teachers. Actually, we have that data, and we found that decline is also mirrored in the perceptions of teachers and parents."
"We're all born with an abundance of creativity and curiosity, and then in education, we make people more compliant with certain ways of thinking and working and take some of that creativity away, and that's really what we do see in those data. It should make you think," Schleicher said.
If data showed students doing worse in, say, mathematics at age 15 than age 10, there would be significant focus on what's being done wrong in schooling, he said, and that same line of questioning should be presented in regard to social-emotional skills. Even to the extent that neurological and psychological development impacts these skills, Schleicher said stakeholders should ask how students could be better supported as they age.
When the data is broken down by gender or social background, there are also splits on social-emotional skills. A decline in social-emotional skills is more pronounced for female students compared to their male counterparts, though there's also variation in the dimensions where they excel, Schleicher said.
Male students, for instance, performed better on energy, optimism and self-regulation, while female students had more developed skills in areas like tolerance, openness and empathy. "Once again, we have done a lot in education to moderate gender differences in cognitive achievement, but we have to pay attention to quite important gender differences on those social-emotional differences," he said.
When social background is factored in, students from more affluent backgrounds tended to fare better due to greater access to more resources for fostering that development, Schleicher said, noting that should also be on governments' public policy radars.
The report didn't explicitly look at differences across ethnic backgrounds due to the challenges of doing so comparatively at a global scale, he said.
In the U.S., the city of Houston, Texas, participated in the study. Among the highlights of those findings are:
- Being intellectually curious, assertive and tolerant is correlated with expectations of postsecondary completion.
- Students participating in after-school art activities reported higher levels of creativity, especially at age 15.
- 33% of 10-year-olds and 15% of 15-year-olds reported being bullied, exposure to which is negatively associated to social-emotional development, at least a few times a month.
- Socio-economically advantaged students reported higher levels of every social-emotional skill.
- In Houston as well as other participating cities worldwide, 15-year-olds aspiring to become health professionals reported more curiosity, responsibility, empathy and energy but less creativity than peers aspiring to other occupations.
- Conversely, the Houston findings showed those aspiring to creative professions were more likely to report higher levels of creativity and trust, but less stress resistance, curiosity and assertiveness.