Beyond Academic Learning: First Results from the Survey of Social and Emotional Skills

Strong social-emotional skills and academic achievement are closely related, an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report finds.

In this webinar, NCEE’s CEO Anthony Mackay and the OECD’s Andreas Schleicher explored the findings from the OECD’s latest report, Beyond Academic Learning: First Results from the Survey of Social and Emotional Skills. They were joined by panelists Dr. Susan Rivers, Executive Director and Chief Scientist of the iThrive Games Foundation, and Dr. Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl, NoVo Foundation Endowed Chair in Social and Emotional Learning and Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. 

Mackay noted that there is growing interest around the world in ensuring all students not only develop their academic competencies but also a broad set of social, emotional, and civic skills necessary for learning and to succeed in our global economy. He said the negative impact of the pandemic on student well-being and ability to learn has pushed educators to put greater emphasis on fostering and monitoring young people’s social and emotional skills.

Schleicher shared some highlights from OECD’s survey, which is one of the first international efforts to collect data on these social emotional skills of learners. OECD surveyed students from ten cities across the globe at two ages — 10 and 15 — as well as their parents, teachers, and principals. The report collects information about 15 skills including curiosity, creativity, responsibility, persistence, assertiveness, empathy, trust, and optimism based on characteristics such as age, gender, socio-economic status, and migration background. These skills are not inherent personality traits, according to Schleicher, but can be taught and nurtured in home and school environments. 

Schleicher said that we should see social and emotional skills and academic skills as “two sides of one coin.” It’s not about one or the other, he said, but how they are intertwined. One of the survey’s key findings was that social and emotional skills are strong predictors of school grades across age cohorts and subjects. Specifically, persistence, trust, and curiosity skills showed a strong relationship to higher school performance. But that doesn’t mean that schools need to provide classes dedicated to building social and emotional skills. Rivers said learning experiences should be designed to “sew [them] into the fabric of learning.” Schleicher highlighted Singapore‘s efforts to integrate social and emotional learning into their curriculum.  One example is that they intentionally use sports as a way to build students’ courage, empathy and responsibility skills. 

A second finding is that younger students report higher levels of almost all social and emotional skills than older students, regardless of their gender and background. The decline between age 10 and age 15 is even steeper for girls. Rivers pointed out that adolescence is an important period of a young person’s development and schools need to be especially attuned to supporting the full range of student needs during this time. She did note that providing this support is not solely the responsibility of educators, rather “it’s the responsibility of the whole ecosystem.” Schonert-Reichl added that our high schools often offer students less choice and autonomy than elementary schools, even though high school students are at a point in their development when they need more of those freedoms to build their social and emotional skills. 

The survey also found inequities based on socio-economic status with advantaged students tending to report higher social and emotional skills than their less advantaged peers. This led to a conversation about the role of the school in nourishing these important skills, particularly for students who may not have as much support at home. Learning is higher in schools where students feel like they fit in and where student-teacher relationships are good, so creating a welcoming and supportive school culture and environment is key. 

In closing, Schonert-Reichl said she was grateful for this new report and the attention it brings because “what gets assessed gets addressed” and it “shines a light” on the importance of supporting students’ social and emotional development. She encourages us to look to systems that are most successful in doing so. 

Below you can find the full video of the webinar as well, the slides Andreas Schleicher shared, as well as a link to download the report.

Join the ongoing conversation about the webinar and the report on twitter using the hashtag #BeyondAcademicLearning.