Europe needs more and better social and emotional learning (SEL) and SEL assessment throughout its educational system. This is the conclusion of a recent OECD report, “Skills for Social Progress: The Power of Social Emotional Skills.”
Elsewhere in this blog series we’ve laid out the demand for these measures in the US context, but today we look globally and to Europe more particularly, against the backdrop of the upcoming E-ATP conference in Lisbon where our colleagues Dr. Rich Roberts and Simmy Ziv-el will be making presentations related to noncognitive assessments.
Andreas Schleicher, educational assessment guru and division head and coordinator of the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment and the OECD Indicators of Education Systems programme, writes in the forward of this 142-page report that “social and emotional skills can be measured meaningfully within cultural and linguistic boundaries [and] such measures can be instrumental to help decision makers better assess children’s current skill sets and their future needs, and thereby help teachers and parents to effectively adapt the pedagogy, parenting and learning environments accordingly.”
Lead author Koji Miyamoto and his colleagues carefully lay out the case for expanding and improving these assessments, with particular attention to its importance on the European continent. The report commences by reciting some of the many crises confronting the continent, including youth unemployment (above or approaching 50% in Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Ireland); obesity (most severe in Greece and Italy); bullying (especially in Austria, Estonia, Russia, Belgium, and Portugal); and declining voting rates (Switzerland, Poland, and Portugal).
And what’s more, continued climate crises, globalization, and technological changes will worsen the current reality unless positive change is undertaken. What change will help our children most in facing these challenges? Education, and not just the development of cognitive ability (which does still matter greatly), but also of noncognitive skills.
“Social and emotional skills such as perseverance, emotional stability and sociability also matter in achieving positive outcomes. These skills allow people to better translate intentions into actions; establish positive relationships with family, friends and the community; and avoid engaging in unhealthy lifestyles and risky behaviors.
Social and emotional skills are as important as cognitive skills in shaping outcomes” (Heckman, Stixrud and Urzua, 2006; Kautz et al., 2014).
Now, it’s not that the importance of these skills is unknown by those in charge.
Education systems throughout Europe call for social and emotional development in their national objectives. Scanning the breadth of the continent, the report finds Portugal to be the only exception and maybe that makes the E-ATP conference in Portugal somewhat fortuitous! The researchers also found that in every country, there are school subjects “designed to foster social and emotional skills.”
Assessment, too, is widely called for in Europe. Most countries have national (or subnational) guidelines for social and emotional assessment on student report cards, and “some countries assess student social and emotional skills in their national level surveys to evaluate their education systems.”
One example comes from Norway: “Norwegian students at different grades in primary and secondary education participate in the Pupil Survey that includes assessment of students’ social and emotional well-being at school. The results from the user surveys may be used to analyze and improve the learning environment at schools.”
But though European nations call for assessment, rarely is it being effectively and thoroughly implemented and—as is the case in the U.S., too—virtually all of what is there is essentially based on self-assessments with all their limitations as previously blogged here. As the report notes, “understanding students’ levels of social and emotional skills is key to identifying the need for their further development and improving teaching practices. Yet, assessment of social and emotional skills tends to be less transparent than academic achievement assessment.”
Accordingly, the report’s policy recommendations strongly emphasize the importance of strengthening assessment systems.
“Regular assessments of social and emotional skills can provide valuable information to improve learning contexts and ensure they are conducive to skill development. This information is valuable for policy makers who need to identify education policy priorities, schools that need to reform curricular and extracurricular practices, and parents who need to adjust their home learning environments and parenting practices.”
In an interview, the report author Koji Miyamoto explains that “we’ve now accumulated enough evidence to know that we can enhance these critical skills; we can now all agree they can be effectively developed by schooling and parental work. But there is still so much opportunity, even urgency, for policy-makers and practitioners to better understand how cultivating these competencies can be most effectively accomplished, and for that, we need to assess them widely and effectively.”
OECD is not alone in this judgment. The World Economic Forum, for example, as previously noted in an April blog post, has concluded that though there is a growing consensus for placing a greater priority on social and emotional learning, the chief obstacle is the “lack of consensus about valid and reliable SEL measurements,” which is described as “a key concern among stakeholders.” This is true among teachers and parents in the U.S., China, South Korea, and UK, the only European country surveyed. In the UK, three quarters of parents and nearly two thirds of teachers believe that “lack of clear measures for these skills to show progress,” and “lack of assessments in school related to these measures” is a very important or important barrier limiting the promotion of social and emotional learning.
The European continent, despite its extraordinary history, culture, diversity, and innovation, faces, like much of the world, serious challenges to its future prosperity. Enhancing the educational experience of its youth by better teaching and developing social and emotional competencies appears in the eyes of many expert analysts to be among the very best vehicles we have to invest in our capacity to confront and overcome these challenges, and better SEL measurement and assessment is key to improving our educational systems in this regard.
Jonathan is an expert on 21st century learning and assessment. An educational author and consultant with 15 years of experience as an independent school principal/head of school, he has provided strategic guidance from the user perspective throughout the Tessera development process. He holds degrees from Harvard University, Starr King School for the Ministry, and the University of San Francisco School of Education, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Klingenstein Center at Teachers College, Columbia University. He regularly presents at conferences and provides workshops to schools, boards, and faculties around the United States.