Over the last few years, social and emotional skills have been rising on the education policy agenda and in the public debate. For the first time, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) surveyed to measure these skills among the future labor generation. The result shows the present and future development of school-age children and youth must encourage these beyond-academic-learning skills – just as important as subjects like science or math.
The survey has taken place in ten cities: Bogotá and Manizales (Colombia), Daegu (South Korea), Helsinki (Finland), Houston (US), Istanbul (Turkey), Moscow (Russia), Ottawa (Canada), Sintra (Portugal) and Suzhou (China). Questionnaires were applied to 10-year-old and 15-year-old students about their behaviors, attitudes, and preferences, to assess whether they have seen in themselves a set of 15 socio-emotional skills: from responsibility and curiosity to persistence, resistance to stress, cooperation, tolerance, sociability, self-control, and creativity.
And what caught the researchers’ attention is that, overall, 15-year-olds seemed to have almost all of the socio-emotional skills much less developed compared to 10-year-olds. That is, there appears to be a significant drop in these skills as children grow into adolescence.
This drop was more pronounced among girls in most of the skills analyzed – while girls showed more empathy, cooperative spirit, and responsibility than boys, boys reported more emotional regulation, sociability, and energy than girls.
Finally, students from higher socioeconomic levels manifested, on average, more socio-emotional skills than poorer young people in all cities in the study.
The report also highlights the value that emotional skills have for the professional market of the future and citizenship in general. OECD argues that “the benefits of developing children’s social-emotional skills go beyond cognitive development and academic outcomes; they are also important drivers of mental health and labor market prospects. The ability of citizens to adapt, be resourceful, respect and work well with others, and to take personal and collective responsibility is increasingly becoming the hallmark of a well-functioning society”.
For OECD, creativity is not an isolated thing: the most creative students also exhibit much greater levels of empathy, tolerance, and responsibility. These skills need to be actively (and intentionally) developed in children and adolescents, just as we do with traditional knowledge. And this is the biggest challenge for schools and society.