Creating Systems Transformation in Education

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Dec 11, 2018
by Louise Hallman
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Creating Systems Transformation in Education

Participants discuss how to ensure Social and Emotional learning continues through changes in governments and policies Integrating SEL at a systems level needs buy-in from all actors in the education system

Education policies are often introduced but then thrown out on the changing of administrations, political or otherwise. To avoid this, social and emotional learning (SEL) needs to be adopted at a systems level.

As experts from India, the US, New Zealand, and Kenya explained on the first full day of Social and Emotional Learning: A Global Synthesis, integrating SEL at a systems level needs buy-in from all actors in the education system.

In schools, SEL should be encouraged not only for students, but also teachers and all other staff throughout the school. Outside of individual schools, buy-in is needed from the school districts and local education administration, such as having someone within the school district who is responsible and can advocate for SEL.

The buy-in of parents and students is also vital to ensuring the long-term support for and success of SEL. Often, parents complain that time spent on SEL programs is a “time-taker” from the more traditionally revered academic subjects. However, evidence shows improved SEL can be a “time-maker” as it enables students to engage better, pay attention, and process information, as well as work more collaboratively with their peers in a more learning-conducive environment thanks to reduced anti-social behavior, such as classroom disruption or bullying.

Unable to travel to Salzburg but undeterred from sharing his innovative policy, Delhi education minister Manish Sisodia filmed a video that morning in a city classroom to introduce the “Happiness Class.” This program is a new addition to schools’ curriculum in the Indian capital and aims to improve students’ mindfulness and confidence, which in turn will have an impact on their attainment in their other academic subjects.

SEL does not have to be delivered as a separate course such as the Happiness Class, but can instead be integrated into other subject areas. Languages, literature, and geography can help develop cultural awareness and empathy; history teaches critical thinking; and team-building can be improved through PE and drama, for example.

Achieving system-wide transformation thus needs both a top-down and a bottom-up approach, but bottom-up need not start only with the parents, teachers, and students. High-ranking local officials, such as school superintendents in the US, can be powerful advocates in spreading change outward and upward.


The program Social and Emotional Learning: A Global Synthesis is part of Salzburg Global's multi-year series Education for Tomorrow’s World. This year’s program is being held in partnership with ETS, Microsoft and Qatar Foundation International, who will also co-chair the program, together with additional partners, the British Council, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank.