How SEL Can Help Prevent Violence

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Dec 05, 2018
by Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu
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How SEL Can Help Prevent Violence

Fellows discuss how Social and Emotional Learning can help create a safe space that wins at-risk youths away from violent crime Tonia Casarin is the author of two best-selling children’s books in Brazil: I Have Monsters in My Tummy, and I Have More Monsters in My Tummy

In the past 12 months, there have been more than 62,000 murders in Brazil, a record high even for a country that has experienced violent crime for decades.

A significant proportion of perpetrators and victims of this violence are young men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

An increasingly militarized police force has done little to help reduce the problem. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) could be another effective strategy to win at-risk youths away from drug gangs and hence reduce violent crime, says Tonia Casarin.

Casarin is the founder and chief executive officer of Fireworks Education, a company that promotes SEL in Brazil. She is one of over 60 participants at the Salzburg Global Seminar program, Social and Emotional Learning: A Global Synthesis.

“We do curriculum development and teacher training in social and emotional learning, and also we do a lot of content development in social and emotional learning for kids, teenagers, adults, parents, and teachers,” she says.

Of the importance of SEL, Casarin says, “There is a lot of research [that shows] that if we develop social and emotional skills in kids, they will have great results in the long term for themselves as individuals and also they will make better decisions not only for themselves but also for the society. It is not only for professional success but also health and happiness.

“Even adults don’t know how to identify their emotions and understand them, so as part of the emotional intelligence framework...I said [to myself ], ‘why not start early?’...[because] if we do early interventions, we, of course, will have better results in the long term.”

To this end, Casarin is the author of two best-selling children’s books in Brazil: I Have Monsters in My Tummy, and I Have More Monsters in My Tummy, which she says helps children to “learn the vocabulary of emotion so that they can express and self-regulate themselves [so that they can gain] this main ability of emotional intelligence.”

Casarin has also been working on a project in Sobral, a city in the north-east of Brazil, which is helping to develop the SEL skills of teachers as one of the ways to help reduce the number of youths falling into organized crime.

She says, “We talked a lot about how to build a safe space in the classroom for the kids and after the classroom, the [whole] school. That is because maybe the classroom is the only safe space some of those kids have so [the teachers have] started to realize the importance of building that to leverage the sense of belonging [in] these kids so that they are not on the streets anymore.”

If the students can be kept comfortably in the safety of school instead of wandering the streets without clear purpose, Casarin says they are at a much lower risk of getting into contact with gang recruiters. She adds, “And when they are not [in school], they can also reflect on their role in society. So they can decide what is better for me as an individual: ‘Is it a good thing to go out with the drug dealers?’ [This helps to] also build autonomy and self-care.”

Brazil is not the only country where SEL skills are being leveraged to help in violence reduction; in Sri Lanka too, it is being used to support conflict resolution and peacebuilding.

“After having a conflict that lasted for three decades, there is a strong need for Social and Emotional Learning in our younger generation to ensure that we don’t get into such a circumstance in the future,” says Manjula Dissanayake, founding executive director of Educate Lanka, a non-profit social enterprise based in the US but operating in Sri Lanka. Dissanayake is also one of the participants of this session. Aside from providing cash transfers which ensures that students can cover outstanding school bills, Educate Lanka is in the business of mentoring and guidance aimed at instilling positive values in Sri Lanka’s future leaders.

The latter is especially significant because while the dark clouds of war no longer hang on the island nation, it still experiences sporadic cases of ethnic and religious violence. This demands that “social and emotional skills are integrated into the educational system,” says Dissanayake, “so that we have a generation of young people coming into the society as leaders and citizens who would have all those values and traits of a global citizen, who embrace diversity and have respect for the differences in their society.”


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 was held in partnership with ETS, Microsoft and Qatar Foundation International, together with additional partners, the British Council, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the Inter-American Development Bank.