Smashing the Patriarchy with SEL

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Mar 13, 2019
by Louise Hallman
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Smashing the Patriarchy with SEL

Participants at Social and Emotional Learning: Time for Action discuss the use of SEL in achieving gender equality Participants convene in the Robison Gallery

Education is a powerful tool in achieving social justice – but that education needs to be about more than just academic achievement. Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is also vital.

For children in non-crisis settings, research shows that those who struggle the most with their behavior benefit the most from SEL teaching, as reflected in their academic outcomes. Thus SEL is a pathway to academic equity.

For children in conflict and crisis settings, SEL can be even more important. “It doesn’t matter if you have these skills and competencies if you are not safe enough to use them.”

In April 2014, 276 school girls were kidnapped by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, from their school in Chibok, northern Nigeria. Some were fortunate enough to escape or be released in the following months – but unsurprisingly, they were traumatized. Getting these girls back into school was a priority for local educators. First 24, now 122 girls have been enrolled into a new program called the New Foundation School. The program is a college-preparation course to ready the girls for study at the American University of Nigeria. But, as a panelist in Salzburg pointed out: “This wasn’t just an academic matter... we had to address their trauma,” and this is where SEL comes in.

The New Foundation School supports not only the girls’ academic growth, but also addresses their social and emotional wellbeing and physical health, post trauma. Through various academic and artistic pursuits, the Chibok girls are learning to deal with their traumatic experience, regulate their emotions, and express their hopes for their future. The school’s program does not disregard their traditional culture, but through education many of the girls have come to question traditional societal expectations of them. Many now want to return to their communities to address inequalities and issues there.

In India, SEL is being used to help girls – and boys – develop a greater sense of gender equality through the development of empathy, respect and resilience. Girls are empowered to understand their self-worth and create a strong sense of self – not just as someone’s daughter, wife or mother. Boys learn that girls are their equals.

Class and caste issues are also being addressed. As one participant remarked: “It’s not only important for the dalit girl to learn about her value but also for the brahmin girl to know it too.”

Thus SEL is being used to help deconstruct oppressive power dynamics, such as patriarchy. When deconstructing patriarchy, one panelist pointed out, it is important to engage young men. “We tell them patriarchy isn’t your fault but it hurts the women you love.”

While it is important to expand SEL beyond the classroom and into the home and communities, “schools are powerful sites of social transformation... If schools are unjust, injustice will persist outside of schools.” The reverse can also be true.

Read more in Issue 2 of the program newsletter:

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The program Social and Emotional Learning: Time for Action is part of Salzburg Global’s long-running multi-year series Education for Tomorrow’s World. The program is held in partnership with ETS, Microsoft, Porticus, Qatar Foundation International and USAID’s Education in Crisis and Conflict Network.