On February 1 and 2, 2018, ECCN members led and participated in a workshop about integrating social-emotional learning (SEL) and SDG target 4.7 into textbooks and other education materials. The workshop, called Advancing SDG4 in Post-Conflict and Low-Resource Settings, was hosted by George Washington University. Sessions progressed from an overview of the challenge and current initiatives to developing action plans. Attendees divided up into groups focusing on early grade reading, accelerated education, and youth; identity and textbooks; pedagogy and teachers; and measurement. Margaret Sinclair (independent), James Williams (GWU) and Collette Chabbott (GWU) organized the workshop.
In this post, three new ECCN members reflect on their experiences at the workshop. They highlight the action-oriented nature of the workshop as well as the importance of SEL for in their work. They are:
Souad Hamlaoui, Senior Operations Assistant, Global Partnership for Education
Judy Krysik, associate professor, Arizona State University
Julianne Norman, project associate, International Education Division at RTI
ECCN: Why did you attend the workshop?
Hamlaoui: : I was interested in the workshop for both personal and professional reasons. On a personal level, I wanted to learn more about how education can support the psychosocial/social emotional skills of children and youth. On a professional level, my work with GPE has helped me to understand the difficulties involved with interventions and education in emergencies and gain familiarity with the different organizations working in this area. I’m also a first year master’s student in international education policy and I recently took a course that provided me with the theoretical and historical perspectives on education in crisis and conflict. I recognize the important role that education (textbooks and curriculum) can play in growth and transmitting values and standards in a stable and unstable situation. With the increase in emergencies and disasters, I also recognize the importance of social-emotional skills and how timely it will be in the coming years and how it can really help children who are learning. I also was very interested to meet Margaret Sinclair, because I had read her book. In my coursework, I was touched and really moved by how powerful the curriculum and textbooks can be, and how they can make a big change in a country. I was also fascinated to see how some countries were using the curriculum to just the opposite—to hide some areas of history.
Krysik: I attended the workshop because my current research examines ways to measure social-emotional well-being. I am an associate professor at the Arizona State University School of Social Work and direct the Center for Child Well-Being. My work has been with vulnerable children and families—many of them experiencing the trauma of abuse and neglect and living in unsafe environments. More recently I have become involved in the African Institute for Child Studies as an international board member and have supervised thesis research conducted in Myanmar that examined risk and protective factors from an ecological perspective associated with the retention of adolescents in public and monastic schools. I also attended the workshop to represent ASU and bring information back to a number of my colleagues who are interested in this work.
Norman: On a personal level, I’ve dealt with this exact issue before, with our Uganda work on a USAID literacy project. RTI is the implementing arm for a policy on violence against children in schools that the Ministry of Education ratified back in 2012. As a part of that, we’ve created three different manuals on combating school-related gender-based violence. We’ve talked about how explicitly or implicitly do you embed social-emotional learning in a textbook and the activities geared around SRGBV. I’ve also been working on a project with Syrian refugees in Jordan. On an institutional level, a great deal of what we do is developing teaching and learning materials. We’ve been doing a lot of internal research on SEL, and I imagine this is something we want to learn more about, especially as it relates to SDG 4.7. I also went because RTI felt we needed to have someone at this workshop. It was important to our institute! While we don’t technically work in crisis and conflict, a lot of the reading and math work we do is linked to that so I went to try to create the evidence for why we should be involved with this and bring it back to our team.
ECCN: What was your experience of the workshop?
Hamlaoui: I found it very interesting. It was a great experience and a great initiative that they were able to bring people from different organizations, and I think the different presentations were rich, and it was a nice introduction and overview of how these organizations are working, especially the different case studies. It also reaffirmed my understanding of how textbooks and curriculum can be powerful tools, especially in relation to history, patriarchy, and gender, or it could be the opposite and how it can lead to regional or global challenge. The working groups were amazing. I was involved in the pedagogy working group because I used to be a teacher. I think it was great because it’s the start of something really big.
Norman: First of all, I really liked the different speakers. For me, what really hit home was the presentation by Dr. Karina Korastelina George Mason University and how she brought an academic and theoretical perspective that provided a better framework for what we were doing and also hearing from implementers and practitioners. Also, bringing in the donor perspective, too. The workshop did a great job for creating the case to push this forward from all angles: practitioner, researcher, donor, policy level. For me it was really well-rounded. And I also really liked being driven to have action at the end. I appreciated how we had a plan and identified deadlines and how we were going to achieve that. I felt like I learned a lot, but I also contributed some too. They did a great job accommodating a variety of backgrounds and players.
Krysik: I was fascinated by the workshop and learned so much from the many presentations. I wish I could have been party to more of the small group discussions. It was great to meet so many experienced people representing almost as many organizations. Many of the acronyms were new to me, and I struggled to keep up. I appreciated the materials on the Google drive that I can share with my colleagues.
ECCN: What do you see as the main takeaways from the workshop?
Hamlaoui: I think it’s the working groups—the way it was organized and how, at the end, we were able to come up with action points and the follow-up and how there’s really a continuation and now each working group is working to finalize their part. Of course, also the relationship-building and just the network of people I met that I’ll continue to connect with. In terms of importance, I was going to say about how we’re supporting education and I think there’s more and more emphasis now with the SDG 4.7 on not only access but learning. Now there’s more emphasis on math and science, and what the social-emotional skills do is they empower the kids, so that they have the tools to be good citizens in the future and to speak out in their countries, to make a big difference and stand up for their rights.
Krysik: That there is much to be done, and the work is evolving at a fast pace. That there is a network to facilitate broader involvement, and that can help the work to advance by sharing ideas. That there are identified best practices in terms of how material is presented. That there is so much complexity in some geographic areas, with the tribal languages and cultural contexts. That we all benefit from the development of tools that can be shared—such as the resource guide on gender and diversity.
Norman: I felt like the main takeaway is we are here to make the case for why we need to push SEL forward in teaching and learning materials and how it can be a contributor to SDG 4.7 but I also took away that there’s a lot from the research angle that we still haven’t fully grasped yet. Why are we measuring what we are measuring and how we are going to do it? Is measuring SEL a means within itself or a means to an end? I’m reading some other literature now that was produced by Brookings and the Woodrow Wilson School [The Future of Children Journal] and they are saying the same thing: that within our field right now, we haven’t agreed on a set of frameworks or a set of tools. We have a lot of research done, but there still needs to be an amalgamation and a marrying of the different research that has happened. The other takeaway was that we are dedicated to making this happen and that we believe it’s important and USAID believes it’s important.
ECCN: How do you see yourself applying lessons from the workshop in your professional practice?
Hamlaoui: I see an expansion and being able to grow and contribute more to my organization when this work gets implemented. As I said before, it’s also the belief that this is a stream that will be one of the important streams for moving forward.
Krysik: My most immediate application is to help my master’s student with the implications of his thesis research in Myanmar. The workshop helped me with understanding the implications of his work and to better understand the implications of social-emotional development, along with success in the basic academic subjects. I hope to continue to work on the measurement issues related to social emotional well-being, the development of useful tools, and the dissemination of current research and thought.
Norman: This is something I want to do a lot more of. I may go back to school and pursue my PhD, and this is an area that I would want to focus on. From an institutional level, SEL is becoming more important to RTI, and we are applying this in our early childhood development work, for instance, on our project in the Syrian refugee camps as well as our continued work in Uganda. I’m also on a new internally-funded research initiative—that is, looking at the factors that make up a school and school life and how that affects social-emotional learning. We are talking about which concepts and theoretical frameworks we are going use for that study. I talked about this conference yesterday. It was a nice mirror to see how we are doing internally here and what is being done in the field. Now I’ll be able to create that link. It will be a nice feedback loop for the work I’m doing here at RTI.