In what video panel discussion could you watch a high school student in Bhutan lead his peers in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Japan and South Africa, along with their adult moderator, in a mindfulness practice – after which you’d hear from a neuroscientist at a U.S. university and Sri Lanka’s Minister of Education?
That would be this video, created by UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace (MGIEP) for this month’s launch of their new report “Rethinking Learning: A Review for Social Emotional Learning [SEL] for Education Systems.”
There are some remarkable adults in the video, such as Minister H.E. Dullas Alahapperuma, saying Sri Lanka is committed to “mainstreaming SEL” in its schools to grow “empathy, compassion and a sense of solidarity with humanity” to help develop “sustainable development”; MGIEP director Anantha K. Duraiappah, saying SEL is key to “human flourishing …a necessary condition for building peaceful and sustainable societies across the world”; and neuroscientist Richard Davidson, professor and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin, Madison, saying SEL is “critically important…timely…and an urgent public health need [amid] rising rates of depression, anxiety and suicide in young people. The pressures on them are increasing with each passing year,” with Covid only adding to that challenge, Dr. Davidson said.
Students’ views & advice
But the best part was watching high school students Abobaker Sadat in Kabul, Mahira Mamum in Bangladesh, Anil Subba in Bhutan, Tejas Shukla in India, Ryota Nakashima in Japan and Ammaarah Johnson in South Africa talk about what they’re learning under Covid conditions, at home. Watch the video, and I think you’ll see, too, that they’re spreaders of hope.
They’re among the 1.6 billion students in 195 countries whose schools closed this past April, according to Minister Alahapperuma.
Asked by moderator Nandini Chatterjee Singh of MGIEP what they miss the most while sheltering in place, the students’ instant consensus was, “my friends.” When Singh followed up along the lines of, “But don’t you have Whatsapp and Snapchat?” they all seemed to agree with Abobaker that “It’s not the same.” Their reasons were individual but along the same lines, including the need to focus on family at home, a lack of privacy, “we can’t really share everything” they can offline, and “the real things cannot really happen in texting,” as Mahira put it.
Ms. Singh asked them if they had advice for better online (and at school) learning, and they had a variety of suggestions, including classroom mindfulness training, as Anil has at his school in Bhutan; more opportunities for students to share their perspectives, online and in the classroom, as Mahira, Tejas and Abobaker advised; and using online-learning games in digital and offline class work, as Ammaarah and others suggested. They all seemed to wish teachers were less serious and did more to put students in a “good mood” (part of the seriousness of teachers, I suspect, is being forced by Covid to get comfortable with connected-learning technology very fast!).
The life skills they’re learning
When asked what life skills they’d been learning while sheltering at home, the answers were heartwarming (and made me want to meet their parents!). We heard Ryota say he had learned to cook dinner for his parents (he described a whole meal); Mahira the same; Abobaker learning to cook as well as doing laundry for the family; and Tejas learning to reduce his parents’ stress by giving them massages, caring for a family member and forming a band (he held us his guitar). Watching them answer this question gave me this sense that helping their parents and families has given them a new sense of purpose or usefulness.
Summing up the discussion, their moderator made a suggestion that I wish all parents could hear:
“As adults we need to stop worrying a little bit, you know? Our kids are learning wonderful things. They’re growing as personalities. They’re discovering other things which give them joy. And most important, they are acquiring life skills…. It’s ok if trigonometry takes a backseat for one year. Maybe it’s time for kids to … bring back the joy of learning into their lives.”
- Resources for parents and educators: MGIEP’s page of “Essential SEL resources: Covid-19” for parents, educators and learners of all ages and a similarly themed collection of resources from the US’s Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL).
- Coverage: “UNESCO MGIEP urges Member States to mainstream Social and Emotional Learning in education systems” was the headline in India Education Diary’s story on the UNESCO report
- For parents and teachers of young gamers: Games are a part of this too. A contributor to the Rethinking Learning report was Asst. Prof. Matthew Farber at University of Northern Colorado – see this page in the UNESCO site on “Digital Media, Resilience and Well-Being.”
- “Screen Therapy”: On that page, Dr. Farber writes, “How does the media you consume reflect your well-being? To learn more, please see Courtney Garcia’s YouTube channel, Screen Therapy” (the tagline reads, “Movies and Games as Tools for Building Emotional Intelligence”). In her intro to the series, Garcia says, “With current social attitudes around games and an overabundance of research on the negative effects of gaming, it can sound weird to say a game has helped us. This … series will dive into emotionally intelligent games…from the perspective of media psychology and wellbeing research.”
- More on SEL: In case useful to you, there are many posts in this blog on the benefits of social-emotional learning. The collection starts here.