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Social and Emotional Skills Cultivation in the Education System

Activity type: Consensus Committee
Activity coordinator: Dr. Tali Friedman
Activity period: Active committee - From 2017
Today, cultivating socio-emotional learning (SEL) is considered an important and inseparable aspect of educational and learning processes, this, partly in response to the accelerated technological development and social and cultural changes which characterize the 21st century.
 
Imparting and acquiring socio-emotional skills are meant to eventually be reflected in improved academic achievement, positive social functioning, ability to adapt to complex situations, decrease in behavioral problems and emotional distress. Mastering these skills is manifested over time in behavior shaped by internal beliefs and values and is accompanied by “seeing” the other, as well as accepting responsibility for one’s choices and behavior. In the broader context, it was found that there is a connection between these skills and successful personal, social and occupational functioning.
 
Most of the SEL programs running today in Israel and worldwide were intended to build and strengthen five interconnected skill sets among students: self-awareness, self- regulation, social awareness, relationship management, and taking responsibility.
 
The Ministry of Education administration recognizes the importance of socio-emotional skills and handles the issue in diverse ways, with the common denominator being the perception that the school arena serves as the “training ground” for students’ socio-emotional development. It is an inseparable part of their mental well-being, their cognitive development and of broadening their world of knowledge. The thinking at the Ministry of Education is that these socio-emotional competencies are acquired skills – they can be taught and trained for. Currently, in the education system, the Psychological Counseling Service is responsible for teaching and developing social and emotional skills and it does so on several fronts, the major one being through the Life Skills Program.
 
Nonetheless, in order to expand and deepen the learning of these skills and to optimally impart them to all students, the Ministry of Education requires a scholarly compendium of the knowledge developing worldwide in the field and of the experience accumulated in Israel. Such information would be able to help the decision-makers at headquarters and in the field and serve as a basis for development and implementation, and to stimulate public discourse on the topic.
 
With these objectives in mind, the acting chief scientist at the Ministry of Education turned to the Israel Academy of Sciences with a request that the Initiative for Applied Education Research establish an expert (consensus) committee. In the course of its work, the committee will raise central topics and questions, will amass and study critiqued empirical knowledge from Israel and the world, will learn from the experience of professionals and academicians and will, at the end of the process, publish a final report of its findings, conclusions, and recommendations for future policy. The final summarizing report is expected to be published in the spring of 2020. The Ministry of Education (MOE), through the Psychological Counseling Service and the Chief Scientist’s Office will place at the committee’s disposal the most comprehensive data they have available about practice in Israel. At the committee’s request, MOE representatives will prepare written and oral situation reports about the areas of their responsibility relevant to the committee’s work. Yad Hanadiv is interested in assisting the MOE in promoting topics it deems important and supports the MOE’s engagement with the Academy in this aim.
 
The committee will carry out its work while conducting ongoing discourse with two other currently active Initiative committees which interface with the areas it is pursuing: the Committee to Adapt Curricula and Study Materials for the 21st Century and the Committee for Optimal Management of Professional Development and Training in the Education System. Examples of topics the committee will address:
  1. In Israel and abroad, what are the main motivations for cultivating emotional and social skills?
  2. What are the possible implications of learning skills?
  3. What kinds of modifications are made with respect to different age groups? Different social and cultural groups? 
  4.  Can the emotional and social skills the education system promotes and cultivates be chosen? And if so, how can this be done?
  5. What is known about teaching methods found to be useful for cultivating these skills and about teachers’ characteristics and professional development that were found to be beneficial? What is the relative contribution of teaching these skills as a separate “subject area” (for example, a “Life Skills Program") as opposed to incorporating them when teaching other subjects in the curriculum? In the context of mapping and analyzing measurement tools to assess emotional and social parameters and to measure the level of the student in the school: is it possible to define measurable standards and norms for these skills and if so, how? Can such measurement be integrated into existing accountability systems?
 
For additional details: Dr. Tali Friedman, academic coordinator, tali.education@academy.ac.il