Until we help our children feel safe, we cannot help them learn
Network of Education Policy Centers (NEPC) Executive Director, Lana Jurko, was one of the keynote speakers at the Conference “The interplay between child wellbeing and academic attainment” that was held on the 9th and 10th of March in Skopje. The conference was organized as a joint initiative of the Government of North Macedonia, British Embassy Skopje and UNICEF.
The two-day conference has brought together education experts, thought leaders and advocates from the region and beyond to share experiences and evidence on the latest developments in social emotional learning in early childhood and the rising importance of technology and digital skills and how they relate to overall student wellbeing and mental health.
The keynote speech on the connection between wellbeing and learning pointed to several important elements education stakeholders have to take into consideration when discussing the topic of children’s wellbeing.
Feeling safe in school
A major factor that influences feeling safe in school is bullying. Data shows that on average across OECD countries, 23 % of students report being bullied at least a few times a month. Boys and low-achieving students in reading were more likely to report being bullied (OECD 2018). Furthermore, data shows that this influences their learning, on average across OECD countries, students who reported being bullied at least a few times a month scored 21 points lower in reading than students who did not report so, after accounting for socio-economic status.
Development of social and emotional skills
Development of the social and emotional skills in children at an early age is of great importance for their achievement later in life. A sense of belonging to the school and the peer group is vital, especially for vulnerable children at greater risk of exclusion. Cross-national learning achievement surveys show that about 2 in 10 children in the region feel like outsiders in school (OECD, 2018). Low rates of entry, progression and learning are just the final, most visible outcomes of socio-economic processes that marginalize, disappoint and alienate children and youth. A ‘toxic mix of poverty and discrimination’ results in them being ‘excluded because of who they are’ (UNESCO, 2021).
Improving wellbeing of learners will improve learning
The right to be in good physical and mental health, happy and connected with others is as important as the right to learn. Schools are a key environment for the development of children’s well-being through creating and fostering inclusive school climate and culture. A positive classroom atmosphere, where teachers recognize and support students’ effort, is crucial for learning.
What can be done? Inclusion is not just a result; it is first and foremost a process and an experience
- Comprehensive whole-school anti-bullying programs should be systematically introduced in schools.
- Alongside family, schools are a key environment for development of children’s well-being. A positive classroom atmosphere, where teachers recognize and support students’ effort, is crucial. A sense of belonging to the school and the peer group is vital, especially for vulnerable children at greater risk of exclusion.
- Give them voice: Students mostly believe they can change very little at their school, and that there are default rules that are difficult to change from their position. It is necessary to take a step forward from pure formalism in establishing a student council if we want emancipated, empowered and competent citizens who have the right to (co-)decide their own reality. Teachers should actively involve students in the co-creation of classes and the teaching process, question their ideas and suggestions, modify the teaching processes and enable students to feel “ownership” of their own learning.
- Education systems should actively invest in teachers’ competences to enable them to work with more creativity, innovation and courage in the teaching process as well as in their approach to students.