Photo for illustrative purposes Image Credit: Suppled

Dubai/Abu Dhabi: Schools in the UAE and elsewhere are increasingly expected by parents and authorities to develop children’s social or “emotional intelligence”, above and beyond traditional academics.

Education officials in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, for example, take student “wellbeing” into consideration during school inspections, not just their performance in class. Also, the UAE has introduced ‘Moral Education’ as a compulsory subject in all schools.

As part of their studies, students have to learn values such as empathy – taught through a community outreach programme to a local charity or hospital, a project to carry forward a good deed at school or home, etc.

Universities and employers also look at candidates “soft skills” that demonstrate he or she can work with and lead people of diverse backgrounds.

School principals in the UAE told Gulf News there is also a clear link between SEL, or Social-Emotional Learning, and academic success.

Neil Matthews, principal and CEO of Dubai’s GEMS Wellington Academy - Al Khail, said SEL enables children to better manage the new-age pressures of technology and social media.

At Wellington, SEL takes place during “curriculum enrichment programmes”. Matthews said: “Children have many opportunities to become responsible leaders, to try new things and give back to their community. Learning spaces such as our ‘Yoga Studio’ enable children to be mindful and aware of their own feelings and emotions.”

He added: “As a school, we have very recently embarked upon the ‘High Performance Learning World Class Award’. This two-year programme engages our school community in embedding a range of ‘Values, Attitudes and Attributes’ within our teaching and learning. These include ‘Concern for Society’, ‘Open-mindedness’ and ‘Resilience’. Throughout the programme, our children will be supported in developing these across all areas of the curriculum.”

Shared responsibility

Every adult and organisation responsible for a child’s development should focus on SEL, said Kelvin Hornsby, principal and CEO of GEMS Cambridge International School Abu Dhabi.

At Cambridge, the process begins early. “One of the first things we take note of when assessing children before admission is their social and emotional skills. How good they are at separating from their guardians, how well they can interact with peers and how effective they are at communicating with others – all of these will impact their performance at school and overall wellbeing,” said Hornsby.

He added: “Children’s social and emotional skills do not affect whether or not they are admitted to the school, but we certainly assess them thoroughly because we can use this information to better support their overall learning.”

“This kind of learning is then our main focus in the Foundation Stage, in fact the nucleus, and this continues through to Year 13, as we preparing our young adults for life beyond school, often away from the family network of support.

“SEL is embedded in everything we do – from formal morning gatherings, class and tutor time, assemblies and the curriculum, and especially within Moral Education,” Hornsby said.

In a school setting, one of the main periods when social-emotional skills come into play is when children start a new academic year, as anxiety can crop up when children step into unfamiliar new places.

While teachers are trained to assist children during this period, the school also has a trained Arabic-speaking psychologist.

“Teachers regularly use role play, dress-up and games like ‘Draw How You Feel’ to assess how children are doing and better support them. And for those children who have a language barrier, our psychologist steps in to make sure language isn’t the reason why students are kept from feeling happy and safe,” said Kim Teakle-May, primary phase deputy headteacher at the school.