The power of social and emotional skills

01 March 2018


Mathematics, reading, writing – these are all basic skills children should learn in school. But what about conscientiousness, the ability to engage well with others, open mindedness, or emotional regulation?

At the first Strategic Debate of 2018, Dirk Van Damme, Head of division in the Directorate for Education and Skills at the OECD, made an important presentation on why these important skills, which fall under the umbrella term of social and emotional skills, must be included and equally stressed in a modern 21st Century education alongside cognitive skills.  Social and emotional skills are fundamental for professional life and have a profound impact on health, social progress, happiness, and even human mortality.

Social and emotional skills also factor into the learning objectives of the fourth Sustainable Development Goal for education. For example, the inclusion of “relevant and effective learning outcomes” in target 4.1 and “youth and adults who have relevant skills…for employment, decent jobs, and entrepreneurship,” in target 4.4 alludes to not only cognitive skills but non-cognitive skills such as problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, and conflict resolution, among others.

While it is clear that social and emotional skills hold an important place in education today – and are part of any learning process– education administrations and other stakeholders are not always aware of their importance. As echoed in the debate, measurement of these skills need to be part of assessments to ensure that all children and youth develop these crucial skills, which will help them adapt quickly, and successfully to an uncertain future. 

Carmel Gallagher, a Senior Specialist from the UNESCO International Bureau of Education, who was the discussant during the debate, said that while she was not necessarily a proponent of measurement – in the general sense – she would welcome it if it could help ensure the education and well-being of the child in a holistic manner for overall societal progress.

To help advance this conversation and ensure that countries do not leave these types of skills off the agenda, the OCED has launched a study on social and emotional skills. Discover more here on the study.


Find the slides of the debate here: 
Dirk Van Damme's presentation
Carmel Gallagher's presentation