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Dennis Minott | Cultivating kindness - Building a generation of empathy in Jamaican schools


Published: Sunday | May 12, 2024 | 12:09 AM


In this 2019 photo Akira Kanehama, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) volunteer and Timol Stanberry, PE teacher, teach a group of kindergarten students of Tarrant Primary School to stretch.- Amitabh Sharma

The recent surge in deadly violence, shocking incivility, and shameless entitlement within Jamaican schools, from West to East, is a stark reminder of the need for a fundamental shift in our educational approach. While law enforcement plays a crucial role in maintaining order, fostering a culture of kindness, empathy, and emotional intelligence in the face of relentless envenomation and lethal toxicity within the very culture of our schools requires a more long-term strategy.


Enter Social and Emotional Learning (SEL)

This column isn’t about placing blame, but about seeking solutions. Imagine a future where “Kindness at large in Jamaican Schools” isn’t met with a question mark, but a resounding affirmation. This vision, while seemingly ambitious, is achievable through a concerted effort focused on SEL.


Beyond Responders: The Heavy Lifting of Educators

Lately, we rely on authorities like police officers, guidance counsellors, social media influencers, Tik Tok “case managers”, justices of the peace, school chaplains, lawyers and deans of discipline to address student misbehaviour. These roles are vital, but they are at best “first responders”. The true heavy lifting lies with educators who shape and socialise our youth. Just as teachers equip students with numeracy, they can equip them with critical thinking, compassion, and emotional intelligence. This requires deliberate lesson-planned teaching, and active learning, not passive absorption.


SEL: A Marathon, Not a Sprint

Cultivating kindness, empathy, and emotional intelligence is akin to a marathon, not a sprint. It necessitates a long-term commitment to SEL at all educational levels. Countries like Bhutan, Finland, Singapore, Switzerland, Estonia, Ireland and New Zealand have demonstrated the effectiveness of integrating SEL into their national curricula. (Consult the latest and prior PISA results!)


Bhutan: A Model for Holistic Education

Bhutan, a small Himalayan kingdom, offers a compelling example. Despite its focus on English and STEM for global connectivity and relevance, Bhutan wisely prioritises a holistic education that emphasises the social and emotional well-being of students. This philosophy aligns perfectly with SEL principles and has worked and delivered wondrously.


Finland: A Champion for Well-being

Finland, consistently ranking high in educational performance, has been a strong advocate for SEL for over 15 years. Their national curriculum emphasises social, emotional, and ethical development alongside academic skills. Finnish teachers receive extensive training in fostering supportive learning environments and integrating SEL strategies into their classrooms. (They are also well paid.)


Singapore: A Star, Dimmer Than Jamaica at its Independence in 1965, Now Far Brighter Through Education 29 Years Later

Singapore has a comprehensive framework for SEL, which is an integral part of its education system. The Ministry of Education (MOE) has developed the 21st Century Competencies (21CC) framework, which includes core values, social and emotional skills, and 21st-century competencies that underpin the holistic education necessary to prepare students for success in an increasingly globalised world.


SEL: A Recipe for Success

The benefits of SEL are undeniable. Studies have shown that students who participate in SEL programmes exhibit:

• Improved emotional intelligence

• Enhanced social skills

• Greater empathy and compassion

• Reduced bullying and violence

• Increased academic achievement

• Stronger motivation for learning

The Jamaican Imperative: Mandatory mCEL

Jamaica needs a bold step. Let’s advocate for Mandatory Compassion & Emotional Learning (mCEL) education across all schools. This transformative approach, coupled with comprehensive teacher training, offers a pathway towards a generation of empathetic, resilient, and well-rounded individuals.


INVESTING IN THE FUTURE

Implementing mCEL requires an investment, but the returns will be immeasurable. We stand to reap dividends in terms of:

• Improved academic performance

• Safer and more harmonious school environments

• Reduced crime rates

• Enhanced mental health outcomes

• A more compassionate and cohesive society


A Brighter Future Starts Now

The introduction of mCEL education is a pivotal moment for Jamaican schools. By nurturing the emotional intelligence and social skills of our youth, we are laying the foundation for a brighter and more compassionate future. Let us seize this opportunity to empower our children and cultivate a generation where kindness thrives within and beyond the walls of our schools.


Here’s the Thing:

Here’s a summary of the limited but promising evidence gleaned from my search results:

• Academic Improvement: Some studies suggest a positive impact on academic performance. For example, a programme in Chile saw a 10 per cent increase in math scores for students receiving SEL instruction.

• Social-Emotional Benefits: Studies report positive changes in students’ social and emotional well-being. A programme in Colombia found a 19 per cent reduction in reported depressive symptoms among participating students.

• Reduced School Violence: Research suggests a potential decrease in disciplinary issues. A study in Brazil documented a 15 per cent drop in suspension rates for schools implementing SEL programmes.


It’s important to note that these are just a few examples, and more research is needed to solidify the cause-and-effect relationship between widespread SEL ( i.e., mCEL) implementation and these outcomes on Central America and the rest of Ibero-America. Additionally, the specific numbers might vary depending on the programme’s design and implementation fidelity.


Overall, the available evidence suggests that SEL programmes in Latin America hold promise for sustainably improving academic performance, social-emotional well-being, and reducing school violence. However, I concede that further research with robust methodologies is needed to solidify these findings for our CARICOM region including our most populous, now out of order, member to Jamaica’s immediate East.


Dennis Minott, PhD, is the CEO of A-QuEST-FAIR. He is a multilingual green resources specialist, a research physicist, and a modest mathematician who worked in the oil and energy sector. Send feedback to: a_quest57@yahoo.com.


by Dennis A. Minott, PhD.

May 26, 2024

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