Social Emotional Learning and Inequalities in Academic Achievement: Evidence from Kenya, Vietnam, India, Peru and Ethiopia [CIES2024 Presentation]

Research in high-income countries has established a relation between social and emotional learning (SEL) and academic achievement. However, evidence is lacking from low- and middle-income countries. In this paper we present two studies to address this lack of evidence. In the first study we analyse data from a nationally representative survey of SEL and literacy skills in Grades 1-3 in Kenya. In a multiple regression analysis, 4 of the 5 SEL skills measured – assessor-rated confidence, self-rated confidence, interpersonal negotiation strategies and peer relationships – were independently associated with literacy skills. In addition, children who perceived their learning environment to be supportive also had better literacy skills. A supportive learning environment was a stronger predictor of literacy skills for boys compared to girls. There were inequalities in academic achievement, with children in urban areas, and those with wealthy parents, having better literacy scores than poor children in rural areas. Up to 50% of the academic advantage of wealthy, urban children was explained statistically by their more advanced SEL skills and more supportive learning environment. The second study analysed data from the older cohort of children in the Young Lives longitudinal study. The data analyzed were collected from children in four rounds, when they were 12, 15, 19 and 22 years of age. We found a bidirectional relationship between agency (a child’s sense of control over their life) and their achievement in mathematics. In all countries, mathematics achievement was a predictor of subsequent levels of agency. We found that a child’s agency in a given round was associated equally with their agency and their mathematics achievement in previous rounds. In two countries – India and Vietnam – we also found a relationship in the opposite direction: mathematics achievement depended on previous levels of agency. These relationships are important because other analyses of the same data show that gender inequalities in self-efficacy and agency emerge in late adolescence, with girls increasingly lagging behind boys. An implication of both studies is that programs to promote SEL and supportive learning environments may help reduce learning inequalities based on wealth and between urban and rural students (Study 1) and inequalities based on gender (both studies).

Measuring support for children’s engagement in learning: psychometric properties of the PLAY toolkit [CIES 2023 Presentation]

Despite the growing interest in supporting learning through play across many low and middle-income countries, measures of how contexts can support learning through play are lacking. As part of the Playful Learning Across the Years (PLAY) project, the concept of “self-sustaining engagement” was identified as central to learning through play. That is, learning through play is effective because children are deeply engaged in their learning and are self-motivated to learn. The PLAY toolkit was designed to measure how settings – particularly adult-child interactions in those settings – support children’s self-sustaining engagement in learning. The toolkit was developed for use in multiple age-groups across different settings. For the 0-2 age-group, the toolkit assessed support for children’s engagement in the home, largely through interactions between the caregiver and child. These interactions were assessed through observations and through an interview with the caregiver. In the 3-5 age-group, tools were developed to measure support for engagement in the home and the classroom. Tools for the 6-12 age-group were focused only on the classroom. The classroom-based tools had several components. Teacher-child interactions were assessed through observations, a teacher survey and – for the 6-12 age-group only – a student survey. There was also a classroom inventory to assess physical aspects of the classroom – such as materials on the walls – which might support self-sustaining engagement in learning. The toolkit was developed in three phases – the Build phase used qualitative data to understand local concepts of self-sustaining engagement. The Adapt phase used cognitive interviewing and small-scale (approx. 25 schools, centers or homes) quantitative data to refine the tools. In the Test Phase we used large-scale (approx. 150 schools, centres or homes) quantitative data to assess the psychometric properties of the tool. This presentation focuses on these psychometric analyses. Data were collected for the 6-12 age group from Kenya, Ghana and Colombia; for the 3-5 age group from Colombia, Jordan and Ghana; and from Colombia only for the 0-2 age group. Results indicate how the concept of “support for self-sustaining engagement” can be divided into constituent sub-scales and how the different methods of assessment – observation, teacher report and student report – relate to one another. We will discuss plans to develop a final toolkit, based on these analyses, which can help strengthen the evidence base on learning through play.