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).

Promoting Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom: Evidence for the 'How' [CIES 2023 Presentation]

This presentation featured an SEL Guidebook, which builds on the USAID-commissioned systematic review of SEL. The authors reviewed and researched the emerging evidence for integration of SEL into the school and classroom, including evidence-based approaches that target three categories of SEL: (1) SEL in the classroom and curriculum (i.e. pedagogical interactions that foster SEL and well-being); (2) explicit student-focused activities, and (3) School Climate (what contributes to a context that supports, welcome and nourishes SE development). The findings from this review informed a Guidebook that provides : o Comprehensive set of SEL approaches and activities, with practical examples of each; o Guide for SEL contextualization; o Series “how-to” scenarios for designing and implementing SEL programs based on a context’s needs, culture and policy context. This guidebook serves as a significant contribution to the field in that it identifies the evidence for SEL in LMICs and synthesizes into actionable and digestible information for the busy program designer, donor and/or implementing partner.

The central role of school culture and climate in fostering social and emotional learning: Evidence from Malawi and Uganda

The central role that the school and classroom environment or ‘school climate’ plays in social and emotional learning (SEL) is well documented, albeit mostly from US-based studies. RTI International sought to understand how schools in Malawi and Uganda organized themselves to provide positive and supportive places for children to learn and to develop socially and emotionally. The narratives captured in this study help explain how teacher behaviors and school culture serve to nurture social and emotional (SE) skills. Teachers, students, parents, and school management committee (SMC) members discussed the importance of teacher encouragement, friendliness and approachability, appreciation, understanding of and listening to student viewpoints, and modeling of cooperative teacher–teacher interactions to support SEL. School qualities identified as important for SEL included cooperation, student clubs and sports, a violence-free environment, freedom of expression, and commitment to equality. The findings yield insights into what schools can do to develop a culture of SEL, in and outside the classroom.

School Culture and Climate (and Love) Matter: Voices from Malawi and Uganda [CIES 2019 Presentation]

This study sought to identify the factors in the organizational culture and environment of a small sample primary schools in Malawi and Uganda that make them more (or less) conducive to children’s social and emotional development. The research team postulated that social and emotional learning are not products of the implementation of an “SEL” curriculum, but rather are inherently dependent on and result from the nature of the school climate.

What's Positive About Positive Schools: Lessons from Malawi and Uganda [CIES 2019 Presentation]

RTI conducted a small pilot study in Malawi and Uganda to identify the factors in the organizational culture and environment of primary schools that make them more (or less) conducive to children’s social and emotional development. The research team postulated that social and emotional learning are not products of the implementation of an “SEL” curriculum, but rather are inherently dependent on and result from the nature of the school climate.

Audio Computer-Assisted Self-Interview: Improving confidentiality in data collection techniques for SRGBV [CIES 2019 Presentation]

Panelist #4 on Measuring School-Related Gender-Based Violence: Tools, Resources, and Lessons Learned Panel. For many children around the world, schools are danger zones and places to be feared. UNICEF’s 2018 report on SRGBV noted that one third of teenagers (ages 13-15), globally, experience bullying. It is hard to imagine positive learning outcomes amidst such prevalence of violence as noted by UNGEI in their 2015 report: “widespread gender-based violence in and around schools seriously undermines the achievement of quality, inclusive and equitable education for all children.” Yet, policy makers, funders, and implementers lack the accurate prevalence information needed to inform effective programming that successfully addresses the roots of SRGBV and the way it is manifested in the lives of children. There remains a gap in global, comparable data on these experiences of violence: “Serious obstacles for documenting violence exist in many countries, and social taboos and fear of repercussion limit the safe spaces available for children to acknowledge and report experiences of school-related gender-based violence” (UNGEI 2015). Country data from Uganda supports this statement where 85% of students surveyed did not report cases of violence they had witnessed or personally experienced for fear of retaliation, discrimination, or further victimization (RTI International, 2018). To explore a new method to minimize barriers to collecting reliable prevalence data on SRGBV, this study piloted the use of Audio Computer-Assisted Self-Interview (ACASI) and compared it to the traditional Face-to-Face (FTF) method. ACASI removes the assessor from the survey administration and, therefore, increases both the privacy and confidentiality of the survey. The study piloted ACASI with a small sample of P5 and P7 students (ages 10-14 approximately) in nine Uganda public primary schools with the two specific research questions: 1) Does ACASI improve the process of data collection? 2) Does ACASI improve the quality of data collected? The study found, on average, that students using ACASI reported experiencing two more acts of SRGBV than students who participated in the FTF method, and that students using ACASI were more likely to report an incident of SRGBV than the FTF students for two-thirds of questions asked. The study provides evidence that students are more likely to endorse having experienced SRGBV when using ACASI than when asked by an interviewer. Although this study was a pilot and therefore small-scale, these results underscore the importance of the method of data collection in collecting reliable prevalence data.

School Readiness Program Prepares Children for Grade One

Success story about a recent kindergarten initiative under USAID's Early Grade Reading and Mathematics Project to help children and parents prepare to enter school.

Journeys Toward Eliminating SRGBV in the Uganda Literacy Achievement and Retention Activity (Presentation)

Presentation from Lauren Edwards at USAID's Dissemination of the Global Guidance on School-Related Gender-Based Violence.