Contextualizing the goals of social and emotional learning curricula and materials

Programs to promote social and emotional learning (SEL) risk making assumptions about the global relevance of core competences. Because scholarship is lacking about SEL in many parts of the world, new approaches are needed to contextualize the goals of SEL programs in a realistic time frame. Previous work in anthropology and developmental psychology can help us predict which competences are likely to be valued, given the sociodemographic characteristics of a society. In rural environments where subsistence agriculture is common, for example, communities are likely to value social responsibility, respect, and obedience. Attention should look beyond the needs of the here and now, however, to speculate what competences today’s children will require in the future. Looking at the current variation of competences within a society—for example, the values that teachers, but not parents, place on confidence and curiosity—can help identify immediate pathways for developing new competences. In all of these considerations, the goals of an SEL program must be negotiated with the communities themselves in order to ensure relevance, effectiveness, and acceptance. The hope is that such considerations can help prevent global homogenization of SEL programs, instead ensuring that they genuinely meet the needs of the communities they aim to serve.