Why education for peace, sustainability through ‘social & emotional well-being interventions’ is the need of the hour (India Today)

In our society, as awareness about education spread, an unfortunate trend of viewing education only as academic competencies followed.

This education day, as we celebrate the fact that India has come a long way in terms of making education universally accessible and inclusive especially through the Right to Education Act, we must also remember that we still do have miles to go.

So, let us pause for a moment and ask ourselves an important question – “What are we educating our children for?” In our society, as awareness about education spread, an unfortunate trend of viewing education only as academic competencies followed.

With this mind-set slowly getting rooted in our collective consciousness, the initial idea of education as a tool to liberate and enable future generations to achieve the larger goals of peaceful and sustainable coexistence slowly dissolved.

Generations of children have been treated merely as the future workforce who needed literary and numerical skills for being employable.

But, this is not the education that founders of this country like Maulana Azad, Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and many others had envisioned, nor is it the idea represented globally or nationally in legal and policy documents such as the “National Education Policy 2020” or even SDGs.

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The children need to first and foremost be seen as human beings having immense potential and capabilities for developing into individuals who need to take charge of their lives as a whole and who are also essentially a part of the larger society.

This broader vision expands the idea of education as a force that creates compassionate and engaged citizens of a country. Children, the citizens of tomorrow, need to be nurtured to be competent and responsible to understand that their actions can have implications on the lives of other people and the planet in future.

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Especially, in current times, when the world we inherited has challenges pertaining to issues like climate change, ecological sustainability and global peace which will decide the future of our race.

On the other hand, the personal coping capacities are also becoming a challenge. Multiple studies including those from organisations like World Health Organisation increasingly report that anxiety, stress and depression are constantly increasing in multiple countries, India being no exception.

Shockingly, one student commits suicide in India every hour as per National Crime Records Bureau data. One issue feed into the other and cycle continues.
In our want for our children to get better grades, we are missing out on the engagement with the children on social – emotional needs or on issues like – is the child able to cope with this pressure or not? What kind of human being the child is going to develop into? Whether they have developed consideration and empathy for themselves and others? Are they able to cope in the negative situations? Can they identify, label, or regulate their emotions? Are they able to form healthy relationships with other human beings and the nature? and so on.

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We need to remind ourselves about education’s larger goal and objective of achieving peace and sustainability and stop ignoring these important facets of education.

Because, otherwise we stand a risk of not only jeopardising the development of a child at individual level but at a national and global level we might fail our future generations in helping them in their preparation to combat the bigger challenges related to sustainability of the human race in the vogue of unforeseen global challenges to peace and sustainability that can be combated through awareness of the self and the society, self-regulation and extra sensitivity towards environment conservation ecosystems.

It is not only possible but extremely doable to come back to the right trajectory in education by laying more focus on the Socio-Emotional Learning (SEL) skills as essential part of education. It is because humans are essentially social beings who possess an innate ability to develop and form interpersonal connections.

These social bonds, formed early in life, create the foundation for human beings to coexist in and across groups.

The “Rethinking Learning” document, a combined effort of researchers from diverse fields like neurosciences, social cognition and so on, by the UNESCO’s “Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainability” argues that the emotions such as hatred, bullying, violence, intercommunal hate all have a lot to do with the unmanaged emotions and have roots in neurobiological aggression.

However, these biological roots of rage and aggression can be trained and the brain circuits can be redirected towards peaceful and constructive action through a systematic SEL intervention as part of education. Their research insights also say that the same knowledge and behaviours that contribute towards reduced aggression, violence, anxiety, fear and anger also contribute towards improved academic success.

The time is right to focus on building the SEL capacities of our children by making conscious and systematic investments in the same.

To achieve this the need of the hour is to mainstream this understanding in our education system in form of very concrete actions as a part of the curriculum so that education is transformed into a system delivering improved holistic development for the children relevant to their needs.

Be a Part of the Movement.