SEL: That special ingredient

Most of us are all but back to our routine lives, the pandemic having been nearly forgotten even though the virus continues to travel among us. Despite the signs that linger – “No mask, no entry” or “Keep safe distance” – it’s hard to believe that barely two years ago we were in a state of high anxiety and uncertainty, locked away in our homes and staring at screens to connect to the worlds of work and education.

But as teachers, we know that the place we are in is far from routine. Even in 2020, just months into distanced learning, studies showed that the pandemic had deepened the divide between those with access and those without, between the urban-connected and the rural-unconnected, with some children left so far behind that it was feared they could never catch up. A study by Azim Premji University published earlier this year revealed that losses in language and mathematical ability were significant among primary school children, and noted that this would have a major impact on children’s ability to progress at the expected levels upon their return. An investigative report by The Indian Express documented what math learning losses meant in one classroom, closely observing the everyday struggles among both teachers and children to cope with a curriculum whose goals seemed harder to reach.

Yet we persevere, and try to plug the gap with innovative ideas, hard work and some special ingredients that are hard to define but crucial if we are to achieve any results – empathy and emotional support. These are terms that have been bandied about so much that they have lost not only meaning but significance, yet research the world over suggests that learning is both supported and enhanced in environments where children receive positive emotional and psychological reinforcement. This is true when we talk about the “normal” classroom, but it becomes even more necessary when we are dealing with the post-crisis classroom, and whether we have directly experienced it or not, we have all been through a sense of crisis.

The three stories relating to our cover theme in this issue offer arguments, exemplars, and pathways to suffusing our classrooms and our teaching interactions with those special ingredients. Formally, the NEP recognizes social-emotional learning as a curriculum deliverable, but it is much more than that when properly done, as our contributors note. It is more than a pedagogical approach; it is a way of being with each other – peers, students, the community, and the wider society. A classroom whose climate is imbued with the principles of SEL will, to a large extent, help children (and teachers) struggling to cope with learning in the aftermath of crises.


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