MARCH 8 — Schools are a centrepiece in nurturing the skills and talents required for Industry 4.0 (IR4.0). In meeting this need, Education Minister Maszlee Malik’s recent speech in London on the importance of social-emotional learning (SEL) in the classroom is timely.

It comes at a critical time when Malaysian public schools are struggling to cope with various stressors and behavioural challenges.

Every year, more than 450,000 Malaysian youth transition from our schools into the workforce, either directly after SPM or via higher education institutions. Schools can either be breeding grounds for a skilled and socially-competent workforce, or generations of stressed and behaviourally-challenged individuals. The success of Malaysia in meeting IR4.0 lies at the heart of how we nurture the holistic development of our future generations.

SEL is a critical component — that when successfully put in place in schools — will be a cornerstone in generating strong returns of investment. Having worked with pioneers of SEL at Penn State, interventions developed for schools and communities have shown empirical evidence in increasing academic achievement, improving behaviour, increasing psychological wellbeing, and reducing crime and drug use.

With the sounding alarm from the Malaysian Mental Health Association in the spike of children and teenagers with psychological distress, successful implementation of SEL in schools provides a lifeline to a system in dire need of change.

As a framework, SEL places the human person within his/her social environment where key operating systems for success in school and work include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, social management and responsible decision-making.

Where prevention science is the underlying grid, effective interventions are based on first understanding the risk factors and the protective factors present in the lives of children in schools and their surrounding community, and ensuring continuous assessment of these factors in determining how we fair as we increase the skills and wellbeing of our young people.

While the cost of implementation will not dry the coffers, minimising political variability and ensuring stable policies will ensure that SEL has significant success — going beyond “feel-good” programmes that show little ROI.

Integrating SEL across subjects — from the sciences to the arts — will require a thorough understanding of the science behind SEL, child development, how our education system is structured, and buy-in from key stakeholders in child development including teachers and parents. The coming together of various parts of the social and educational ecology of the child, helps to ensure the system is geared towards successfully meeting the needs of our children, of our vision of IR4.0 and of our nation.

*Dr Brendan J. Gomez is a Fulbright scholar, applied psychologist and senior lecturer at HELP University.

**This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.