It is necessary to teach not only letters but also to understand yourself

Aušra LĖKA  03/10/2018 16:12

At the Conference, Minister of Education and Science Jurgita Petrauskienė, Professor at the University of Malta Carmel Cefai and Professor at the University of Zagreb Renata Miljević-Riđički discussed how to better prepare children for the challenges of the 21st century. / Photo by Alina Ožič

Today it is necessary to teach children not only mathematics or grammar, but also to interact with each other, to understand oneself and others. But how can teachers teach what they themselves have never been taught?

"We are going through an unprecedented revolution, everything changes extremely fast. The children born today will probably be living in the 2100s. How can we help them find their way in the world where it is already possible to replace body parts, influence brain activity and create artificial intelligence? There are no simple answers, but the main property and necessary ability of this age is to discover everything anew. This is the only thing that is stable in this ever-changing world", said psychologist Eugenijus Laurinaitis, Professor of Vilnius University, addressing the audience of teachers and educators.

At the International Conference "How do we educate our future leaders today: emotional intelligence vs. artificial intelligence", Lithuanian and foreign experts and educators discussed about how modern educational institutions need to change so that not only to provide knowledge to the young generation but also develop absolutely new skills, social and emotional competencies necessary for a future individual. The Conference was organized by the Lithuanian Children and Youth Centre together with the Ministry of Education and Science and the European Association of Institutions of Non-formal Education of Children and Youth (EAICY).

How to help a Robot

"It's easier “to create“ a child than to "correct" an adult. If we spend one euro for prevention, we save eleven euros", said Professor Carmel Cefai, Director of Centre for Resilience & Socio-Emotional Health at the University of Malta, at the Conference. Presenting the findings of the research carried out in the European Union, he emphasized that children who have been learning social and emotional competencies not only were better able to solve problems, but also achieved better academic learning outcomes, and the effect was not momentary, it lasted for a long time.

All psychology theories describe the early years of life as the basis for emotional education. This was reminded to us by Renata Miljević-Riđički, a Professor in teacher education, psychology and education development at the University of Zagreb (Croatia). Will the baby grow up confidence in the environment from his birth to eighteen months, will communication skills develop up to five years, this will affect his entire life. "When you meet the leader, ask him what his childhood was like", advised R. Miljević-Riđički.

Valeria Caviani, a psychologist and Doctor of Human Sciences at the University of Milan-Bicoca (Italy), told about socio-emotional education programmes in Italian nursery schools. "By the age of five, the child has to learn to recognize his feelings and desires, express his emotions, then the foundation for the relationship with his peers are laid, and the acquired social emotional skills lead to further learning outcomes because good learning requires not only subject-specific competency", emphasized V. Caviani.

Italian nursery school children like the programme about a small Robot Timmy who fell from space to the Earth and needed to learn elementary skills, perceive his sensations and understand emotions of others. Kids are looking for answers on how they would feel in the Robot's stead, wondering how they could help him. Nursery school teachers are also asking parents to help their offspring analyze challenges of the Robot at home.

The competencies of the children participating in the programme have been assessed before the start of the programme, immediately after its completion and half a year later, then – when they have alredy been in an elementary school. The results were a pleasant surprise: participants of the programme have been better able than their peers to recognize emotions and thoughts of others, adapt to school more easily and have been more socially sensitive.

Professor of the University of Latvia, clinical psychologist Baiba Martinsonė also emphasized that good education has many aspects which are not only academic but also emotional ones. By all means, individual lessons can be devoted to social-emotional learning, but this must be developed in all other lessons, as well. Now in Latvia, the national education curriculum is being changed, and it seeks to develop social and emotional skills.

Our neighbours are also testing a separate curriculum in this field, which includes ten topics - developing social awareness, ability to control oneself, interaction with each other, and responsible decision-making. Now the curriculum is tested in more than 40 schools. Its effectiveness is estimated, and B. Martinsonė is pleased that in just a year promising changes become more and more apparent, i.e. children's empathy and social competency are increasing. The children born today will probably be living in the 2100s. How can we help them find their way in the world where it is already possible to replace body parts, influence brain activity and create artificial intelligence?

The teacher can not give things he does not have himself

Professor from Malta C. Cefai noted that, unfortunately, there are still many authoritarian teachers who discriminate against some of their students. This passes on to students because they follow their teacher's example, which in this case is very bad. "It is necessary to start with the teaching of teachers, including their social and emotional competencies, because you can not give others what you do not have yourself. If we want to take care of children's well-being, we need to take care of the well-being of teachers. If they are worn out and stressed out, they will not communicate good social-emotional fundamentals to children", said the Professor from Malta.

V. Caviani agreed that teachers play a decisive role in developing children's emotional and social skills, so it is very important for teachers to be trained to teach this, to have these skills themselves and be able to be an example. According to the Italian psychologist, the feature of a good teacher is a respectful communication with children.

Unfortunately, according to B. Martinsonė, Latvian researchers working with social and emotional education programmes at school were surprised by the teachers' survey: when asked to tell about their strengths and weaknesses 45% of them talked not about themselves but about children. "Teachers feel like external experts who teach others, but they lack the perception that they themselves are very important as multipliers of social capital. Teachers have a good education but in order to change, they should be open, open up to their students", noted B.Martinsonė. Of course, if every morning a teacher comes to work thinking that this is the worst place in the world, the students "absorb" that emotion. And numerous teachers at the Conference, who were asked to determine their feelings at school, admitted they were tired and disappointed.

According to Austėja Landsbergienė, an educologist, Doctor of Social Sciences, founder of nursery school “Vaikystės sodas“ and Karalienė Morta school chain, the social and emotional education is complicated by the fact that teachers have to cultivate what they were not taught themselves. Schools need more social workers and psychologists.

Minister of Education and Science Jurgita Petrauskienė emphasized that the role of the teacher is changing - he is no longer the one who knows the most, because now information can be found online. The wonder of the teacher is to see where the child is strong and to open that window to the maximum.

Robert Dargis, President of the Lithuanian Confederation of Industrialists, pointed out that with a changing role of the teacher from a conveyor of knowledge to a coach who helps to navigate in the flow of knowledge, teachers need new competencies as well. Teachers should therefore update their qualifications at least every five years.

"You are young as long as you learn, so I wish you everlasting youth", said the expert of the European Pedagogical Advisory Board, Associate Professor of KTU Danguolė Rutkauskienė, who presented some online programmes to educators, where they can deepen their high-tech knowledge and skills.

What is needed in the 21st century

"A fifth of the US law firms‘ inquires are replied by artificial intelligence. High-tech changes the world, and how should people change? We give children a lot of knowledge, but can we explain to them what to do with it, how to create added value through knowledge?" was asking R. Dargis rhetorically. He noted that nowadays the other competencies are more important than they have been to date. This is a complex problem solving, creativity, teamwork, emotional intelligence, negotiation skills, cognitive flexibility, critical thinking, decision-making, entrepreneurship, also after five years 85% of jobs will require informational literacy.

Gediminas Misevičius, the Head of Swedbank IT Department in Lithuania, agreed that in modern companies the very important things are the ability to work in a team, to understand the emotions of another person, to listen to others and not to indiscriminately obtrude one‘s opinions and decisions upon others. If anyone is not able to do this, it leads to destruction and he becomes not a desirable worker, even if possessing a high level of competence from a business point of view.

Economist Gitanas Nausėda also emphasized longlife learning, he said that you can not be a professional idiot who knows very well only one field. Today, we need social and emotional competencies, creativity, teamwork, and to keep pace with high-tech. The economist regretted that the subjects of logic and elocution were removed from the curriculum, although they are very necessary in modern life.

"Maybe the teacher will be replaced by google and computers?" asked the teachers. The economist did not dismiss this, as teaching and learning are becoming more and more individual, not collective. But he consoled the teachers that computers would not replace them before economists.

According to psychotherapist E. Laurinaitis, the most important property that now needs to be developed is the ability to constantly innovate. And the main thing that we, as humanity, created and due to which we survived was the relationships between people, the ability to build and maintain them. "In this world of relations and reliance, the educator needs to understand what motivates his student, what helps to develop those qualities that will be the main ones in life, and what hinders from this", said E. Laurinaitis. Contemporary neuroscience has proven that curiosity is the most powerful engine to achieve something, that an individual wants to get an appreciation, to be praised. And any novelty means danger because it is necessary to change what we are used to. E. Laurinaitis urged the teachers to make efforts to reduce the fear of change, to raise the curiosity of the children, not to hesitate praising them, so that they would wish to go for more.

Lack of both proper words and actions

Regrettably, as E. Laurinaitis noted, we do not even have exact translations into Lithuanian of terms such as “reinvention“, “connectedness“, “relatedness“, and the verb "develop", in the opinion of the Lithuanian Language Commission, should not be translated into "vystyti", since only a baby can be “vystomas“. Threfore, if we do not even have the words to describe precisely the social and emotional phenomena, we are very far from the concrete actions.

Minister of Education and Science J. Petrauskienė acknowledged that too little attention is paid to non-academic education, as well as to social-emotional learning. In the opinion of A. Landsbergienė, this should be viewed systematically, highlighting several priorities, because if we tackle forty of them, we will not achieve anything. It is necessary to formulate measurable goals, because if you do not know where you go, you will wander around. It is important that social and emotional competencies should also be developed by parents. Now they tend to throw over the education of their children to a pre-school and school, although the educational institution is not a "substitute" but only a "supplement" for home. Studies show that children have logopedic problems because their parents do not talk to them.

And the state of our emotional intelligence is reflected by Lithuanian indicators in the context of drug use, alcoholism and bullying. This was reminded by Valdas Jankauskas, Director of the Lithuanian Children and Youth Centre. However he noted that the approach to social and emotional learning is changing. Twelve years ago, the Centre conducted a parent survey to find out if they would like to have activities that would develop social and emotional skills for their offspring. The answers showed that parents wanted their children to learn to dance or sing.

Six years ago, in a similar survey, many parents already said that their children need social and emotional learning activities. "Now, many people realize that we will not be able to go further without emotional and social skills, ability to work in a team, and leadership is important both in the labor market and in life", said the Head of the Lithuanian Children and Youth Centre.

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