Brendan Hitchens, Program Coordinator, Asia Education Foundation
For most of the last few decades, perhaps even longer, many have viewed academic success through grades, scores, exam results, report cards, and tertiary admission rankings—consequently, many views learning as increasingly validated by rote memorisation of information and bulk content and not necessarily on the skills, values, dispositions or competencies that we want our young people to value.
Our world is increasingly globalised and connected, and it appears the future is increasingly uncertain, volatile, complex, ambiguous, and interconnected. In such a world the need for global competencies is fundamental to a cohesive society and collective problem-solving. Indeed, the rhetoric for the need to develop global competencies in our young people to navigate a world of uncertainty has been around for some time. What is becoming increasingly apparent is the centrality of Social and Emotional Skills (SES) or Emotional Intelligence (EQ) as a core element of global competence.
Global competence is not one thing, it is a nuanced concept and terminology for a collective set of desirable qualities and attributes involving knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values. It refers to individuals developing an awareness of self, of others, of values, attitudes, assumptions, behaviours, cultural and global issues and understanding an individual's and the collective’s role and responsibility in the world.
Arguably, what sits at the core of global competence is social and emotional skills or emotional intelligence – self-awareness, self-management, self-regulation, empathy, problem-solving, connection with others, humility and effective communication. How can one be globally competent if they are not competent within their own emotional awareness and regulation, or aware of the emotion and social skills of others?
The first semester of 2022 started against the backdrop of a continuing pandemic, an escalating climate crisis, political conflict, and war! A time when no doubt we need empathy, problem-solving, connection, humility and sensitivity. A time when it may be worth remembering the words of our Australian Education Ministers on teaching and learning in the 2019 Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration.
In 2019 all Education Ministers from each jurisdiction agreed and declared the educational goal for Australia is to, "prepare young people to thrive in a time of rapid social and technological change, and complex environmental, social and economic challenges."
For that to come to fruition, education must focus on cognitive skills, behavioural skills and social and emotional skills. And for that, educators across the nation must provide effective Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) opportunities for our young people.
These essential skills and values are learned through explicit opportunities to experience, reflect, build self-awareness, motivation, and empathy. Individuals must have meaningful, authentic experiences to reflect on to develop self-awareness and understand ourselves coupled with experiences with others to understand them and manage our relationships. It is perhaps impossible to build and foster global competence without building social and emotional skills.
In an Australian context the term social and emotional skills is often interchangeable with 'personal and social capability’, which is covered within the Australian Curriculum through the General Capabilities. The Curriculum states, “students develop personal and social capability as they learn to understand themselves and others, and manage their relationships, lives, work and learning more effectively”. It is therefore a requirement that our educators provide such learning opportunities for our young people.
In a recent professional development session on Intercultural Communication facilitated by Asia Education Foundation, educators from Indonesia described their understanding of the connection between social and emotional skills, emotional intelligence and global competence.
"It builds relationships and opens up new possibilities," wrote one participant. "It helps us develop our knowledge and understanding of the world and each other." wrote another. "It is the key to connection and collaboration."
Together in the session approximately 70 educators looked closely at the role and purpose of communication and social skills. The session commenced with the word's etymology, which stems from the Latin word communicare, meaning "to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in." Interestingly and notably, very similar to crucial descriptions of what it means to be globally competent.
We investigated the five common purposes of communication, often stated to be;
to express feelings;
Participants explored different forms of communication and noted that communication and people-to-people connections are how we share, learn, and work together, whether it is a conversation, a story, or a film. Particularly stating, it is how we understand different perspectives to take positive action in the world.
It was apparent from the learning session with the Indonesian educators the focus and purpose of Intercultural Communication and Communication is to share, learn, unite and work towards a positive goal or action in the world. That such sharing and communication is what allows us to learn from each other and unite towards a common purpose.
Social and emotional skills, emotional intelligence and global competence, are central to this and for our young people (and all of us) to foster social cohesion, community, relationships and wellbeing. This cohesion is necessary in our workforces, communities, countries and classrooms.
In 2016, Census data found "nearly half (49 per cent) of all Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas," and "more than a quarter (28 per cent) of the Australian population were first-generation Australians (born overseas)."
This diversity is represented in classrooms and workforces the length and breadth of the country.
Transnational mobility has also meant young Australians are now travelling or emigrating overseas to study, work, and explore new possibilities. Further highlighting the relevance of these transferable skills not just for our young people living and interacting in Australia day-to-day but for when they also travel, work, explore or live elsewhere.
Along with moving cities and countries, other studies have found that young people will move between jobs. Research from the Foundation Of Young Australian suggests that “today’s 15-year-olds will likely navigate 17 changes in employer across five different careers.”
Reflecting this, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Reports (2020) highlighted the emerging skills now most in-demand from Australian employers, including; critical thinking, emotional intelligence, active learning, resilience, innovation and leadership. These skills must be taught in schools and addressed explicitly in the Curriculum.
Young people are the future, and that future is now. These skills are not future skills in that they should be developed in the future, but rather, these are skills necessary in our people now and necessary for our schools to ensure they develop in our young people to navigate a successful, cohesive, global future.
Australia has over 3.2 million young people aged 15 to 24, representing one in every eight Australians. For context, that is larger than the entire population of countries like Slovenia, Uruguay, Fiji and Malta.
Rather than being aspirational, Australia must acknowledge the percentage of its population that is the future and significantly invest in its young people.
So, let us start with courageous conversations, recalibrating our perceptions of academic achievement, prioritising the whole student and their social, emotional, intellectual, wellbeing learning journey to become globally competent.