3 Jun 2021

Holistic education: good for everyone

From Nine To Noon, 9:34 am on 3 June 2021

Children flourish when their education is social and emotional as well as academic, according to new research from the University of Canterbury.

Yet compared to other countries, our kids aren't doing so well with that. New Zealand youth - particularly Māori and Pasifika - scored relatively low on social-emotional wellbeing (SEW) in a UNESCO study.

To better support socio-emotional learning (SEL) in Kiwi classrooms, University of Canterbury researchers are now working on a set of guidelines for teachers.

A close up shot of a little boy at school who looks distant and upset.

Photo: 123RF

Professor Letitia Fickel of the University of Canterbury

Professor Letitia Fickel of the University of Canterbury Photo: University of Canterbury

The government's 2019 Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy confirmed we still have plenty of work to do in figuring out how to best support New Zealand's culturally diverse tamariki, University of Canterbury professor Letitia Finkel tells Kathryn Ryan.

"Our young people have told us what it takes to make a good life. They've said they want to be loved and nurtured and have that sense of belonging and acceptance. If those are the things they're telling us, it's something that's missing for them currently."

To develop recommendations for schools, University of Canterbury researchers have a pilot programme - based on both western psychology and kaupapa Maori - underway in two Otautahi Christchurch schools.

Before the pilot began, the researchers spent a year working with teachers at the schools, Professor Finkel says.

"What we're trying do is both help the teachers what those components of socio-emotional learning and development are - cause it is lifelong skill development - and supporting the teachers to develop some of their own skills for managing that.

"We're trying to help teachers deepen their understanding of how that relates to socio-emotional wellbeing and how to adapt and maybe reframe some of what they already do… in ways that more explicitly enable [socio-emotional] learning for young people."

The researchers are especially interested in how children themselves perceive wellbeing, belonging and relationship skills, she says.

Langauge around emotion and wellbeing is "quite linguistically based", Professor Finkel says, so kids often need help developing their own emotional vocabulary.

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