Imagine a world where every political leader had to pass a test. Not an academic examination or a face-to-face interrogation, but an assessment of the individual’s social and emotional competencies. How do you think our political leaders would fare?
Though we’ll never know the results, what is clear is that we need to develop socio-emotional competencies, not just in our political leaders, but across society. Mahatma Gandhi, too, recognised the importance of building character. He believed the education system of his time was flawed (little has changed in this regard). Real education, he argued, had to draw out the best from young people.
As we celebrate Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary, his ideas are as important as ever, with violence on the rise (the results of the 2018 Global Peace Index found that peace had deteriorated for the fourth successive year) and a growing apathy towards the problems of others.
Mahatma Gandhi observed, “the real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated.”
Social and emotional learning is one way to improve character. A growing body of research supports building social and emotional capacities for effective emotion regulation, setting and maintaining positive goals, empathy towards others, establishing and maintaining positive social relationships and responsible decision making. Moreover, socio-emotional learning programs can act preventatively to minimize the likelihood of bullying, antisocial behaviour, excessive risk-taking, anxiety and depression.
The fallout from ignoring social and emotional learning can be severe. According to a study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a lack of socio-emotional learning regularly correlated with unfavourable outcomes such as an increased chance of unemployment, divorce, poor health, criminal behaviour and imprisonment.
The world has ignored Gandhi by and large. The signs are clear: our education systems are failing us. It is not just that global peace is deteriorating, our educational systems are still based on the outdated concepts that irked Gandhi in his time: rote and academic success.
Academic success, while important, cannot be the end goal of our education system. Education must pursue a grander goal; an education for human flourishing. Such an education will ideally give equal weightage to both knowledge acquisition and developing pro-social aptitudes with an end goal of giving the individual the opportunity to, as Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen advocates, lead a life she or he has reason to value.
As a parent of a dyslexic child, I have witnessed first-hand how the current state of the educational system is ill-suited for children with different needs. It has instilled in me a determination, as Gandhi urged, to be the change, I have wanted to see.
In this mission to reimagine education, I have become an ardent proponent of mainstreaming social and emotional learning through digital games. Game-based learning develops cognitive, social and physical skills simultaneously while enhancing values like cooperation and teamwork. Studies have shown the knowledge and skills acquired through games are retained longer than many other learning methods.
One shining example of how games can be a powerful enabler-- Bury Me, My Love, an adventure game from the stable of Pixel Hunt, Arte France, FIGS. The game sensitises players to the myriad challenges and difficult choices refugees face as it follows Syrian refugee, Nour and her husband Majd on a perilous journey to safety in Europe. Instead of focussing on the violence as many games do, Bury Me, My Love explores the humanistic side and helps players understand the emotional toll war inflicts on oneself through the adventures of Nour and Majd. UNESCO MGIEP helped create a curriculum for this game and other games, to help sensitize kids about issues such as violence, the refuges crises, identity and self-esteem among others.
Though in some ways the world is different from the time of Gandhi — with unfettered technological advancement, increased accessibility to education, improved democratic spaces and freedom — it also remains similar in that it is far from achieving peaceful and sustainable societies. All his life Gandhi held to two fundamental principles, Ahinsa, non-violence, and Satya, truth.
Through the Gandhian pathways of experimentation and experience, game-based and socio-emotional learning can provide the platform for the world’s 1.8 billion young people to develop skills such as empathy, mindfulness, impulse control, kindness and criticality.
Unless the world resurrects Gandhi’s teachings instead of merely remembering him for nationalistic reasons, future generations might not be able to fulfill their potential to wage peace and sustainable development.
The author is UNESCO MGIEP’s Director. He is a Fellow of the World Academy of Arts and Sciences (WAAS), a Fellow of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and a visiting Professor at the University of Tokyo, Japan.