Emotional Intelligence – Myth or Reality?

There is increasing media coverage of the government’s plans to introduce lessons in emotional intelligence (EI) in schools in England, not all of it positive. Some argue that this initiative is needed to create a healthy balance after years of focusing on targets, league tables and standardised testing brought about by the introduction of the national curriculum. Others think it’s a load of liberal mumbo-jumbo which has no place in a system which fails to ensure all school leavers have basic maths and literacy skills. According to the recent 2007 CBI / Pertemps Employment Trends Survey 52% of employers are dissatisfied with the basic literacy of school leavers, and 50% with their basic numeracy.

But does it have to be an either/or solution? It might be more effective if separate EI lessons aren’t added into the curriculum (which would mean that some other lessons have to be squeezed out) but if existing subjects, like English, Drama and History are adapted to focus on the relevant EI topics (like self-awareness and motivation). In this way, an EI approach becomes incorporated into the fabric of the school, and ultimately becomes ‘the way we do things round here’. It’s a bit like trying to change the culture in an organisation – it doesn’t work unless behaviours also change.

And there are a couple of interesting points which do need to be explored further in order to get parents and teachers on side with this. The first is whether or not EI can actually be measured – as with happiness and well-being assessments, much of it is subjective. Does that mean they are any less meaningful or useful? In a system so tied in to targets and league-tables, this may not be an easy one to resolve.

The second is whether EI can be increased through teaching or training. It is true that a greater number of EI assessments are being used in the business world today, to help enhance ones skill in recognising and understanding emotions, ultimately enabling them to be managed more effectively. What we don’t know is whether ones EI can be increased – even the experts behind the original EI theory, Mayer, Salovey and Caruso are unsure about this.

Most people working in the positive psychology field appear to welcome the introduction of EI into British schools. If we want it to be successful, however, there is one big caveat….DON’T create an EI league table!

2 Responses

  1. Yang-May Says:

    Once this sort of thing becomes part of the curriculum I fear it’ll become all about bits of paper and admin and not the spirit of the thing. The real power of emotional intelligence comes from being in the company of those who excel at it and who lead by example.

  2. Bridget Says:

    This is a good point Yang-May. Some critics have argued that social and emotional learning isn’t a school’s responsibility anyway. If both teachers and parents were role models, would we need a separate initiative at all?

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