Which Social Emotional Skills Are Important For Psychosocial Problems of Prevocational Education Students ?
Adolescence is a challenging developmental period for young people to become independent of their parents and to make important choices for future education and work. Psychosocial problems, e.g. violence, depression and anxiety can also increase or emerge during adolescence. Social and emotional skills or life skills, are supposed to support young people to increase psychosocial health (Durlak et al 2011; Sklad et al, 2012). These skills are related to success in school, life and work.
Social and emotional skills are important for future employees who are expected to be flexible and who are able to adapt continually to changes in jobs as this is the reality of today’s working life. This is important for all jobs, including those at the bottom of the labour market. It is the task of education to contribute to raising motivated, engaged and responsible future employees by enhancing SEL skills that matter (OECD, 2015).
Schools are seen as a natural setting for teaching and learning social and emotional skills and for promoting students’ healthy social and emotional development. The schools provide students with programs to enhance social and emotional skills. Those programs show positive effects on psychosocial health (Durlak et al, 2011; Sklad et al, 2012).
Social and emotional skills are defined in various ways. We used the multivariate construct of the five social and emotional learning (SEL) skills of the CASEL group (Zins and Elias, 2007) 1. Self-awareness: the identification and recognition of emotions and strengths and a sense of self-efficacy and self-confidence; 2. Social-awareness: showing empathy, and respect for others, and be able to take different perspectives; 3. Self-management: being able to control impulse, manage stress, stay motivated and show persistence in goal setting and achieving; 4. Relationship skills, being able to cooperate and communicate with others and to seek and provide help when needed; 5. (Responsible) decision-making: the evaluation, reflection, and taking personal and ethical responsibility for personal behaviour and social interactions. The construct of the SEL skills is often referred to in the last decade as being essential for the development of psychosocial behaviour in youth. The SEL skills are supposed to overlap. A lack of insight exists in the correlation between SEL skills and between SEL skills and psychosocial health. And there is also limited knowledge about the mediating functions of SEL skills (Durlak et al, 2011).
In order to tailor school programs to those skills that are the most important to address in relation to psychosocial health, we are interested in the extent to which SEL skills are associated mutually and to what extent the skills are associated to psychosocial outcomes.
The following two research questions were formulated:
- To what extent are the SEL skills, separately and together, related to psychosocial health?
- To what extent do one or more SEL skills mediate the relationship between other SEL skills and psychosocial health?
We hypothesized that:
- The five SEL skills are interrelated.
- The five SEL skills are, separately and together, related with aspects of psychosocial health.
- One or more SEL skills mediate the relationship between other SEL skills and aspects of psychosocial health.
To investigate the relationship between SEL skills and psychosocial health data from the baseline measurements of a longitudinal study on the effects of a SEL program for prevocational education students in The Netherlands were used. We distinguish emotional behaviour disorders and pro-social behaviour as aspects of psychosocial health. The Dutch school system selects students at an early age (11 years) for different secondary education levels. The students in our study are from the lowest tracks of prevocational Education Training (pre-VET) and from Practical Training (PT), a track with students with special educational needs. The pre-VET and PT tracks prepare students either for secondary vocational education or directly for the labour market. Youth in these tracks are more often from low socioeconomic backgrounds and ethnic minority groups (Dorselear et al, 2010). These students show lacks in social and emotional skills and are in need of training those skills to participate at school, at work and in the community.
A total of 562 students, aged 15-17 years, were enrolled in the study. They completed a questionnaire. Parents gave passive consent for participation.
The population of this study exists of Dutch students in grades 3 and 4 (compare grades 9-10 UK), in pre-VET and PT tracks. Background characteristics of the population under study were measured with regard to age, gender, school-level and perceived ethnicity.
Three self-report measurement instruments were used, to measure SEL skills and psychosocial health. The Questionnaire Psychosocial Skills (Vragenlijst Psychosociale Vaardigheden, VPV, Ploeg et al, 2013) was used to examine four of the five SEL skills, e.g. self-awareness, social-awareness, self-management and relationship skills. A scale to measure responsible decision-making was extracted from an existing questionnaire to measure SEL skills (Gravesteijn and Diekstra, 1998). The Dutch version of the strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire Adolescents (SDQ-A) (Goodman, 1997, Van Widenfelt et al, 2003) was used to identify psychosocial health outcomes.
Descriptive statistics were used to calculate frequencies, means (M), and standard deviations (SD) with regard to demographic characteristics, e.g. gender, age, school level and ethnicity.
Regression analyses were done to examine the relationship between the SEL skills (independent variables) and psychosocial problem outcomes (dependent variables). To determine which of the five SEL skills are important with regard to psychosocial outcomes multiple regression analyses were performed including all five SEL skills in a model. Mediating effects of the SEL skills in relation to psychosocial health were analysed.
Regression analyses showed that higher scores on each of the five SEL skills were significantly related to lower scores on the aspects of psychosocial health emotional behaviour problems and pro-social behaviour. All SEL skills were significantly related to one another.
Multiple (backward) regression analyses were performed to examine the associations between the SEL skills and the aspects of psychosocial health. These analyses showed significant associations between three of the SEL skills, self-awareness, self-management, decision-making, and emotional and behaviour disorders (β=-.11 to -.37). Significant associations were also identified between four of the SEL skills, self-awareness, social awareness, relationship skills, decision-making, and pro-social behaviour (β = .11 to .30).
Mediation analyses resulted in one significant mediating model in which self-management partly mediated the association between self-awareness and emotional behaviour disorders. Social awareness partly mediated the association of self-awareness with pro-social behavior. And social awareness also partly mediated the associations between relationship skills and pro-social and the association between responsible decision-making and pro-social behavior. No mediating effects were found for the other SEL skills.
All five SEL skills were interrelated as we expected from theory. The associations between SEL skills and psychosocial health were expected as well. The identification of SEL skills that are more related to the different aspects of psychosocial health compared to others is an addition to existing literature. The results of this study, that some SEL skills (i.e. self-management and social awareness) mediated the relationship between the other SEL skills and aspects of psychosocial health, can be used to tailor SEL programs.
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