SEL Does Not Happen in a Vacuum: Lessons from Peru

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a complex term with different meanings and understandings across cultures and contexts. However, understanding these context-specific meanings is vital to implementing and measuring the success of SEL programs as SEL does not occur in a vacuum, an insight revealed through a study led by the Global Center for the Development of the Whole Child (GC-DWC). Alex Rios, from the UNESCO Horizontes Peru program sat down with the GC-DWC to share his experience in understanding local perceptions of SEL in indigenous communities in Peru and the role this plays in his daily work. The following article is based on this conversation.

The UNESCO Horizontes program works in several rural communities in Peru to support adolescents in developing their life plans through key SEL skills. While Horizontes has an SEL framework of ten different skills that connect individuals to their local as well as global communities, indigenous communities rarely refer to these skills with the same terminology. For example, when you ask a community member what the most important skills are for an individual to possess, they frequently describe SEL but not in the terms with which we may be familiar. By listening and taking the time to understand the culture and contexts that form these ideas, practitioners and researchers are able to identify SEL skills within local contexts, and say, “yes, this looks like solidarity” or “yes, this is empathy.”

Horizontes then uses this information to understand what skills and ideas are most important in different communities and how to best implement culturally-relevant programming to develop SEL. Although some may view SEL skills as universal, meaning they are the same in different countries or contexts, Horizontes believes that they are localized, and cultures often create new meanings or provide different frames by which to understand and develop SEL skills.

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