Beyond Past Paradigms: Building a Global Ecosystem for the Future of Learning

By: Dominic Regester and Louka Parry

Never before have we had more societal data and technology at our fingertips. Yet the promise of an education that appropriately equips for the challenges and possibilities of the modern world remains too often unfulfilled. Of course, measurement has always played a role in education, but our challenge today is to move beyond narrow academic measures and mechanistic narratives and try to better measure and promote learner growth and human development.

This measurement challenge has many parallels in other industries. In the management world, for example, people often repeat the mantra, “what gets measured gets managed.” This quote is often misattributed to the management guru Peter Drucker when, in fact, it was actually academic V F Ridgway who in 1956 outlined the dysfunctional consequences of reducing the many diverse aspects of systems to simplistic numbers.

“What gets measured gets managed — even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so.”

Other measurement regimes, such as Gross Domestic Product, provide further examples of narrow measures into human progress. Thankfully movements to evolve beyond GDP towards the measurement and promotion of “liveability” and “societal well-being” are underway. New Zealand’s much heralded “well-being budget” announced last month is one such initiative demonstrating this exciting and vital evolution.

Schooling, however, still offers one of the best examples of the incomplete view of the full process, narrowing down success to academic results often through standardised tests. Indeed, it is still the case that as a learner in some education systems, one receives a single number to summarise one’s entire educational journey.

Thankfully, education is emerging from this past paradigm, and there are an incredible range of organisations, leaders, schools and educators moving it forward. As we innovate learning for the fourth industrial revolution, vital social emotional skills are becoming an increasing focus.

We need to measure what we value most, or we risk valuing our outdated measurements.

In early 2017 Salzburg Global Seminar, an independent, not-for-profit organisation, whose core mission is ‘to challenge current and future leaders to shape a better world’ published a Statement on Measuring and Evaluating Social and Emotional Skills. The Statement was one of the outputs from a five day program with 50 leading members of the educational community that had taken place in Salzburg, Austria in December 2016 entitled Getting Smart: Measuring and Evaluating Social and Emotional Skills

The Statement begins with a call to action:

“One of the main reasons for the historic lack of engagement with social and emotional skill development in schools relates to issues of measurement. It is a feature of education policy around the world that the majority of teachers’ time in school focuses on the delivery of their curriculum, which has traditionally been organized around things that could be measured. Latest developments in social and emotional skills measurement allow these skills to be measured meaningfully within different education systems. These measurement tools enable school systems around the world to advocate for systemic change that involves incorporating social and emotional learning programs.”

The Statement further outlines the need for mixed methodologies to be applied in the measurement and assessment of SEL and makes the following specific recommendations around reporting.

“Social and emotional skill measures should produce data and information that can be reported in a way that enables key stakeholders to take action to deliver quality education.

Reporting should:

  • Understand the needs of all students including the most marginalized and at risk;
  • Encourage educators to embed effective social and emotional development interventions;
  • Inform parents and guardians on how to support social and emotional learning at home;
  • Inspire policymakers in education and other sectors including health and social policy;
  • Trigger community leaders to mobilize resources for the development of social and emotional skills; and
  • Promote public understanding and trigger widespread media interest in social and emotional learning.”

In the nearly three years since this initial work, the field has evolved in some really positive ways and there is a remarkable window of opportunity that exists at the moment for Social and Emotional Learning to become the major education reform theme for our current era. Broadening what is measurable and therefore valued in education and policy circles.

There are a great many different voices calling for change in how education systems are organised and in the outcomes those systems are designed to achieve.  A lot of the answers to these different demand-driven reforms lie with social and emotional learning programs.  Social and emotional skills (or life skills) are key human capabilities that allow individuals to manage their emotions, work with others, and achieve their goals. There is rightly no universal SEL skills framework, as different cultures attach different levels of importance to different skills. What is increasingly widely accepted is that these skills are crucial for the well-being and success of every child and adult, and for the future of our societies and economies.

To try and help drive this reform agenda forward, Salzburg Global Seminar has organised a further five programs focused on SEL since 2016. The December 2018 program was the next one to publish a formal Statement.

In a section titled Pedagogy, Curriculum and Assessment the Participants from the program state

“Every education system should explicitly include SEL in their pedagogical, curriculum and assessment practices across all ages from early childhood through adolescence to adulthood – the sooner, the better. Investing in one area without the other will not produce the desired transformation.

SEL learner-centered pedagogical practices, curriculum and assessment approaches should be tailored to each country’s context in order to reflect different cultural considerations.

SEL requires a learning and school environment that is physically and emotionally safe and inclusive.

SEL training has a positive effect on teacher well-being and their relationship with their students, which has a positive impact on student outcomes.

Assessment influences how people (students, parents, governments, and the public) judge what is important in education. The design and scope of educational testing therefore has far-reaching societal and professional implications. Meta-analyses have shown that social and emotional skills are good predictors of both short- and longer-term academic outcomes, labor force readiness, and health and well-being. However, these skills are left out of most assessment and measurement programs.

We believe that all children should have access to social and emotional learning opportunities. Therefore, all assessment systems need to embed social and emotional learning assessment. An important next step in this field will be the development and validation of context-specific social-emotional learning progressions.”

There is a clear need for a globally connected ecosystem, to drive clarity, avoid duplication and ensure access to this work. CASEL has been a fantastic proponent of this work across the United States and has represented a sector in significant growth, and also has increasing global recognition.

With a view to further advancing this agenda and helping to build a community of committed policy makers, researchers and practitioners, we are proud to have helped initiate a new Global Alliance for Social Emotional Learning and Life Skills called Karanga. Karanga means a call out in welcome in the Maori language of New Zealand, and although this alliance is still in its infancy we already have some major players involved, including CASEL, Harvard, Microsoft, ETS, Qatar Foundation International, World Innovation Summit for Education, the European Network for Social Emotional Competency and The Learner First.

At its heart, Karanga’s core vision is to help create “a thriving world where all learners are enabled with the skills to succeed in school, work, and life.” New insights and breakthroughs around the measurement, assessment, evaluation and recognition of Social and Emotional Skills will be crucial in realising this vision, so we would like to invite you to join the global movement and register your interest at

By better connecting the growing movement of educators, schools, districts, researchers, and policy makers working deliberately to embed social and emotional learning into schools, universities and workplaces, we can create and accelerate our collective impact. And these skills will enable us all to deliver on education’s promise for every learner wherever they happen to be in our world.


Dominic Regester is Program Director at Salzburg Global Seminar –

Louka Parry is the Founder and CEO of The Learning Future – or

They are both Salzburg Global Seminar Fellows and members of the Executive Committee of Karanga: The Global Alliance for SEL and Life Skills


Photo Credit: Salzburg Global Seminar



Disclaimer: The Assessment Work Group is committed to enabling a rich dialogue on key issues in the field and seeking out diverse perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Assessment Work Group, CASEL or any of the organizations involved with the work group.

Posted in:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *