CANGYUAN, China, 14 July 2019 – UNICEF Ambassador, Wang Yuan, wrapped up a visit to a primary school in Cangyuan, Yunnan Province, where he met girls and boys and teachers benefitting from a UNICEF-supported project that promotes children’s social and emotional wellbeing.
The trip took Wang Yuan to a rural school near the border with Myanmar, where most students are from the Wa ethnic group. The ambassador actively participated in social and emotional learning lessons, games and sports activities, and learned how the school strives to build a caring, peaceful and friendly climate where children feel valued and enabled to develop their potential.
“During this visit, I saw children playing, learning and living their childhood with self-confidence, positive attitude and high aspirations for the future,” said Wang Yuan, “Meeting with the girls and boys in such a remote region, you sense how much support that UNICEF and its partners are providing for them to thrive in life and fulfill their potential, empowered with the skills they need for life in the 21st century.”
Since 2011, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF have been working to implement a Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) project in 250 pilot primary schools across five rural counties in five western provincial-level regions, namely Chongqing, Guizhou, Yunnan, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Now the project has expanded to another 275 schools across 11 provincial-level regions, through teacher training and the introduction of social and emotional learning into school curriculums.
It helps children to develop competencies such as self-awareness, social awareness, management of emotion, empathy, interpersonal skills and responsible decision making, all of which significantly influence children’s learning, their communication with others – peers, teachers and parents - and mental health.
“Today’s children need skills that prepare them for modern workplaces, for doing business, for succeeding in an increasingly globalized and digital world. These skills are not innate. They are practiced – in the classroom – skills such as problem solving, working with people, harnessing the power of information technology, and analytical thinking,” said Cynthia McCaffrey, UNICEF Representative to China. “Instead of focusing so much on rote learning and becoming obsessed with exam performance, there needs to be more emphasis on the skills and attributes needed for a successful and productive life. Education systems that integrate social and emotional learning components into school curriculums are at the cutting edge of modern education.”
During the visit, Wang Yuan sat in the classrooms with the students, as they learned how to better manage emotions and deal with challenging situations like bullying. He actively joined group activities, shared his opinions and exchanged ideas with the students about practical solutions to address bullying in person and online. What impressed him the most is the importance of social and emotional learning, and how it helps students to grow critical social skills and build healthy relationships with peers, and creates a peaceful and productive learning environment in schools.
Wang Yuan also learned from the teachers how the project has transformed the school culture to one that prioritizes the wellbeing of children, and the relationship between teachers and students towards a more equal footing.
“The students I met at the school are genuinely happy despite the economic adversities, because as a result of the SEL project and the child friendly school framework, their happiness and the skills they need for the future are put well ahead of their academic performance,” said Wang Yuan.
Noting that such a nurturing environment and support helps students to do better in school and grow up to be responsible citizens with brighter prospects for the future, Wang Yuan said he hopes more attention can be directed to children’s social and emotional well-being rather than just focusing on academic excellence, and that social and emotional learning can be rolled out in more schools and benefit every girl and boy across the nation.
The field visit to Cangyuan took place after Wang Yuan took on his new role as UNICEF ambassador in November 2018. In 2017, as UNICEF Special Advocate for Education, he visited child-friendly schools in Sanjiang, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, to spread the message on quality education.
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