08/12/2015 8:26 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Why Schools Need To Boost Their Emotional Quotient

Indian schoolchildren doing their schoolwork in the classroom at their poor village school outside Bandhavgarh National Park. Children of all ages sit on the floor to do their lessons.
Anna Henly via Getty Images
Indian schoolchildren doing their schoolwork in the classroom at their poor village school outside Bandhavgarh National Park. Children of all ages sit on the floor to do their lessons.


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The importance of emotional intelligence (EI) -- the ability to manage one's own emotions as well as those of others -- has been gaining momentum in education for the last 10-15 years. The concept, which emerged in the 1990s as a challenge to intelligence theorists, lends a more democratic dimension to learning, by downplaying Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as the only measure of ability.

Here's an edited version of an interesting story that appears in the brochure of the Yale Center For Emotional Intelligence:

"A 9th-grade math class begins on an active Monday. It's the first class of the day and students are busy trying to solve an equation--all except Patrick. Patrick is distracted and failing the class. However, he recognises the source of his distractions: under the pressure of helping his single mother prepare his four younger siblings for the day, he shuts down when he arrives at school. His teacher, more inclined to ask about his feelings, discovers that Patrick's lack of focus is rooted in stress, not boredom. Together, they devise a plan to help him manage his stress so that he can focus in class.

Now, imagine the same context in another school that concentrates heavily on academic output and old-style teaching styles. There, Patrick's teacher might see that he's having troubles but demand that he pay attention rather than try to get to the root of the problem. Over time, she may label the child as stupid and not up to par with his peers. This approach helps no one.

For over a century, people across the world believed that humans are either intelligent or not, and used very limited parameters to judge this intelligence.

An emotionally intelligent strategy, like the first instance, is a lot more effective and is gaining momentum across the world, particularly in the US. It is based on the theory that emotional skills are crucial to academic performance and the success of an individual.

"Many schools around the world teach emotional intelligence through programmes in 'social-emotional learning' (SEL) with great success. It makes the students more focused on learning, better behaved and motivated, and improves their scores on achievement tests," says Daniel Goleman, author, psychologist and science journalist, who made emotional intelligence popular with his landmark book titled Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI), a concept that has shaken the roots of conventional learning, is now a focal point of studies and discussions on many alternative learning methodologies. Though we can trace back the applications of emotional intelligence to the time of Socrates and Aristotle, and the term appeared in a couple of papers in the 1960s, it did not gain much traction.

In the 1980s, there came the much-discussed theory of multiple intelligence, crystallised developmental psychologist Howard Gardner's seminal 1983 book Frames of Mind. The very psychology of the change Gardner facilitated in cognitive science and education hinges on a better understanding of the very synthesis of multiple forms of information processing by the human brain, something mankind once viewed as a singular concept of intelligence. His research findings dramatically changed our perception of intelligence. Each form of information processing soon acquired a new shape, signified a different kind of intelligence.

For over a century, people across the world believed that humans are either intelligent or not, and used very limited parameters to judge this intelligence. Children could thus be neatly slotted as smart, average or dumb. Fortunately, by identifying and substantiating with proof that there are multiple intelligences within a human being, Howard birthed an all-new thinking process and approach towards psychology, cognitive behaviour and education.

Students can learn how to regulate feelings such as sorrow and anger. This has implications from preventing bullying to facilitating the creative process.

Taking a cue from Gardner, American researchers Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey spent more time researching the role of emotions in intelligence. In 1990, they introduced the term "emotional intelligence" into the mainstream of American psychology in a paper that appeared in the journal Imagination, Cognition and Personality. They defined emotional intelligence as a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one's thinking and action.

Jack Mayer and Peter Salovey explained it like this: "Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive emotions, to access and generate emotions so as to assist thought, to understand emotions and emotional knowledge, and to reflectively regulate emotions so as to promote emotional and intellectual growth."

Mayer and Salovey explained four components of EI:

(1) The ability to perceive, appraise and express emotion accurately.

(2) The ability to access and generate feelings when they facilitate cognition.

(3) The ability to understand affect-laden information and make use of emotional knowledge.

(4) The ability to regulate emotions to promote growth and well-being.

According to them, emotional states can be managed adaptively and directed toward a range of cognitive tasks, including problem-solving creativity and decision-making. Individuals who are not capable of managing their emotions are less likely to be successful in life, which is something many studies have also found.

However, "emotional intelligence" captured the public imagination only when Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence(1995) hit the stands and became an international bestseller. Goleman gave some practical examples on how emotional intelligence was being cultivated in schools and workplaces around the US. According to him, the emotional quotient (EQ) matters more than the intelligence quotient (IQ). He defines emotional intelligence in terms of motivation (persistence), cognitive strategies (delay of gratification) and character (being a good person). He and many other developmental psychologists have come to the conclusion that the traditional notions of analytical intelligence were handicapped for the all-round growth of an individual.

Martyn Newman, consulting psychologist and a leading authority on emotional intelligence and leadership, writes:

"For 10 years the research has told us that, to be successful in our personal and professional lives, we need to show emotional as well as cognitive intelligence. Clear links have also been established between specific emotional skills and outstanding success in the leadership arena... now, findings from the largest Gallup report ever completed in conjunction with the latest insights from a number of emotional intelligence studies, have rocked the behavioural science world by providing surprising data on what really drives leadership performance... the Gallup organisation found a strong correlation between emotional well-being, employee engagement and profitability.

EI and education

The applications of emotional intelligence in learning have profound impact on children's lives. Students can learn how to control their impulses and regulate feelings such as sorrow and anger. This has implications from preventing bullying to facilitating the creative process.

Dr Mary Bousted, a US-based education thinker, in research paper titled "An Intelligent Look at Emotional Intelligence" , notes:

"After well over a decade of top-down, mechanistic instrumentalism, it is right that the balance should shift towards a more human and humane view of what education should be about. It is essential to recognise that children and young people, their teachers and the wider school community are first and foremost human beings, not automata. Seeking understandings of the human condition has always been important to those of us who work in education. It is for this reason I believe that the growing interest in emotional intelligence and emotional literacy in schools and colleges is an important development, and one which we cannot afford to ignore."

Marc Brackett, director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, shares these views. "The feelings students and teachers have at school affect their ability to teach, learn, and interact with others. Learning effective strategies for managing our emotions, as well as helping others in manage theirs, is critical for creating a positive classroom environment and laying a strong foundation for the development of positive relationships and early learning," he told this author.

Research conducted by the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence shows that students with higher emotional intelligence are better prepared to manage their emotional lives, so that they can focus, learn and do their best in school. In emotionally intelligent schools, children learn to manage feelings of anger, disappointment or shame that might otherwise push them to hurt one another. They learn how to be more empathic and build positive relationships. These skills can strengthen the emotional climate of classrooms and reduce the number and severity of conflicts.

A version of this article was first published in Education Insidermagazine

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