Challenges related to school and the learning outcomes of students have been brought up often lately. The school world has been looked at from the perspective of teachers, students, and policymakers. “The fault is unnecessarily being searched by positioning academical and socio-emotional skills opposite of each other. Now we should look at the situation as a whole and see how school culture optimally supports learning”, says director Laura-Maria Sinisalo of Mightifier, a web-based application that helps students improve their social skills, comments on the situation referring to the new study by OECD.

In the recent study by OECD, Beyond Academic Learning, the emotional and interaction skills of 10- and 15-year-old children were studied in ten cities worldwide. According to the study, a sense of belonging predicts better emotional and interaction skills in teenagerhood.

“Many emotional and interaction skills have a positive effect on academic subjects, so the importance of the sense of belonging can not be downplayed. If a student does not feel like they are in a place where they are seen as a whole person with strengths and a voice that matters, the learning doesn’t proceed as well as with students, who do feel like they belong in the school,” reminds Sinisalo.

The study by OECD reveals that inquisitive and persistent students do better, for example, in mathematics. This, as well as solid results about how the capacity of emotional and interaction skills predicts better success in academic subjects, does not support repeat exercises or being led solely by teachers.

“The curiosity, creativity, ingenuity, and own thinking of the students do not improve if they don’t need to do things in which these strengths are needed. In mathematics, it’s important to tie the mathematical problems into real-life – the interests of children and young people to build intrinsic motivation. This way, students will understand that mathematics or any other subject isn’t just for school, but for the rest of their lives,” says Sinisalo.

Sinisalo thinks that positioning academic and emotional skills on opposite sides of each other is futile. It would be more critical to build together a school culture in which the wellbeing of students is at the center.

“We also need the teachers’ voice in the conversation about the decisions regarding the school. It’s time to make space for strengths, growth mindset, and positive feedback,” says Sinisalo.

In her opinion, for example, in terms of the labor market, it’s essential that instead of memorizing things, young students would rather practice emotional and interactions skills already during their school years, not only in their first job position.

“We need a school institution that truly belongs to everyone and can support everyone throughout their whole school career via functioning cooperation networks and resources. Practicing emotional and interaction skills doesn’t need to compete for resources with academic skills. Still, at the latest in the results of the study by OECD, we can see that these skills go the best hand in hand even in the daily teaching life,” summarizes Sinisalo and emphasizes that great successes are experienced daily in schools and that the craft of teachers is still top quality on a global level.

In her opinion, it’s essential to bring attention to these success stories and promising innovations and make the school a suitable place to learn for the future.