Commercialisation of Social and Emotional Learning

Year: 2017

Author: Hogan, Anna, Enright, Eimear, Stylianou, Michallis, McCuaig, Louise

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is an increasingly popular phenomenon in Australia, the UK and USA. There is a prevailing logic that SEL can be implemented in schools as an easy 'fix' to a diverse range of issues that young people face. Research argues that SEL programs can work to reduce problem behaviours, decrease emotional distress, improve social and emotional skills and increase standardised test scores for students. However, the problem that most schools encounter when adopting SEL is deciding where it fits within the formal school curriculum and who has the responsibility for teaching it.
The solution to this complexity has been provided by commercial organisations. In Australia, for example, the government endorsed and funded initiative, KidsMatter, is a website that provides comprehensive information about mental health for Australian primary schools and identifies over 100 commercially available SEL programs to help schools make an informed choice when selecting a program to implement SEL. The interesting point here is that commercial products are being promoted as the most effective way for schools to implement SEL.
Research to date has predominately focused on how likely SEL programs are to improve student outcomes. While this is important research, particularly considering the significant investment some schools are making in purchasing commercial SEL programs, the argument of this paper is that there are broader issues also worth considering. For example, no research has considered the rationale underpinning why schools and teachers are so readily purchasing commercial resources. Thus, this paper seeks to better comprehend the rationale for the commercialisation of teaching and learning resources through the case of SEL.
Our theoretical framework for understanding the rise of commercialisation in schooling is shaped by understandings of teacher agency (Priestley, Biesta & Robinson, 2015). Emerging research about commercialisation generally argues it is undemocratic for schooling. However, through our analysis, informed by the perspectives of school leaders and teachers, we suggest there is a need for a more nuanced argument, in which private sector organisations are recognised for their potential to support teaching and learning. We note that there needs to be a much stronger distinction in academic literature between notions of the commercialisation of schooling and the privatisation of schooling. We argue these are quite different in terms of how they operate and what they seek to achieve. We hope to stimulate debate about the commercialisation of schooling, particularly the commercialisation of teaching and learning resources.