Based on quality research literature, what should be taught to prepare K-12 and higher education students to integrate successfully into society (communication skills, critical thinking, etc.) and what subjects and life skills will best prepare st...

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Based on quality research literature, what should be taught to prepare K-12 and higher education students to integrate successfully into society (communication skills, critical thinking, etc.) and what subjects and life skills will best prepare students for the next phase of life?

Hello! Thank you for your question about what should be taught to prepare K-12 and higher education students to integrate successfully into society. The short answer in that children in primary education benefit from programs that target social and emotional learning (SEL), comprehensive sex education, anti-sexism and racism, internet safety, and vocational training and job skills. Likewise, older college-age students also benefit from continued training in all of these areas, appropriate for their level.
Please read on for a deep dive of my research/findings.


I began on searching for academically produced research papers and findings, particularly ones published within the last two years. I was able to find a number of quality academic sources, however, as is often the case with academic research, many of these studies had been conducted before 2015. I did not use any research older than ten years old, and used research that was only heavily cited in other academic sources, including ones that were recent academic papers (these often dealt with tertiary ideas not directly related to the brief). Next, I searched through established news media sites for articles that cited scientific research in their explanation of relevant information, or were written by experts in the field. Please read on for my findings.


Social and emotional learning, or SEL programs, teach children through adults effective skills to "to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions." In short, SEL programs teach self-regulation, and are most effective when they begin very early (even as young a preschool), but are still effective if first implemented as late as high-school or college-aged students. Two-year-olds can be taught to understand and control tantrums, and older children gain a skill set that enables them to direct their own behavior towards goals, "...despite the unpredictability of the world and [their] own feelings."

A research study by Joseph A. Durlak, et al. entitled "The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions" studied 213 school-based SEL programs (kindergarten to high school), for a total of 270,034 students. As compared to controls, those students that participated in SEL programs saw an 11-percentile-point gain in academic performance and achievement, and showed significantly improved "social and emotional skills, attitudes, [and] behavior."

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), a close and sometimes overlapping cousin to SEL program, is a particularly effective approach for teenagers and college students. DBT was first developed in the 1970's by Dr. Marsha Linehan to treat adults with borderline personality disorder-- a mental illness with a variety of symptoms ranging from depression to chronic suicidal thoughts. Dr. Linehan reframed BPD as a problem with the emotion regulation system, and believed that a highly structured intervention or program targeting emotional learning and understanding could help sufferers. DBT is a blend of "..the acceptance strategies of mindfulness with the change technologies of [Cognitive Behavior Therapy]..."

Alcohol and drug abuse is a common problem among college aged students (a problem that has significantly increased since 1998).
Prevention based interventions and training have been proven to be moderately successful, but often do not address the underlying emotional reason for excessive drinking. Research has also demonstrated that those college aged young adults who drink to regulate emotions are "heavier drinkers, experience more consequences, and are likely to continue drinking heavily after college." DBT is empirically supported and proven, by itself, to effectively reduce binge eating and substance abuse.


Comprehensive sex education is "...a planned, sequential K-12 curriculum that is part of a comprehensive school health education approach which addresses age-appropriate physical, mental, emotional and social dimensions of human sexuality." It should cover a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, STIs (sexually transmitted infections, otherwise known as STDs), contraceptives, sexual consent, sexual orientation, media literacy, anatomy and physiology, and healthy relationships. It should be medically accurate and taught by trained teachers.

Studies show that compared to other Western nations, the United States leads in the amount of teen pregnancy, at 80 per 1,000 girls 15 to 19 years old. This is not because teenagers in the United States are having more sex than in other countries, but is linked to the lack of comprehensive and scientifically sound sex education, and the emphasis on abstinence only education, for which even the United States government prefers, despite continually growing evidence that such programs are ineffective.

Research shows that young people who receive a comprehensive sex education have a 50% lower risk of teen pregnancy and marginally associated with "reduced reports of vaginal intercourse." Conversely, abstinence only programs were not associated at all with a delay in the initiation of vaginal intercourse. In addition, abstinence-only programs did not reduce teen pregnancy any more than teenagers who received no sex education.

Studies have shown that racism and sexism are bad for your health, particularly for the groups to which racism and sexism are directed towards. Teenage girls are just as likely to report being abused as their adult counterparts. As well, conservative ideas on gender and sex have been linked to increased domestic violence. Another research study found that sexual and domestic violence was also prevalent in higher education. Therefore, it is important for schools (and parents) to address these issues in an age appropriate manner. Schools should include "... cross-curricular teaching about gender stereotypes, sexism, sexual and gender pressures and gender-based harassment and violence."

And although talking about racism can be an uncomfortable topic for educators and parents, research shows that children, and even infants, notice race and differences between people, even if their attention is not specifically drawn to it. Perhaps counter-intuitively, openly talking about race can "...decrease prejudice, make people feel more comfortable and accepted, and even help kids perform better at school. On the other hand, not discussing race can interfere with children's communication and leave black interaction partners feeling less accepted."


31% of eight to ten-year-olds have cellphones. That number jumps to 85% by fourteen-years-old. As such, children have easy access to the internet at younger and younger ages. Therefore, it is important to teach cybersecurity and cyber-ethics to children, to equip them with tools to protect themselves from bullying and predators online, and reduce predatorial and cyber-bullying activity in the student.
As well, technology is an ever growing part of our world, and future jobs. The World Economic Forum predicts that in 2025 there will the greatest increase and need for qualified professionals in healthcare, technology and computational thinking, business management, financial services and investors, etc. More important than industry specific skills, current employers and research suggest that “...more than technological expertise, 21st century skills refer to content knowledge, literacies and proficiencies that prepare individuals to meet the challenges and opportunities of today’s world." The top four skills identified by researchers were: collaboration and teamwork, creativity and imagination, critical thinking and problem solving, followed by the next four, flexibility and adaptability, global and cultural awareness
information literacy, and leadership. (Many of these skills deal with social and emotional intelligence, which hearkens back to SEL programs).


In conclusion, a number of programs, including Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), comprehensive sex education, anti-sexism and racism education, and vocational and internet literacy skills, have all been academically and socially proven to improve children's, teenager's, and young adult's life outcomes.

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