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LearningConnects: Can resilience be learnt at school?

How to approach resilience in the education system, what tools can be used, and what the European Commission is doing to promote resilience in education was the focus of this Wednesday’s LearningConnect session, "Can resilience be learnt at school?”, which was broadcast live on Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube.

The speakers were Dr Arianna Sala, Research fellow with the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission and contributor; Peter Fagerström, Founder and CEO of Teach Millions; and Dr Olena Bekh, Senior Human Capital Development Expert - Coordinator for Innovative Teaching and Learning at the ETF, all of whom were hosted by the ETF's Communication Officer, Denise Loughran.

‘Resilience’ has been heard about extensively during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether to refer to students’ resilience under trying educational circumstances, or teachers’ resilience in having to suddenly teach remotely, or the resilience of people more widely in these trying times.

Olena Bekh noted that in psychology, resilience means flexibility, to be able to positively adapt to a shock or trauma, and bounce back in the face of adversity. In education, employment, and policy discourse, resilience is quite a new term. “In the World Economic Forum’s top 10 job skills of the future, in 2015, resilience was not mentioned, but for 2025, it is in the ninth place,” she said.

Resilience has become more prominent within the EU since the pandemic, with the Skills Agenda for sustainable competitiveness, social fairness and resilience launched in July 2020. The five-year plan aims to help individuals and businesses develop more and better skills through strengthening sustainable competitiveness, as set out in the European Green Deal; ensuring social fairness by putting into practice the first principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights: access to education, training and lifelong learning for everybody, everywhere in the EU; and building resilience to react to crises, based on the lessons learnt during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yet while the pandemic has pushed resilience to the fore, Bekh said there has long been a need for bolstering resilience in education and vocational training. “We started preparing for future possible shocks well before the pandemic, from changes in the labour market, to digitalisation, to the green transition. Resilience also means being emotionally stable, physically fit, being a positive thinker, and part of society - being able to collaborate with people in different communities and environments, and digitally,” she said.

The European Council of the EU and other bodies have been active in supporting practitioners and policymakers over the past five years to better develop skills, adopting a revised recommendation on key competences for lifelong learning in 2018, and developing competence frameworks. These include the Digital Competence Framework (DigCom), the Entrepreneurship Competence Framework (EntreCom), and last year, the European Framework for the Personal, Social and Learning to Learn Key Competence (LifeComp).

LifeComp identifies and defines nine competences that citizens should acquire for employability, active citizenship and personal fulfilment. Resilience is one of the features.

“We know very clearly that to succeed in education it depends not only on acquiring cognitive and technical skills, but also developing the social-emotional skills, or soft skills. LifeComp builds on advanced educational research, on social and emotional learning,” says Arianna Sala.

She dispelled the conception that life competences are considered character traits or innate and not modifiable. “We want to defy this, to promote the idea that we can learn and improve our soft skills and LifeComp competences throughout life, whether young or old,” she says.

Peter Fagerström, the founder of Nordic Edtech solutions provider Teach Millions, and an entrepreneur, concurred, saying that resilience was one of the key competences an entrepreneur can have. “There’s also lot of talk of grit being an inner ability. Some people are born with it, but it can be trained through learning cycles. The LifeComp framework is a great insight into what kind of competences you need to be able to build resilience,” he said.

Resilience is also an important part of active citizenship.

“We live in a volatile, ambiguous and complex world. Those of us more resilient support those that are not. This is how we have built societies in democratic social states, so that people that fall through the cracks are supported by society. And that requires resilience at the individual level, to have a resilient mindset to build these institutions,” said Fagerström.

The teaching of competences like resilience may appear daunting. Bekh however thinks it should not require more hours of teaching or additional subjects to be taught, but rather be through interaction with learners.

“The teacher and learner interaction has changed forever, and we should help both sides. For teachers we need to create supporting structures to be able to act as facilitators of the learning process, and be guided and led by the learner. This includes positive feedback and using formative assessment as learning tools, not as measurements, to reflect on how progress is made in achieving the personal goals of the learners,” said Bekh.

The approach to teaching resilience should also be collaborative and not taught in silos, to better reflect real life experiences.

Asked whether resilience was getting more recognition in education, Bekh used a metaphor from software development. “We are in agile programming mode. We are developing the tools. There is no time to develop something, test it. We have to learn how to do it and put it into practice. We shouldn’t be afraid of trying new approaches,” she said.

A digital skills related tool that can be utilised is SELFIE, a free-to-use platform that enables more effective use of digital technology for teaching and learning, and is customisable. It has 1.6 million users, in over 30 languages and in over 80 countries.

A specific tool for teachers, SELFIE for Teachers, has been recently released. “It helps practitioners reflect on their strengths and weaknesses related to digital skills, and to provide some suggestions,” said Sala.

Other tools include Teacher Booster, a series of videos for teachers in lifelong learning designed to boost their capacity to face the challenges of remote learning and raise awareness on the importance of key competences for all learners. A further tool is Educraftor.

The School Education Gateway is offering a free 10-hour online course course in November to help educators embed LifeComp competences in their teaching practices. “We would like to invite everyone to join the course and take advantage of it,” said Sala.

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