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Exposing children to social and emotional learning programmes at school may not only immediately improve their mental health, social skills, and learning outcomes but even lead to long-term positive outcomes, according to new research.

Social-emotional learning teaches children to recognise and understand their emotions, feel empathy, make decisions and build and maintain relationships. 

"Social-emotional learning programmes teach the skills that children need to succeed and thrive in life," said Eva Oberle, Assistant Professor at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Canada.

The researchers found that students who participated in such programmes graduated from college at a rate 11 percent higher than peers who did not. Their high school graduation rate was six percent higher. 

Further, for participants drug use and behaviour problems were six percent lower, arrest rates were 19 percent lower, and diagnoses of mental health disorders were 13.5 percent lower.

All the children benefited from these programmes regardless of race, socio-economic background or school location, the researchers said.

"Teaching social-emotional learning in schools is a way to support individual children in their pathways to success, and it's also a way to promote better public health outcomes later in life," Oberle said.

For the study, published in the journal Child Development, the team analysed results from 82 different programmes involving more than 97,000 students from kindergarten to middle school in the US, Europe and the UK where the effects were assessed at least six months after the programs completed. 

Schools are an ideal place to implement these interventions because they will reach almost all children, including those who are disadvantaged, the researchers noted.

"However, these skills need to be reinforced over time and we would like to see schools embed social-emotional learning systematically into the curriculum, rather than doing programmes as a 'one-off'," Oberle said.

- IANS