Is EQ more important than ever?

As we ask students to become more globally competent, the need to develop social and emotional skills – or emotional intelligence – is more essential than ever

Brendan Hitchens, University of Melbourne

Brendan Hitchens

Published 7 April 2022

For decades, many people have viewed academic success measured through grades, exam results, report cards, and tertiary admission rankings. Consequently, learning has been validated as the rote memorisation of bulk content.

As the world becomes increasingly globalised and the future increasingly uncertain, the need for emotional intelligence (EQ) alongside global competence is becoming abundantly apparent.

The need for emotional intelligence (EQ) alongside global competence is becoming abundantly apparent. Picture: Getty Images

Global competence is a nuanced concept that involves a combination of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values. It refers to individuals developing an awareness of self, of others, of values, attitudes, assumptions, behaviours, cultural and global issues – as well as understanding an individual’s and the collective’s role and responsibility in the world.

Arguably, what sits at its core is emotional intelligence – through empathy, problem solving and communication.

With the first semester of 2022 starting against a backdrop of a continuing pandemic, an escalating climate crisis, political conflict and war, it’s worth remembering The Alice Springs (Mparntwe) Education Declaration’s view on teaching and learning.

The 2019 national declaration on educational goals for all Australians, agreed upon by all State and Territory Education Ministers, is to “prepare young people to thrive in a time of rapid social and technological change, and complex environmental, social and economic challenges.” For that to come to fruition, education must focus on cognitive skills and behavioural skills alongside social and emotional skills. Educators across the nation must provide effective Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) opportunities for young people through explicit opportunities to experience, reflect, build self-awareness, motivation and empathy.

Often interchangeable with the phrase ‘personal and social capability’, social and emotional learning sits with the General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum.

Education must focus on cognitive skills and behavioural skills alongside social and emotional skills. Picture: Getty Images

As the curriculum states, “students develop personal and social capability as they learn to understand themselves and others, and manage their relationships, lives, work and learning more effectively”.

These key skills and values of self-awareness, motivation, empathy and social skills are exactly what build and foster global competence.

At a recent professional development session I ran for the Asia Education Foundation with teachers in Indonesia on intercultural communication, participants were asked to describe the connection they see between emotional intelligence and global competence.

“It builds relationships and opens up new possibilities,” wrote one person, “it helps us develop our knowledge and understanding of the world and each other.”

Another added, “it is the key to connection and collaboration.” Together, we looked closely at the role and purpose of communication.

We began with the etymology of the word, which stems from the Latin word communicare, meaning to “to share, divide out; communicate, impart, inform; join, unite, participate in.”

Again, this is what forms a large component of what is global competence.

We investigated the five key purposes of communication, which are often said to be to inform, to express feelings, to imagine, to influence and to meet social expectations.

Skills that include emotional intelligence and resilience must be taught in schools. Picture: Getty Images

As participants identified, whether it’s a conversation, a story, song or a film, communication and people-to-people connections are how we share, learn and work together. It’s how we get to understand different perspectives, to take action.

Emotional intelligence and global competence are so vital because they foster social cohesion, community, relationships and wellbeing. In 2016, Census data found, “nearly half (49 per cent) of all Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas,” and “more than a quarter (28 per cent) of the Australian population were first generation Australians (born overseas).”

This diversity is represented in classrooms and workforces the length and breadth of the country. Transnational mobility has also meant young Australians are now travelling or emigrating overseas to study, work, and explore new possibilities. This further highlights the relevance of these transferable skills not just for young people living and interacting in Australia day-to-day, but for when they also travel, work, explore or live elsewhere.

Along with moving cities and countries, other studies have found that young people will move between jobs. Research from the Foundation of Young Australian suggests that “today’s 15-year-olds will likely navigate 17 changes in employer across five different careers.” Reflecting this, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Reports 2020 highlighted the emerging skills now in high demand from Australian employers that include critical thinking, emotional intelligence, active learning, resilience, innovation and leadership.

Rather than being aspirational, Australia must significantly invest in its young people. Picture: Getty Images

These are the skills that must be taught in schools and addressed explicitly in the curriculum.

Young people are the future, and that future is now.

Australia has over 3.2 million young people aged 15 to 24, representing one in every eight Australians. For context, that is larger than the entire population of countries like Slovenia, Uruguay, Fiji and Malta.

Rather than being aspirational, Australia must significantly invest in its young people.

So, let’s start with courageous conversations, recalibrating our perceptions of academic achievement and prioritising the whole student and their social, emotional, intellectual and physical learning journey to become truly globally competent.

In 2022, the Asia Education Foundation at Asialink, University of Melbourne, will deliver the BRIDGE School Partnerships Program. Applications are open to all Australian schools. Apply here:

To hear more about the impact of the Australia Asia-Pacific BRIDGE School Partnerships Program, listen to the Building BRIDGES podcast. Available on Spotify and Apple podcasts.

Banner: Getty Images

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