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Ability to empathize, relax and discern patterns among critical skills for children’s learning and development – new report says

What Makes Me? explores nine core capacities deemed essential for learning and the healthy development of children and their societies, particularly in a post-COVID-19 world
What Makes Me overview illustration CROPPED

FLORENCE, 9 December 2021 – Empathizing, relaxing and discerning patterns are among nine core capacities essential to children’s success in school, future work and life, according to new report launched today by UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, the Learning for Well-being Foundation, and the Fetzer Institute.

Recognizing the negative impact of COVID-19 on today’s children, the report makes the case that these core capacities are even more critical in helping children cope, solve problems, and overcome stress, as well as develop the skills needed to learn and rebuild their societies and economies when they reach adulthood.

The report, What Makes Me? Core Capacities for Living and Learning, which launched today at the Wise Summit in Doha, finds that the core capacities – discerning patterns, embodying, empathizing, inquiring, listening, observing, reflecting, relaxing and sensing – enable children to better understand and interact with the world around them and realise their full potential. However, the report notes these core capacities are underutilized in efforts to promote child well-being and development. 

According to the report, core capacities represent fundamentally human skills which are expressed differently by each individual to varying degrees. The unique nature and development of these skills is extremely valuable and should be promoted, supported, and protected by education systems, rather than taught out.

“This report reminds us of the urgent need to invest again in early childhood, but also to rethink how early childhood development is embedded within educative settings and also within families and communities,” said Dr. Najat Maala M’jid, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, who spoke at the launch event. “It’s a paradigm shift rethinking our approach to development and our systems in place to support these core capacities.”

In the majority of countries, global spending on education makes up between 6 and 9 US dollars for every 10 spent on children, the report notes. And, prior to COVID-19, as many as 1 in 8 countries spent more on debt servicing than they spent on child welfare policies in total. By seeking ways to optimize practices for child development outcomes, this research contributes to improving the effectiveness and efficiency in improving public policies for children.

"COVID-19 is the worst crisis for children in UNICEF’s 75-year-history. Now more than ever, children need these skills to learn effectively," said Director of UNICEF Office of Research – Innocenti, Gunilla Olsson. "Drawing from the best evidence, this research identifies the most promising practices that promote and protect the essential capacities that children need to overcome adversity and fulfill their potential," she added.

Key findings from the report include:

  • Children come equipped with capacities that support lifelong learning and development. These capacities need to be promoted and protected.
  • There are critical windows of opportunity to develop these capacities in early childhood and adolescence. Policy, Educational and Parental practice should pay close attention to these periods.
  • These capacities are often overlooked and yet they are foundational (the basis) for developing more complex social-emotional and academic competences.
  • These capacities support one another, with some being "gateway" capacities that support many others.
  • Children's capacities are interconnected with the capacities of adults, who play a modelling role and influence children's chances of developing such capacities themselves.
  • An evaluation of an eight-week mindfulness training programme for children aged 7-9 in England found significant gains in children’s emotional well-being and metacognition skills.
  • Children’s levels of empathy significantly affect their social functioning, such as prosocial behaviours, bullying, and quality of relationships with parents and peers.
  • Listening improves early reading and later reading comprehension, learning outcomes and concentration. Furthermore, listening is associated with various mental health outcomes, including coping, self-esteem, and happiness and relaxing – particularly in the ‘listening to music’ literature.
  • Reflecting improves working memory, cognition and generosity.

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Visit the report microsite and download the full report: http://www.unicef-irc.org/what-makes-me

Launch event policy panel discussion: https://www.unicef-irc.org/events/what-makes-me-a-policy-panel-discussion-on-core-capacities-for-living-and-learning.html


About the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti

The Office of Research – Innocenti is UNICEF’s dedicated research centre. It undertakes research on emerging or current issues in order to inform the strategic directions, policies and programmes of UNICEF and its partners, shape global debates on child rights and development, and inform the global research and policy agenda for all children, and particularly for the most vulnerable. Please visit: www.unicef-irc.org

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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org

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For further information please contact:

Kathleen Sullivan, UNICEF Innocenti, Florence, Tel: +39 055 2033 222, kcsullivan@unicef.org