eBASE, effective basic services:Social and Emotional Learning Local Summary

Social and Emotional Learning Local Summary

Summary of the research evidence on the impact of Social and Emotional Learning on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa


The text below is a summary of the research evidence on the impact of Social and Emotional Learning on the educational attainment of pupils in sub-Saharan Africa. It is an analysis of individual studies of Social and Emotional learning on educational attainment in sub-Saharan Africa. The information here is valuable for African school leaders, administrators and policy makers. It is even more valuable for parents who maybe thinking of better ways to improve on the educational attainment of their children.

Effective Basic Services (eBASE) Africa developed this summary using available research evidence while also taking into consideration prominent themes arising from key informant interviews (KII) and focus group discussions (FGD), particularly FGD with teachers and students. The research evidence in this summary is acquired from a detailed and replicable search protocol used on a wide range – listed below – of research databases for related studies in low- and middle-income countries in general and sub-Saharan Africa in particular.

Definition of strand

Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is considered as a process for learning broader life skills, such as how to deal with oneself, others and relationships, and to be able to work in an effective manner. Related interventions seek to improve attainment by improving the social and emotional dimensions of learning, rather than focusing directly on the academic or cognitive elements of learning. They focus on the ways in which students work with (and alongside) their peers, teachers, family or community. SEL interventions can be categorised in: Universal programmes which generally take place in the classroom; More specialised programmes which are targeted at students with particular social or emotional problems; and School-level approaches to developing a positive school ethos which also aim to support greater engagement in learning (Higgins et al., 2016).

Why is this strand important?

SEL can help students understand and regulate their emotions, effectively communicate with others, build relationships and make good decisions. It builds grounds for safe and positive learning, and enhances students’ ability to succeed in school, careers, and life. This strand is necessary as it guides teachers and parents through the adoption of efficient strategies for improving social and emotional learning.

Summary of research in Sub-Saharan Africa

In sub Saharan Africa, the impact of social and emotional learning on educational outcomes has not been substantially investigated. Aber et al., (2017) in a cluster-randomised trial conducted in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) investigated the effect of a school-based intervention embedding social and emotional principles and practices into reading and math curricula of second to fourth grade learners. The evaluation of the intervention called Learning to Read in a Healing Classroom” (LRHC) reported a positive impact on students reading and geometry scores after a year. The standardized mean difference between treatment and control clusters (dwt) stood at 0.14 for reading and geometry scores (or an improvement of 3 and 6 months of Congolese schooling in reading and geometry respectively). However, these results should be treated with caution, given the reported significance level of p < .10. Nevertheless, despite this limitation and others like vast amounts of missing data, this study concludes that social and emotional learning (SEL) interventions in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo can improve reading and mathematics skill, and overall attainment.


In Sub Saharan Africa, there is a dearth of evidence on the impact of social and emotional learning on educational attainment. A cluster-randomized trial implemented in Democratic Republic of Congo reported an improvement in reading and geometry of 3 and 6 months respectively for learners under a SEL infused program called Learning to Read in a Healing Classroom”. However, limitations such as the low level of significance and missing data raises concerns about the internal validity of the study.

Impact, Security, and Cost of Local Evidence

Local evidence on the impact of social and emotional learning on educational outcomes is limited, with only one experimental study duelling on this type of intervention. This study however had serious limitations calling for further assessments that are more robust. The study nevertheless, suggests social and emotional learning can improve reading and mathematics skills, and overall attainment.

Implementing social and emotional learning in the SSA context, particularly in the Lake Chad Basin is likely to be moderate.

Search terms

Social and emotional learning, SEAL/SEL interventions; social skills, skills-for-life, self-esteem, empathy, emotional intelligence

Databases Searched

EBSCO (ebooks, ERICS, Education Administration Abstract, Education Abstract)
Campbell Collaboration
Global Partnership for Education
Hand Search


Aber, J. L., Torrente, C., Starkey, L., Johnston, B., Seidman, E., Halpin, P., … Wolf, S. (2017). Impacts After One Year of Healing Classroom” on Children’s Reading and Math Skills in DRC: Results From a Cluster Randomized Trial. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 10(3), 507 – 529. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/193457…

Higgins, S., Katsipataki, M., Villanueva-Aguilera, A. B., Coleman, R., Henderson, P., Major, L. E., … Mason, D. (2016). The Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit. Manual. Education Endowment Foundation, London. Retrieved October 25, 2020 from https://educationendowmentfoun…

Wolf, S., Raza, M., Kim, S., Aber, J. L., Behrman, J., & Seidman, E. (2018). Measuring and predicting process quality in Ghanaian pre-primary classrooms using the Teacher Instructional Practices and Processes System (TIPPS). Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 45, 18 – 30. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecre…