The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Education: Why “heart-smart” is the new book-smart


Dr. George Arvind, Vice Chairman, Sunbeam group of schools 

Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is becoming an increasingly influential concept in our society. Workplaces and higher education institutions have been shown to favour individuals with a high EQ over those with a higher IQ. Individuals with higher levels of emotional intelligence have stronger, healthier relationships and also tend to maintain excellent careers as well. In fact, according to a study by Dr. Travis Bradberry, having high emotional intelligence can increase your pay by about $29 000 annually. It’s clear that in order for anyone to achieve their highest potential, they need to develop their emotional intelligence and prioritise it at the same level as intelligence gained from traditional academics.

But emotions are complicated – like algebra, biology, or any other tricky subject. As with any complex skill worth knowing, building a solid foundation in this area is crucial to ensure a future filled with confident and compassionate adults. The responsibility therefore must fall to the classroom. Schools must prioritise teaching emotional intelligence at a comparable level to preexisting subjects. While educators will definitely need to take a unique approach to this challenge, the importance of strengthening students’ EQs should not be underestimated.

The Concept

The term was first coined in the mid-1990s by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. While at the time, this idea was controversial, today, it can be argued that Goleman was ahead of his time when he presented it. According to his writing, two aspects define EQ: an individual’s skill in understanding and managing their own emotions and their skill in recognising and influencing the emotions of others. Nowadays, the definition isn’t nearly as straightforward, encompassing other abilities such as conflict resolution, stress management, empathy, and expressing one’s emotions.

Emotional Intelligence in Schools

In a school setting, a student’s connection with peers, teachers, and friends is heavily dependent on their emotional intelligence. Having strong bonds can prove to be the difference between success and disaster in a student’s educational career. Imagine, for instance, that a child struggles to keep up with their classwork. There are a few routes to go, but asking for help from others is generally a much better solution to classroom problems when compared to the alternative of ‘just figuring it out’ and risking a further drop in grades – not to mention the mental and emotional effects that come along. Someone with established relationships will find it much easier to ask for help from fellow students, friends, or from their teachers. Knowing how to approach others in various circumstances is an essential skill in all walks of life, and emotionally intelligent people are much better equipped to handle these situations. This is because of their ability to read people’s feelings and judge how their words are coming across. Of course, creating connections with others should never be done for the sole purpose of calling in favours. The point in this example is that having a higher EQ makes it much easier to foster friendships and handle difficult situations with confidence.

Core Principles

As mentioned above, one of the core principles of emotional intelligence is the ability to effectively recognise, express, and manage your emotions. As seen in the following context, this may be more relevant to the self-described ‘most stressed’ generation. In a high-pressure environment like school, it can be easy to get swept up in the anxiety, tension, and even depression that comes with needing to maintain your grades. Being emotionally intelligent extends beyond just having ‘people skills’ because an individual’s well-being can directly tie into how they handle intense, uncomfortable feelings.

Importance of Emotional Intelligence

It is crucial that students are educated on topics like effective coping mechanisms for stress and anxiety. During exam season, strategies for last-minute studying begin circulating rapidly. And while for some, this is precisely what is needed to pass their finals, many students resort to harmful, ineffective coping mechanisms in the hope that they’ll work out in the end. To avoid this catastrophe, emotionally intelligent solutions to these problems need to be advocated year-round. Educators must prioritise the development of their pupils’ emotional intelligence to ensure that their mental health remains stable; academic success can only be achieved with a healthy mind. Teaching EQ skills at a young age sets students up for success in the school year and prepares them for a much more difficult journey in higher education when stress levels increase.

For some, having a high level of emotional intelligence comes naturally. But for others, building competence in this area is a much longer process. The brain develops the most during childhood as it acquires new knowledge, skills, concepts, and ideas rapidly. So while it can seem silly that such skills need to be explicitly taught, it is essential for classrooms and educators to step up to the challenge and lay the foundation for students’ success. The key to teaching emotional intelligence isn’t to give lectures about compassion, draw up diagrams of nonverbal cues, or to fill out worksheets about empathy. There is no formula sheet for conflict resolution or periodic table of personality types. Leading by example is the best way to teach students about emotional intelligence.

Role of teachers in student’s IQ

As an authority figure, a teacher’s actions hold great power over students’ ideas of how people should behave. Another critical point is to avoid singling out individuals with low EQ. Ostracising students can have the opposite effect; lowering self-esteem and promoting further isolation from peers will almost certainly cause their EQ and overall academic performance to decline. The easiest – and most effective – way for teachers to promote emotional intelligence is to model active listening. This can take many forms, some of which include:

  • Making conversations interactive (allowing responses instead of just talking ‘at’ a student)
  • Being aware of body language
  • Showing that you are listening through nods and appropriate responses
  • Choosing the right setting for the conversation

Even after being shown how simple it can be to implement an emotionally intelligent approach to teaching, some people still need to be more confident to promote these skills in parallel with traditional academics. Perhaps some context is required to fully understand the growing importance of the future generation’s EQ. According to a study by OfficeTeam, 86% of employees believed that EQ was more or equally important than IQ. In addition, 95% of the HR managers surveyed said it’s important for prospective and current employees to have a high EQ. DDI, an international consultancy firm, reported that empathy is the number one skill that leaders must have. In a post- pandemic world, employers realise the true value of job satisfaction and a healthy work environment. In 2020, emotional intelligence was ranked as one of the top ten skills people need to get hired by most prominent companies. That ranking can only rise due to the ever-changing nature of the world – it is, therefore, imperative that modern education makes the development of emotional intelligence a central goal.

Indeed, it can be easy to scoff at the importance given to EQ. But humans are a social species, so interpersonal relationships are a massive factor in our everyday lives. Understanding verbal and nonverbal cues is essential to building trust and friendships. After all, even the most reclusive individuals need to interact with others at some point. Skills such as empathising with others and regulating negative emotions make a person much more likeable, making it more probable for relationships to last longer. Strategies built upon the foundational concepts of emotional intelligence are essential for students; these will prove helpful regardless of whether an individual is in primary school or is working towards a doctorate.

Employers worldwide have been preferring individuals with a high EQ as of late, and this trend is expected to continue to rise. So yes, it’s easy to brush off emotional intelligence and continue to base one’s performance and success on their IQ. It’s easy for schools to remain stagnant and refuse to help students with their mental well-being, interpersonal relationships, and long-term success. But with the bigger picture in mind, it’s clear that anything less than immediate action is inadequate to prepare the next generation of hardworking professionals.


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