Social-emotional learning is the process by which children and the adults understand
their emotions, felling and showing the other people’s empathy for the other people, setting
and the achievement of the positive goals, the maintenance of the positive relationships as
well as making responsible decisions that will promote their lives and the lives of the people
in the society. According to Al-Shanawani (2019), the curriculum of pre-schoolers did not
cover the social and emotional needs of children and it was limited to several basic academic
activities with working papers for teaching early literacy and some short and simple Suras
(chapters from the Qur’an) as presented by a teacher. It is noteworthy to state that religious
education in preschools in KSA, only introduces the concept of God, prayer and simple
discussions around religion and pre-schoolers do not study in-depth, about values and beliefs
systems about Islam. However, the Islamic religion is not merely a set of beliefs and rituals,
but a way of life, which is based on the spiritual, moral, social, emotional and physical well-
being of the learner. Islamic education relate more to how children are to be cared for and it
is a continuous effort to deliver knowledge, skill and emotional experience based on al-
Qur’ān and al-Sunnah (traditional Islamic customs and practices) in order to build behaviour,
skill and personality. Consequently, the form of instruction for preschool children is in
unstructured, basic academic skills in addition to some religious readings with no explicit
plan or specific intent to develop the children’s social and emotional competency. Similarly,
there are no SEL programs for pre-schoolers that enable evaluation and assessment of
children’s progress in social competency and, hence, no engagement with parents in how to
overcome problem behaviours in early stages of emergence. Therefore, there is a gab in
preschool education which is not including social emotional learning to the curriculum and to
address this gab this study will focus on doing social emotional learning program and how
effective is and get the teachers and mothers perceptions about it
There is a growing body of empirical evidence in the recent research literature on
education that has shown how social and emotional learning (SEL) practices in schools and
early learning centres can have a significantly beneficial influence on children’s social
behaviour and interpersonal skills, self-awareness, healthy attitudes, and scholastic
performance (Durlak et al., 2011; Gunter et al., 2012; Malcolm, 2018; McCabe & Altamura,
2011). In early childhood classrooms in particular, SEL helps students to understand and
manage their emotions, form friendships, develop their feelings of empathy, and make
responsible decisions (Schonert-Reichl, 2017). Numerous researchers have found that the
initial five years of a child’s life is a crucial period in their development of emotional,
intellectual, and social skills (Bornstein, Hahn, & Haynes, 2010; Haskett, Armstrong, &
Tisdale, 2015; Kramer et al., 2010; Sylva & Lunt, 2003). These skills enable children to
succeed later in life in establishing long-term relationships, maintaining harmony within the
family, pursuing successful careers, and participating effectively in the community (Heo &
Squires, 2012). Moreover, the positive involvement of families and parental coaching
activities in preschool SEL curricula has been shown to greatly enhance the success of
socialisation outcomes for children (Wilson, Havighurst, & Harley, 2012). Therefore, in the
context of a healthy family, society, and culture, SEL in preschool classrooms can be seen as
a key educational strategy to engender emotional and social competence with long-term
implications for children throughout their lives (Denham et al., 2003).
Furthermore, SEL in preschool sets the stage for improvement of children’s
behaviours as they progress through the education system and is considered to be
fundamental to preventing negative factors, such as violence, crime, substance abuse, and
poverty, from taking control of their futures (Malcolm, 2018; Weissberg & Cascarino, 2013).
Children with deficits in social and emotional development as they grow into adolescents and
adults are at risk of behavioural problems, poor health, and social exclusion (Vadeboncoeur
& Collie, 2013; Williams, 2015; Wilson, Havighurst, & Harley, 2012). Furthermore, lack of
social and emotional skills development at preschool level may result in scholastic failure and
increases in the dropout rate of students prior to graduating from secondary education
(Moraru et al., 2011; Wang et al., 2016).
Social and emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders,
aggression, and uncontrolled anger, are serious consequences of poor socialising in
preschoolers (Wilson, Havighurst, & Harley, 2012). Bagner et al. (2012) have demonstrated
how prevalent these problems are in early childhood and emphasised the importance of
identifying, assessing, and addressing the causative issues as early as possible. Research has
also shown that the risk of children being affected by emotional and behavioural problems is
heightened by a complexity of other factors in their lived experiences, including socio-
economic, cultural, parental, and familial relationships (Wilson, Havighurst, & Harley, 2012).
Consequently, it is clear from numerous studies that preschool educators need to balance
cognitive development with establishing socio-emotional competence of students in their
classroom programs to ensure they have every opportunity to become well-adjusted, school-
ready, confident, and prepared for their futures (Arslan, Durmuşoğlu-Saltali, & Yilmaz,
Globally, SEL has emerged as one of the main focuses of preschool early learning
activities using proven strategies and evidence-based programming that explicitly teaches the
development of social, emotional, and behavioural skills (Arslan et al., 2011; Moraru et al.,
201l; Wong, Li-tsang, & Siu, 2015). According to the Centre on the Social Emotional
Foundations for Early Learning (2008, p. 1), “the term social-emotional development refers
to the developing capacity of the child from birth through 5 years of age to form close and
secure adult and peer relationships; experience, regulate, and express emotions in socially
and culturally appropriate ways; and explore the environment and learn”. Accordingly, there
has been increased emphasis worldwide on the need to integrate social and emotional skills in
the education system general curriculum of many countries, especially at the preschool level
According to Alharbi (2018), families and teachers face many challenges when it
comes to the incorporation of the strategies that will enhance both the emotional and the
social functioning of the children. The author notes the role that the Islamic religion plays in
social-emotional learning, but the formal educational system has failed to do so, which makes
the children vulnerable to their own emotions. Al-Shanawani (2019) reveals and important
shortcoming that is associated with the education system of the United Arab Emirates. The
author addresses the self-learning curriculum that has been designed for the kindergarten
children. According to the author, highlights the application of the the context, input, process,
product (CIPP) model that was applied in a kindergarten in the United Arab Emirates. The
author found out that the curriculum failed to meet the needs of the kindergarten children.
The author then recommended the development of a kindergarten curriculum that is based on
the need of the children and the society as a whole. Hanadi, Gregory, Jessel & Khalil (2015)
argues that the importation of educational programs has become a pressing issue. He notes
the fact that the western early childhood curricular has been imported in the preschool
education in the United Arab Emirates to make sure that the educational standards in the
UAE meet the international standards.
The United States of America has mainly included Social-emotional learning in the
education system to take care of the emotional needs of children and adults. Religious
organizations are also used as a way of providing Social-emotional learning among children
and adults. However, even though the measures have been put in place, the people in society
are still facing emotional issues that are affecting their lives as a whole. It is, therefore,
important to put various organizations that will take care of the emotional needs of the
children and the adults both in the United Arab Emirates and the west (Durlak, 2015).
Education in the Saudi Arabia context
Saudi Arabia’s education system has made significant advances in recent years due
primarily to the government’s economic support and policy focus on improving standards
and quality of outcomes for students (Al-Ghamdi, 2005; Ministry of Education [MOE],
2020). However, the country still faces a number of fundamental challenges in the education
area, including poor education curricula, outdated teaching methods, and low student
academic performance, which are undermining the Saudi Vision 2030 goal of achieving
high economic growth, productivity, and a skilled workforce (Alnahdi, 2014; Lewis, 2014).
According to Al Sadaawi (2010), who conducted an assessment of educational progress in
Saudi Arabia, part of the problem lies with the emphasis on quantity of educational facilities,
rather than on quality of delivery of pedagogical content in programs. A further problem in
Saudi educational development Al Sadaawi (2010, p. 2) attributes to the entrenched
traditional methods of teaching in the country, which give precedence to Islamic and Arabic
content in the curricula.
Consequently, new methodologies, such as explicit social and emotional learning
programs, have been difficult to implement within the existing curriculum. Furthermore,
preschool learning programs have only recently begun to be included in the Saudi education
system, yet it is in those formative, early years that children grow their socio-emotional
competencies. As a result, a number of early childhood education researchers (Abdel-fattah et
al., 2004; Alharbi, 2018; Aljabreen & Lash, 2016), who have examined these issues in the
country, have raised concerns about the lack of SEL opportunities, which they claim is
leading to Saudi students lagging behind in social and emotional competencies. It is therefore
difficult for these students to excel in their scholastic efforts, or to develop resilience and
adaptation capacities, and therefore they may be at risk of suffering from the types of
emotional disorders described by researchers elsewhere in the world (Vadeboncoeur &
Collie, 2013; Williams, 2015; Wilson, Havighurst, & Harley, 2012).
Statement of the problem
Recent research has shown there are clear indicators of a serious lack of social and
emotional skills among Saudi students at all levels. For example, Alharbi (2018) studied the
emotional intelligence of Saudi children (6-12 years) among basic education programs and
found that more than 71% of students scored low (less than 90) on the social and emotional
skills. Similarly, Abdel-fattah et al. (2004) found that male children in Saudi schools were
socially and emotionally underdeveloped and lacking in abilities to express emotions in
comparison to children of other countries. Moreover, Maajeeny (2019) estimated the
prevalence of children with emotional and behavioural disorders among Saudi children to be
20%, while the study also revealed that almost 25% of children between the age of 4-17 years
had poor relationships with other children and lacked the prosocial capabilities to build a
healthy relationship with their peers. These problems have been summed up by the authors,
Khomais and Gahwaji (2019), who stated that social emotional skills are largely ignored in
Saudi preschools, favouring instead traditional curriculum approaches used in the next levels
of primary and secondary education.
The Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia has also identified a number of problem
areas in Early Childhood Education (MOE, 2020). They have acknowledged there is a
shortage of high quality programs and services for students. The educational environment is
deemed not strong enough in supporting the students’ development, which is an obstacle to
creativity and innovation. Students are suffering from a lack of interpersonal skills and
critical thinking skills, while poor quality in curriculum content is associated with the
dependence on classical methodologies and lack of teacher’s assessment skills. Additionally,
there is often a disconnect between government policy, curriculum development, and
implementation of programs in schools where teachers are prone to falling back on customary
practices rather than applying new practices (Al-Ghamdi, 2005). These problems form
obstacles and challenges to reforming education in the country and achieving policy
outcomes for the government.
The teachers and parents of children in Saudi Arabia also face challenges, as Alharbi
(2018) concluded, because there is a lack of effective strategies to enhance the social and
emotional functioning of children. Although the Saudi government is continually improving
the school curriculum more broadly, preschool classrooms do not receive the same support or
recognition of their importance in preparing children, socially and emotionally, to participate
successfully in the education system (Maajeeny, 2018). These problems provide a clear
incentive, rationale, and focus on the curriculum of preschools, which does not consider the
emotional and social skills development of students as important. Therefore, recognition of
the problem represents a crucial opportunity to incorporate targeted, explicit SEL programs
for the development of Saudi children (Zins, 2001). Furthermore, interest in SEL as a new
pedagogical method in early education has yet to gain traction in Saudi Arabia, which is one
of the most conservative Middle Eastern countries (Zins, 2001). This reluctance to adopt new
methods may be because factors such as social and cultural conservatism, traditions, and
Islamic religious beliefs shape teacher and parent perceptions about the value of SEL
programs (Al-Agha, Al-Ghamdi, & Halabi, 2016; Vadeboncoeur & Collie, 2013; Vance,
Due to the lack of studies generally in the Saudi preschool context, there is a clear gap
in the literature on preschool education in the country (Alharbi, 2018; Aljabreen & Lash, 2016).
While the MOA states that it is concerned with the emotional and behavioural growth of
preschool children, there are as yet no specific SEL programs that have been adopted or
implemented in the Saudi education system to meet these needs. In addition, no studies are
examining the lack of SEL initiatives in preschools or the impact on Saudi preschool children
in terms of their socio-emotional competence (Al-Agha, Al-Ghamdi, & Halabi, 2016; Al-
Studies described in the previous sections have shown that preschool children require
explicit teaching and coaching on social and emotional skills to be able to manage their
emotions and behaviours successfully (Arslan, Durmuşoğlu-Saltali, & Yilmaz, 2011; Gunter
et al., 2012; Weissberg et al., 2008). Internationally, many countries have implemented SEL
programs widely in their education systems (Schonert-Reichl, 2017; Wang et al., 2016;
Weissberg & Cascarino, 2013). Moreover, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and
Emotional Learning (Axelrod, 2010) emphasises the need to integrate social and emotional
skills in the general curriculum. A study by Bornstein, Hahn, and Haynes (2010) indicated
that children with lower social and emotional competence during their preschool years were
at risk of developing internalization and externalization problems in early adolescence. The
Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has described SEL as
a process of assisting students with the development of skills, such as self–emotion
awareness and regulation, empathy, and social skills, such as building relations, and situation
handling (CASEL, 2013).
A further benefit of studying the preschool situation in Saudi Arabia to help resolve
this question is that SEL programs enable five competencies for children: self-awareness,
self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making skills, and having good
relationship skills. These skills are not being taught to preschool students, yet children can be
taught these skills from birth to six years of age and can benefit from the learning for the rest
of their lives (Durlak et al., 2011).
As seen in other countries, many preschools continue to adopt programs that are
designed to promote the emotional and behavioural functioning of preschool children (Arslan
et al., 2011; Moraru et al., 201l; Wong, Li-tsang, & Siu, 2015). The government of Saudi
Arabia considers children to be the wealth of society and decision-makers of tomorrow
(MOA, 2020). Therefore, the careful nurturing of children and their education in the early
years is needed to fulfill the promise of success for the prosperity of the country and the
growth and welfare of its population (Aljabreen & Lash, 2016).
The objectives of this study are:
1. To carry out pre-school interventions on socio-emotional learning programs in Saudi
2. To carry out pre and post tests to examine the effectiveness of the program on children’s
associated behavioural outcomes.
3. To undertake a comparison between the individuals who attend preschool and acquire SEL
with those who attend but do not engage in SEL.
4. To explore the perceptions of teachers and parents concerning social emotional learning
among preschool children in Saudi Arabia.
5. To determine any differences between students who attended a SEL program and those
who did not
1- What is the effectiveness of social emotional learning program (SEL) on preschool
children’s behaviours in relationships with peers and teachers?
To what extent did the intervention group, compared to the control group,
make a significant difference in children’s behaviours?
To what extent did the social and emotional skills of students who attended a
SEL program differ from those who stayed at home?
2- What are the teachers and student mothers’ perceptions of social emotional learning?
Significance of the study
The significance of this research stems from its potential to contribute to knowledge
about SEL in the Saudi preschool context and the resulting support for Saudi early childhood
educators to implement programs that enable children to develop their social and emotional
Accordingly, the proposed study method will include an SEL intervention on
preschool children, as described by Durlak et al. (2011), to determine its impact on emotional
and behavioural functioning of children. The findings from the study will be used to support
the need for broadening of the preschool curriculum to encompass social and emotional
learning programs. This approach will provide a balance in the education of children that
encourages the development of academic and intellectual skills, and values of religion and
morality, while ensuring the social and emotional well-being of children (Arslan,
Durmuşoğlu-Saltali, & Yilmaz, 2011; Kramer et al., 2010). Exploring teachers’ and parents’
perceptions and beliefs towards SEL programs through this research has the potential to add
an important new dimension to classroom learning in one of the most conservative and
religious societies in the world (Al-Thumali, 2011; Amr, 2011; Sawdawi, 2010). In addition,
the importance of strategic programs for children in preschools will emphasise the need for
more highly trained, competent, and qualified teachers in early learning and encourage the
community and the government to value preschools as the foundation of every child’s
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