NAPLAN Season is upon us again; that time of the year when teachers, parents and students begin their ‘familiarisation’ (read coaching) of the now annual diagnostic literacy and numeracy examination. We all know the value of literacy and numeracy to a child’s well-being. As a broad foundation of learning, literacy and numeracy are vital to developing well-rounded students.

But it is the perfect time of the year to remind ourselves that literacy and numeracy are but two of the areas of educational endeavor that constitute a holistic education.

So obsessed have we become with NAPLAN scores that we have tended to ignore other areas of learning. How can teachers give due respect to other areas of a child’s needs when they know that the parents and the community will evaluate their worth on their NAPLAN scores?
The recent “shock” announcement from the Federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham that measures of children’s emotional readiness were somewhat down on 2012 results will not shock anyone who deals with teachers, parents and children every day. As Minister Birmingham noted in the release of the Australian Early Development Census, emotional maturity is one of the key domains where Australian children are vulnerable.1
There is a growing body of evidence that when emotional intelligence is measured as an ability, it can help predict a number of vital personal, social and academic outcomes. This evidence highlights that as emotional intelligence rises, so does academic performance, measures of personal interconnectedness and the ability to communicate. Most significantly, the evidence highlights the inverse relationship between emotional intelligence and problem behaviours. That is, the lower the emotional intelligence, the greater probability of problem behaviours and drug use.2

There is a growing body of evidence that when emotional intelligence is measured as an ability, it can help predict a number of vital personal, social and academic outcomes.

Despite the minor disagreements on what constitutes emotional intelligence, there is no disagreement that it plays a far bigger role in children’s happiness, mental health and success in life and employment than any coached achievement in literacy and numeracy. Given conservative predictions that by the time our young school starters emerge into the work force more than 75% of the jobs they’re being prepared for will have disappeared, a child’s resilience and capacity to adapt and handle change are going to be increasingly significant. What the workforce will need are school graduates who can work in a team, adapt to changing technology, be resilient and flexible in the face of emerging problems, self -confident, and be able to think on their feet… and all the other attributes that are part of our emotional intelligence.
The notion that there is a correlation between emotional intelligence and a student’s ability to succeed in the broader curriculum isn’t new. As long ago as 1983 Howard Gardiner proposed the notion of Multiple Intelligences to supersede the monocular concept of school smart academic ability as the be-and-end-all to what matters.
Sadly, the NAPLAN obsession focuses on just two of these – “word smart” (linguistic intelligence) and “logic smart” (logico-mathematical intelligence). The “body smart” kids who do well at sport will be lauded in a sport obsessed culture, and the “music smart kids” might be dragged out for functions but with much less status than sport smart. Even though there is growing research that music opens up neurological pathways that enhance NAPLAN scores! Most importantly, we must remind ourselves that we do have an alternative to the NAPLAN-centric view of learning.
This holistic view of education and the importance of emotional intelligence, is based upon the research from University of New Hampshire’s John D. Mayer (current President of Yale University), Peter Salovey and his Yale colleague, David R. Caruso. They claim that the high emotional intelligence individual is someone who doesn’t engage in anti-social behaviors and avoids self-destructive, negative behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, drug abuse or violent episodes with others.
Imagine, this NAPLAN season, that every child can better perceive emotions, use them in thought, understand their meanings and manage emotions. This same child is apt at solving emotional problems. The child, as a result of their emotional intelligence tends to be stronger in areas such as verbal, social and other intelligences. Most often the child is more open and agreeable in group situations.
A high or ascending NAPLAN performance might look good on a League table and attract accolades from Principals looking to please parents and bureaucrats but will do little to equip the child for the world they will face. Let the NAPLAN nerds resume their place in the corner of the classroom and let the kids come out to play and explore the other rightful dimensions of education. The kids and I would like to change NAPLAN to NAPLAY – and in the process they will do better at NAPLAN anyway!
Dr John Irvine (B.A PhD., M.A.C.E., M.A.P.S) is one of Australia’s most respected child and family psychologists.
He believes in centred learning through exploration, problem solving and play. Dr John was a teacher before becoming a child psychologist. Dr John was awarded the Shell Prize for Arts and the University Medal during his studies at the University of New England. He is a much sought after speaker and author of several books, including Who’d Be A Parent, A Handbook for Happy Families and Thriving at School.
His soon to be released book focuses on frustration and anger in children, violence and managing emotions. Helping Young Children Manage Frustration and Anger follows 2014’s book on anxiety and worry, WorryWoos™ Helping Young Worriers Beat the Worrybug. Dr John is co-founder and consultant child psychologist at the R.E.A.D Clinic on the Central Coast of New South Wales.
1 Australian Early Development Census, Findings from AEDC,
2 Mayer, John. D., Salovey, Peter & David R. Caruso (2004) "Emotional Intelligence: Theory, Findings, and Implications", Psychological Inquiry, 15:3,
197-215, DOI: 10.1207/s15327965pli1503_02
Published online: 19 Nov 2009. P209