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Biden has announced he will be injecting $1 billion dollars into the U.S schools system. The goal is admirable: to provide schools with mental health professionals they really need, with 44% of students reporting mental health issues.

But that funding (which is just 0.15% of the national schools budget) won't move the needle. There just aren't enough mental health workers to carry this burden alone. We need to empower and support our teachers, parents, and communities to teach social and emotional skills to our children. Many schools underwent a technological modernization during the pandemic. Now, they need a cultural modernization too.

Our children are faced with a world that is new even to us adults and we are expecting them to tackle it the same way our grandparents did.

Young people are bombarded with more information than any generation before them. And while the problems of the world may or may not be worse than they have in the past, never before has it all been so exposed, complex and unfiltered.

"Society is collapsing, the planet is dying, the future is bleak, and if you don't pass this math exam you're destined to be consumed by it all and live a life of misery," -Everybody, Everywhere, All the time.

It's no wonder our children are depressed.

While providing students with mental health professionals in schools will be great to help them deal with the pressures of life and school, it is not an all-encompassing solution.

First, there simply aren't enough of them. Currently, the ratio is 1,162 students to 1 psychologist. What good will it do to sacrifice the mental health of our mental health workers?

Secondly, school-based mental health workers are just that - school-based.

We can unload all our social workers and psychologists into schools to put out the fire that is our student mental health crisis (to the detriment of their own mental health) but what's to stop it from igniting later in life and those on the conveyor belt. Students will face a whole new set of problems as adults and they need the social and emotional skills to thrive regardless of what they are.

Academic learning simply hasn't kept up with the constantly changing world. When the education system as we know it was designed, most of what it prepares students for is now automated. The cookie-cutter approach to how we work just isn't applicable anymore. This is great news for society as it will allow us to focus on what really makes us human. However, if we don't reimagine our schooling we will continue trying to teach our children to think like the machines we've invented.

We need to educate our children in what it means to be human and give them the skills to succeed in life, not only in a profession.

Let's take a brief look at Finland, often given the title of "happiest nation in the world". It has gained that title because of its emotionally intelligent rethinking of its school system 50 years ago. They realized that education isn't about test scores, and their holistic approach to life-learning has seen their population consistently rank among the best educated. Ironic as it is to even rank them in the first place.

We can afford to take a page out of Finland's book and embed emotional literacy and social mastery into our school system. The belief that high test scores lead to being accepted into top-tier universities has been ingrained into our society for over 100 years. Not only has standardized testing led to greater inequality in our society, it is also becoming less and less essential in our working lives. As the professional world evolves to value social skills as much as academic ones, so must our schools.

We can promote humanity while preparing our children for an ever-changing world by teaching them key skills to succeed in our modern world - empathy, communication, problem-solving, mindfulness, even simply the ability to pause and reflect. As we continue to automate the mechanical needs of our society it is the most human of humans that will succeed.

By all means, funding needs to be given to provide mental health professionals in schools but we have to go beyond that and holistically weave these key skills anytime, anywhere. We need a wraparound approach, to collaboratively support children and families through home-school-community partnerships.

Some conservative parents may be skeptical about teaching their children emotional and social skills. They will be reluctant to move from a system they know, to one they don't. And the problems facing the parents are the same as the ones facing our children - an abundance of information and no time or skills to process it all constructively.

Making our schools more community-focused will put our children's learning out into the open, showing both adults and children that education can be (and should be) immediately accessible and applicable in the real world.

Introducing bite-size knowledge in a form that is familiar can develop social and emotional skills in children and parents simultaneously and allow our students the opportunity to incorporate these skills into their home lives.

Jenny Woo
Mind Brain Emotion, Jenny Woo Jenny Woo

Essentially we need to train our teachers, parents and communities in the skills that we need them to develop for our children. Innovations will come by teaching self-awareness, critical thinking and problem-solving. New ways of thinking will require the skills to construct and deconstruct an argument. And uniting people requires empathy and communication skills.

Trying to fit mental health workers into an environment that is not ready and not sustainable will only waste resources.

However, by broadening the support, these skills will spread across a child's ecosystem throughout the entire school and out into the community.

We will see a U.S. education system that rivals and even exceeds the best in the world.

We will see schools full of compassionate children developing life-long social and emotional skills.

We will see our children grow into the most human of humans.

About the author

Jenny Woo is the Founder/CEO and creator of award-winning educational games and mental health tools. As an MBA social entrepreneur and a Ph.D. emotional intelligence researcher, she is passionate about bridging science and practice.