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Beyond Extra Lessons: Embracing Emotional Intelligence for Student Success

20 February 2024

Arguing for the importance of emotional intelligence in and beyond the classroom

By Andrew Morris and Jani Wiggett

The myriad of ‘extra mural’ activities our children ‘need’ outside of school these days overwhelms me in a similar way than buying toothpaste does. Parents are completely bombarded with different franchises and programmes out there, all aimed at supporting children to reach their full potential.  

As an Industrial Psychologist (and parent), I often wonder about the return on investment, and whether any of these programmes really invest in researching whether their programme actually ‘works’? The second question that often comes to mind is whether these programmes are designed to support schools or rather creating silos, all trying to achieve the same thing by themselves? Surely schools remain at the core of our children’s development? Should these programmes not inform teachers/ governing bodies to assist them in decision-making and supporting their children and the school? Well, recently I had the opportunity to take part in a programme aimed at doing exactly that … 

We are all familiar with the World Economic Forum's insights, which highlight resilience, flexibility, and self-awareness among the top skills for the future workforce (Future of Jobs Report, 2023), and it's evident that EQ is an integral part of success beyond the classroom. While technical skills remain vital, it's increasingly recognised that EQ is not just an add-on but a fundamental category of competencies essential for navigating the evolving professional landscape. 

An EQ intervention: 

A progressive school in Gauteng recently decided to investigate their Grade 8’s Emotional Intelligence (EI) prior to them onboarding a specific development programme which should be aimed at assisting students with their academic achievement through improving their EI.  They first wanted to understand their current students’ EI results (strengths and development areas) using an objective measure and how EI correlated with their school achievements. This would empower the school to harness data in cultivating students' strengths and areas for growth.  

Summarised Results:  

Grade 8 students are exposed to a broad curriculum, but we concentrated on STEM subjects due to their significant interest to schools and parents. Below is a summary highlighting only Stress Management correlations for brevity’s sake, although it’s worth mentioning that other EQ composites also showed notable links with specific subjects. For example, Self-Perception was correlated with performance in Accounting (0.22) and Computer Literacy (0.25). These findings underscore the diverse areas of student development assessed by the EQ-i Youth, reinforcing the tool's value in identifying key emotional drivers of academic success. 


Stress Management 





Natural Sciences 


Econ. Management Science 


Coding and Robotics 


Computer Literacy 



Key Insights for Practitioners, Educators, and Parents: 

  1. In our study, we found that boys tended to have higher scores across all areas of Emotional Quotient (EQ), except in Interpersonal Relationships. The most noticeable differences were seen in areas of Self Perception and Decision Making, though these did not reach statistical significance, meaning we can't be sure these differences weren't due to chance. 

  1. Through dominance analysis, a method that pinpoints which factors most uniquely impact outcomes, we discovered that Stress Management consistently emerged as a key predictor of performance across all subjects.  This finding clearly informs the school which aspect of EI they should start with in development programmes.  

  1. We explored various regression models to explain the differences in subject performance based on EQ composite scores. One particular model was able to explain 27% of the variation in Accounting performance, indicating a strong relationship between EQ and success in this subject.  

  1. We also used quantile regression, which shows how varying EQ scores relate to subject marks across the spectrum, not just on average. For instance, in Accounting, the average prediction underestimated the impact of Stress Management, especially for lower-performing students. This implies that improving Stress Tolerance could lead to better-than-expected gains in performance for these students. 

  1. We looked at whether high-achieving students (with grades over 80%) also had higher EQ scores. With the median grade at 73%, an 80% threshold was deemed appropriate. Our analysis indicated that students with top 4th term grades scored significantly higher in Decision Making and Stress Management on the EQ assessment, suggesting that emotional management skills are important for academic success, particularly in challenging periods like the 4th term. 

Final Thoughts 

It's crucial to recognise that a high IQ doesn't guarantee a high EQ. This distinction supports the idea that emotional skills could be essential for maintaining strong academic performance. EQ is however a broad construct with many different important dimensions associated to it. Similar to somebody going to the gym, wanting to be healthy, one would need to assess where their problem areas lie, where they should start, and what they should focus on to yield the best results in wanting to be healthy. The same would be true to EI. Steps we would recommend for schools interested in helping their students:  

  1. Assess your students on an appropriate objective validated EI measure. 

  1. Identify individual student development areas and strengths (gathered from their individual results).  

  1. Aggregate the group/grade results to inform which development programmes should be invested in and focused on to ensure student development in areas which would have the greatest impact on them reaching their potential.   


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