Education and Social and Emotional Skill Development Prevents Substance Use says UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime

24 January 2022

New program ‘Super Skills’ promotes social and emotional skill development to prevent substance use prevention, says United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 

"Education brings hope and motivation to communities at a time when it is needed the most. Learning social and emotional skills is extremely important for children and youth to succeed in life.” - Ms. Giovanna Campello, Chief UNODC Prevention, Treatment & Rehabilitation Section

Celebrating this International Day of Education, on January 24th, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) emphasizes that education is crucial in achieving successful substance use prevention.  It is also key in fulfilling international commitments such as human rights, peace, and development, combating poverty and inequalities, including in fulfilling the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations and the international community.

 Schools and teachers play a critical role in substance use prevention, laying a foundation for a healthy lifestyle and providing children and youth with the information and skills needed to succeed in life. Regrettably, children and youth have been denied their rights to education during the pandemic and the national lockdowns that followed closing down schools across the globe. Access to education also remains a matter of gender and socio-economic status.

According to UNESCO, "258 million children and youth still do not attend school; 617 million children and adolescents cannot read and do basic math; less than 40% of girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete lower secondary school and some four million children and youth refugees are out of school." 

To celebrate this year's International Day of Education, the UN agency and its drug use prevention branch released a new video and educational materials under its 'Listen First' project, 'Super Skills – The Science of Skills.' 

'Super Skills: The Science of Skills' emphasizes social and emotional skill development in substance use prevention and targets primary age children and those working with them, especially educators, health and prevention professionals, and policymakers.

UNODC partners with Member States and organizations worldwide to promote evidence-based drug use prevention in education with educators, health and prevention workers and policymakers.  

Amongst them is the Ministry of Education in the Dominican Republic:  “We have coordinated the dissemination of the ‘Listen First’ campaign through programs, workshops, and educational radio, produced for families,” says Mrs Divina García from the Ministry of Education and Head of Family Orientation and Support Unit.  

“Social and emotional learning - developing life skills helps youth incorporate healthy social behaviors. Therefore, we have reinforced our teachers with new pedagogical and interactive methods to work with students and provided technical capacities, mentors, and ambassadors. We have also focused on risk and prevention factors in our work with families. Providing normative beliefs and life skills that form or reinforce prosocial attitudes and behaviors can make children and adolescents capable of identifying and managing high-risk situations. The objective is to increase resilience in young people at risk, using sports as a link to reduce antisocial behaviors and develop life skills, to promote a healthy and safe lifestyle that impacts education, reduce school dropouts, and strengthen bonding between schools and the community. We’re looking forward to continue to use Listen First and to implement the materials in our current prevention programs.”  - Mrs Divina García from the Ministry of Education and Head of Family Orientation and Support Unit, Dominican Republic.

According to science, strengthening social and emotional skill development is the most efficient drug prevention measure amongst primary-age children. In addition, an investment in social and emotional skill development increases overall mental and physical health, school performance, and later work satisfaction and success among adults. In light of this, UNODC has promoted its 'Listen First' initiative since 2016. 'Listen First' promotes science-based substance use prevention that focuses on listening to children and youth. 

The latest video, The Book Challenge produced by Ethan Films, is an adventure about overcoming your fears.

Endorsed by international partners, such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the International Society of Substance Use Professionals (ISSUP), and Movendi International, the ‘Listen First’ materials are free to use and available for educators, parents, teachers, policymakers, health workers, prevention workers, and the wider public.

The program has been adopted in countries including Finland, Serbia, Slovenia, Poland, the United Arab Emirates, Latin America, and more to follow in 2022. 

 The videos are supplemented by educational materials focusing on social and emotional skill development. 'Listen First' materials are available in English, Spanish, French, and other languages on the website

The rigorous science behind this program is summarized in the UNODC/WHO International Standards on Drug Use Prevention

Download the Press Release here.

Made possible with the generous support of France.