Developing multiple intelligences

ince September 2006, the Achievers’ Programme based in Chandigarh and MAW Education, UK, have been introducing the multiple intelligences theory to school teachers across India. Principals of over 20 private, including international schools, have exhibited unprece-dented enthusiasm to provide professional development opportunities to their teachers, and during the past 15 months over 1,300 teachers have participated in these workshops. Schools as far apart as Bangalore International School in south India, Spring Blossom and Spring Dale schools up north in Amritsar, DSB International School and River Dale International School in Maharashtra and the Assam Valley School in the east of the country, have enlisted their teachers for 41 workshops.

The multiple intelligences theory was first propounded by development psychologist Howard Gardner in his seminal book Frames of the Mind in 1984. In this landmark work, Gardner recounted the findings of his research. Since then, the theory of multiple intelligences has been enthusiastically embraced by educationists around the world. More than two decades later, scholars in several countries are researching how this theory can be implemented in education, agriculture and business.

For many years the IQ test was used to discern the aptitudes of students and ascertain which vocations would be most suitable for them. However, the conventional IQ test is essentially an indicator of students who have particular skills in languages and mathematics. In the 21st century, when countries need visionary leaders and multi-skilled workers in a wide range of occupations, education based on stimulating multiple intelligences best equips students for the contemporary, multi-tasking world.

For quite sometime, educationists in India have been aware that pedagogies must change if the country is to reap its demographic dividend in the new millennium. In July 2004 the executive committee of the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) took the decision to revise the National Curriculum Framework.

Recommending that the curriculum should be made more relevant to the present and future needs of school children, it submitted that teachers need to understand the way learning occurs; find ways of creating conducive conditions for learning; accommodate differences among students in respect of pace and style of learning; view learners as active participative individuals, and understand that student capabilities are not fixed but capable of developing through experiences.

But these ideals have yet to be attained. While there are excellent examples of teaching in some schools, and although teachers are willing to learn new pedagogies, professional development and teacher training opportunities are sadly deficient. Against this backdrop, multiple intelligences (MI) workshops have shown teachers how to create their own lesson plans using a wide range of new teaching-learning pedagogies. The basic proposition advanced in these workshops is that all students have differing talents and learn in different ways. Some learn by reading; others prefer to write and take notes. Yet others remember visuals or learn best when acting, dancing or making models. We all use different parts of our brains to solve varying problems. Thus by encouraging and stimulating multiple intelligences in classrooms, teachers can utilise differences for the good of their pupils. (The eight multiple intelligences are: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, naturalist, interpersonal and intrapersonal.)

The traditional pedagogy in India’s classrooms has been ‘chalk-n-talk’, which benefits students with strong linguistic intelligence. But chalk-n-talk is anathema to children with strong spatial or kinesthetic intelligences. Commenting on Asia’s emerging skills shortage The Economist (August 16, 2007) writes: "Recent growth in many parts of Asia has been so great that it has rapidly transformed the types of skills needed by businesses. Schools and universities have been unable to keep up... India has fewer than 3,000 pilots today but will need more than 12,000 by 2025." The skills pilots need are dependent on well-developed spatial intelligence. Similarly, the country needs multiple skills in all aspects of work, and schools need to develop MI skill-sets from early age education.

Workshops are of little use unless they are followed up with realistic implementation plans. The biggest problem of India’s teachers is overcrowded classrooms, often lacking in equipment and resources. Moreover teachers have to grapple with short lesson periods which don’t allow time for imaginative teaching and a vast syllabus to cover, together with a perennial demand for good exam outcomes.

Professor Yash Pal wrote in his report to the National Advisory Committee that "the mechanical load on our students may not be too heavy, but the load of non-comprehension is equally cruel". The vast syllabus contributes to the cohesion of India’s society and should not be belittled; examinations, however, should require demonstration of excellence in a wider range of skills.

(Margaret Warner is a UK-based international education consultant)