Some students excel, some students are poor and some students are average. All I did was record this in a 400-page report,” says Howard Gardner. While trying to break the myth that a person has to be smart in school, he came up with the theory of Multiple Intelligences, altering the current education system. Gardner recently came to Chennai for a seminar on ‘Multiple Intelligences and Child Centred Education’ at IIT-Madras.
According to him, Multiple Intelligences (MI) was the product of research in psychology, but it was successful with its implications in the education sector.
Gardener has done vast research and his books speak about a number of topics like human development from the perspective of arts, structuralist thought, neuropsychology and cognitive science. He started researching in psychology about the difference between talents in children and brain damaged individuals. Through the study he found a new interdisciplinary view about abilities of humans and the later called them ‘intelligences’. This was when he came up with the MI theory.
Talking about the Indian education system he said that there was one thing in common between the US and India — this huge disparity between the relatively affluent people who can send their children to a school where the teachers are well trained, where the coaching is traditional and progressive and others who send their children to schools where they do not get organised and willing teachers. “There is this huge gap between these people both in the US and India,” he said.
“MI theory is the theory of the human mind, how it develops and is organised, but I never expected it could be used in the education sector,” Gardner said. He is happy that the ideas of MI theory are used in approximately 20 countries around the world.
He said that he was not like a policeman setting down rules for the MI theory and giving guidelines as to what should be done. Rather he has two important ideas — individuation and pluralisation — regarding how the theory can be used.
He explains that individuation is where you teach people so they can learn more effectively and assess them in a way where they can show or tell what they know. It might be difficult to do this when you have so many students in a classroom and this is where digital media can be used to transmit lessons digitally and present individual ways of learning.
Pluralisation on the other hand can be used whether you have one or a thousand students in a class. It means deciding on what is important for learning and presenting it in different ways through teachers, the media or self-learning. The basic idea is that a student should not study with a one-way approach but with the help of methods to understand the subject. According to Gardner, in India, more importance is given to individuation than to pluralisation and the MI theory helps people follow these two ideas and organise them accordingly.
Commenting on iDiscoveri (a social enterprise with a mission to renew education in India), he said he was flattered and happy that ideas developed at Harvard by him and his colleagues were helpful to iDiscoveri. He appreciated XSEED, iDiscoveri’s flagship programme, which has schools in India and has helped teachers adapt to the ideas of MI.
“I don’t say how things should be done so I have informal contact with people at iDiscoveri and we exchange ideas,” said Gardner. He observes that many schools in India are interested in this idea of the theory but the teachers need methods to implement them in practice.
“iDiscoveri has accomplished this by getting teachers involved by working with them and providing them feedback which might help them in getting these ideas implemented,” he said.
“There are many people in this 21st century who do bad things and they are mostly creative and smart people, for example Osama bin Laden” said Gardner talking about the GoodWork Project. GoodWork Project is a multi-site effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work.
“We do not just enrich individuals but also help them improve society,” says Gardner, who is the co-director of the GoodWork Project. Speaking about Project Zero at Harvard University, of which he was the founding member he said that they develop individual ideas that can be used in education (MI was one) and push those ideas in the right direction. Project Zero helps educational institutions that are interested to implement these ideas in their method.
About his tour in India, he said he had come to learn and get to know things about the system and the curriculum. He just wants to listen to the questions and see what people have in mind.
“What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge in pursuit of the child, George Bernard Shaw once said and the current scenario is in pursuit of marks and not knowledge. Many educational organisations and people are working towards changing this into a platform where a child can gain knowledge and procure them for professional and leadership positions,” Gardner said.