The 21st century is, undoubtedly, an era that has exponentially increased the growth of human potential. From technological advancements such as the Internet and artificial intelligence, to the spread of urban development throughout the globe, the modern age has never been more prosperous. And yet, with this optimism comes a congruent fear of what the future holds. The continuous dwindling of natural resources amidst the growing world population, the fluctuating global market and e-commerce and the inundating flood of uncontrolled information are just some of the 21st century problems that need to be addressed.
In order to address these problems, which were not present 50 or so years ago, new and innovative solutions need to be harnessed. However, the 21st-century human societies are still using cognitive tools formed from an educational system that was built based on problems of the 18th and 19th century to solve the problems of today. This is supported by Sir Ken Robinson in his enlightening book, “Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education”, Sir Ken Robinson writes that, “Many schools are organized as they are because they have been, not because they must be”, (Robinson & Aronica, 2015)
The continuing adoption of the factory model of management in education has largely contributed to the difficulty in addressing the issues of today.
The needs to unlearn, re-learn, and learn are key elements that will help transform not only the educational system but the lives of each individual.
Unlearn: The shift from teacher-centered to student-focused: The Multiple Intelligence Theory at Work
Unlearning is to let go of things, of mindsets that we cling on despite the changes that are happening. As a principal step towards the reinvention of the educational system, it is necessary to shift the goal of education to the student. Schools must recognize that the primary goal of education is not to implement the system for system’s sake, but to produce individuals that enjoy learning, to produce life-long learners. “Education”, according to Robinson, “should be about creating people who know what to do when they don’t know what to do”, (Robinson & Aronica, 2015).
This is easier said than done. But the best way to implement any change is to take the first small step forward. One way to do this is to shift our mindset from the standardized Intelligence Quotient (IQ) to the more specialized Multiple Intelligence (MI) framework.
Developed by Harvard psychologist, Howard Gardner in his landmark book, “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences”, the MI Theory postulates eight intelligences that describe how an individual can solve problems or create products that are of value to a culture, (Gardner, 1983). These intelligences are as follows:
By knowing the innate intelligence of each individual student, educators can not only tap into their natural learning pathways – they can also play to their natural interests. Doing so allows the educator to more effectively build a creative learning environment and encourages the student to know his/her own inclinations and curiosities.
Re-learn Creativity: Makerspaces, Innovation, and Non-Traditional Routes
Creativity is key in the reinvented educational setting. Creativity is inherent in each individual but continuous exposure to fixed answers, rote memorization and standardized testing procedures, have stymied the creative spirit. One way of “re-learning creativity”, is the physical transformation of the learning space. Whereas the traditional classroom is designed with the teacher at the forefront of the space, the reinvented classroom calls for collaboration, creativity, and the space to make mistakes.
The introduction of makerspaces into the classroom is not as new or as radical as it may first appear. Since infancy, children are exposed to varied objects which they use to build whatever they can imagine. Envision a class where kids are allowed the space to play while they learn. This can transform the learning process significantly. As defined by Dr. Janette Hughes of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, “Makerspaces are creative spaces where people gather to tinker, create, invent, and learn” (Hughes, 2017). Hughes describes the maker pedagogy as one that promotes important principles including inquiry, play, imagination, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and personalized learning. By promoting risk-taking, learning from mistakes, and critical problem solving, educators allow the space for creativity into the classroom.
Learn to Cultivate a Culture of Critical Thinking: Creating Inquiring Minds
While the first steps toward the education reinvention call for increased personalized education and the freedom of creativity, a further stage necessitates the educator to cultivate a culture of critical thinking.
In today’s interconnected world of Wikpedia and Google, students don’t need to constantly remember facts or hard skills. Don’t remember a date? Do a quick Google search and you’re all set. Need a recipe for your cooking class? Ask Siri to look it up. The world today is inundated with information, and students recognize this fact and are resistant to learning things that they can most probably Google on their way out of the classroom.
What is more essential in the reinvented education system is the mindset and competency to think critically. The 21st century student must be able to learn how to learn. Educators can foster this mindset principally by asking more open-ended questions and less standardized answers. We must recognize that students need to be critical thinkers, first and foremost.
The educational landscape today is at an inflection point, this much is clear. The way forward points to the need for current systems of pedagogy to adjust to the issues of today. Rather than seeing students as products to be churned out for the workforce, educators and policy makers must see each student as a goal unto him/herself. Of course, designing a personalized education system that caters to the Multiple Intelligences, and fosters creativity and critical thinking is no easy feat. But these are necessary first steps if we are to equip the next generation with the tools adequate to solve tomorrow’s problems. The 21st century futurist philosopher, Alvin Toffler said it best – “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
About the Author
Francisco Jose Jr. is the School Lower and Middle School Department Principal of Multiple Intelligence International School. He is committed administrator with a proven ability to create, facilitate and monitor policies and practices that promote a dynamic learning environment. His duties at Multiple Intelligence International School include supervising and directing Lower and Middle School teachers and assessing their teaching skills and work performance.