The key factor to Malaysia’s economic growth and to her capability to compete in the global economy is no other than Education. In dealing with the fast changing world, we can no more depend on incremental improvement and innovation in our education system. We have to make a leap. We have to be ready to embrace and actually ensure radical innovation and transformation is being done to our education system. We would not want to be obsolete and thus, must be willing to reinvent, reformulate or rediscover, and not just reforming our system. How can we make our education system meaningful and relevant to our students? How are we able to provide engaging and empowering learning experiences for our children? Thus, as teachers, we should be aware and concentrate on how we can best match what students need to understand, how, when and where they learn to our teaching philosophy and approach in classroom. How can we actually engage, motivate, and create enthusiasm in our students, regardless of races, religion, or gender, to succeed. It is the aim of this paper to persuade 21st centuries educators in Malaysia to make the most of MI theory in assisting the students to capitalized their strength and strengthen their weakness in preparing them for the most challenging era ahead. It is hope that it will provide a quick review of the relationship of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory with the cognitive development and creativity of our children.

The long period of childhood is not just a time of fragile immaturity and vulnerability, not just a phase of development to be got through before the real show of humanity emerges onstage. It is the time when the human brain can set to work on language, on taste, on poetry and music, with centres at its disposal that may not be available later on in life. If we did not have childhood, and were able somehow to jump catlike from infancy to adulthood, I doubt very much that we would turn out human.”

(Thomas, L., 1995, p.90)

This quote resonates with Gardner’s many researches that have continuously emphasis on the importance of childhood in developing intelligence potentials. What is ‘intelligence’ then? Is it just IQ?

Throughout the years, many psychologists, educationalists, scientists, and theorists have contributed to the concept of intelligences which include Alfred Binet, Francis Galton, Joy Paul Guilford, John L. Horn, David Wechsler, and Charles Spearman. Through interdisciplinary research of these fields in recent years, new definition of intelligence was proposed. Among the educational psychologists that impact this conceptualization is the work of, Robert Sternberg and Howard Gardner.

In conceptualizing his theory, Gardner synthesized and combined the empirical findings of hundreds of researches from a variety of disciplines. MI theory encompasses research from psychometric and experimental psychology, cognitive and developmental psychology, differential psychology, anthropology, and cultural studies.

Gardner argues that everyone have special skills and he terms these as intelligences. He explain that it is ‘the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting’. After his introduction of Multiple Intelligence theory in the book, Frames of Mind, published in 1983, Howard Gardner proposed a reviewed definition of intelligence in his book, Intelligence Reframed, (1999). He defines intelligence as a “bio-psychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that are of value in the culture” (p. 33). It is implied here that MI theory examines intelligences at different levels —“as composites of fine-grained neurological sub processes but not those sub processes themselves, as bio-psychological information processing capacities, and as the bases on which an individual can participate in meaningful activities in the broader cultural milieu” (Gardner, H & Moran, S., 2006, p 227, Educational psychologist 41(4)

This theory is an effort to describe an individual as having a number of relatively independent intelligence instead of having a single all-purpose intelligence (Gardner 1983). It is indeed in contradiction to the idea of the general intelligence factor ‘g’ and in particular seems to be the antithesis of IQ based education.

Gardner selected nine intelligence domains that meet a certain criteria. Seven were selected and highlighted in his book in 1983 which include Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Musical, Bodily-kinaesthetic , Spatial, Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Intelligences.

Later, he added two more domains which are the “Naturalist” and “Existential.”. Gardner strongly advocates that everyone have the potential to accomplish in all the domains; however it is understood that it would vary in their strengths.

The main arguments of MI‘s theory are that:

  • All human beings possess all nine intelligences in varying degrees.
  • Each individual has a different intelligence profile.
  • Education can be improved by assessment of students’ intelligence profiles and designing activities accordingly.
  • Each intelligence occupies a different area of the brain.
  • The nine intelligences may operate in consort or independently from one another.
  • These nine intelligences may define the human species. (Giles, Pitre, and Womack 2003)

Teaching, Learning and MI Theory

Teaching encompasses a set of cognitive skills that requires a great deal of reflection, patience and learning. Thus, it important that teaching needs to be informed by good repertoire of theories of learning, MI theory being one of them. Throughout the years, we have evolved and matured in our understanding of students learning. We have now understood that one kind of instruction is no more suitable to all learners. We have begun to understand the diversity in learners and have stated to provide learning experiences that able to support learning. In some western and European countries, paradigm shift in teaching and learning has taken place in the in the past few years whereby educators started to employ MI approaches in their classes. This allows collaboration between teachers and learners in ensuring learning and mastery takes place.

In his research, Armstrong, T (2009) compares the role of the teacher in a traditional classroom to a multiple intelligence classroom. He summarized that the traditional method of instruction is teacher-centred, whereas a multiple- intelligence method of instruction is student-centred. He states that:

…in the traditional classroom, the teacher lectures while standing at the front of the classroom, writes on the blackboard, asks students questions about the assigned reading or hand-outs, and waits while students finish their written work. In the MI classroom, while keeping her educational objective firmly in mind, the teacher continually shifts her method of presentation from linguistic to spatial to musical and so on, often combining intelligences in creative ways (Armstrong 2009, 56).


We used to believe that teachers are the fountain of knowledge and it is our most important task to fill students’ brain with information. Even though researches has shown the ineffectiveness of this approach in students learning, it is still being practices as we are so used to this teaching approach. The question is, does meaningful learning takes place? What is learning?


Atkinson et al. (1993) define learning as “a relatively permanent change in behavior that results from practice.” According to Glaser (1991), a modern cognitive psychologist, learning is a constructive and not a receptive process where meaningful learning is achieve through experiences and interaction with the environment. Learning occurs when students are able to link what they have already known to construct new understanding. In another word, learning thus will take place once “a relatively permanent change in behavior that results from practice” occurs (Atkinson et al. , 1993). In this theory, teacher s is not the main authority in imparting knowledge, but it is the students’ responsibility to construct new knowledge and understanding. In a constructivist classroom, the teacher plays a role as guide or facilitator who assists students in meaningful learning.

Understanding of how students learn, appreciating the different learning theories, and learning of the different classroom best practice are important in ensuring meaningful learning in the classroom. By having the understanding of how MI view students learning,

we are thus able capitalize it and apply it in our teaching and assessment. Not only will it give us the freedom to choose our teaching approach, but it gives the students the independence to students to use their knowledge about how they learn best thus makes their learning meaningful. This independence is hope able to make them more enthusiastic about learning and able to provide a platform for them to be critical and creative, which is hoped to result in meaningful learning and higher accomplishment levels.

What’s Our Take on MI?

We now understood that Gardner is actually propositioning to us an alternative way of understanding the potential diversity of our children. He understood how students learn and suggest that we will be able to at least consider the perspectives of MI in our effort to cultivate and develop our students to be the best that they can be. The point is that we do not necessary be ’intelligent’ in all these intelligences, but what is more important is that we are aware and understood these intelligences. Our awareness as teachers is crucial in understanding students’ strength and weakness thus only then able to allow meaningful learning experiences to take place.

How can we fully capitalize this brilliant concept and set it in a context that is meaningful and relevant to our educational context? How would we resonate our view of MI within the framework as proposed by the Occidental?

What we must do is to be able to critically analyse, synthesize and make it work for us. It is thus important for us to frame it on our context. We must put an effort to do this and we are able to do this because we understood our context better, we know what is needed and what is vital, we are sensitive to our own culture, and we basically have some understanding what will work.


It is hope that the discussion in this paper not only make the teachers aware on the importance of understanding this theory, but it will also encourage teachers to pay closer attention to students :aware on how best the students learn, identifying students dominant intelligence, and modifying classroom instruction and students’ assessment suit the students’ intelligence. It may sound almost impossible for now but I may become a reality if we are able to collectively work towards it.

We must however apply this theory with some caution. We are not to take the theory in totality, but what we must do is to be able to critically analyse, synthesize and make it work for us. What Gardner is trying to do is simplify things for us so that we can better understand how the brain works hence assist in our teaching. Neurosciences scientist in general is not in tandem with this theory as they argue that the complexity of the brain general process is not to be reduces just to a small number of individual capabilities. Yes it is true that there are researches that showed overlapping brain processing pathways instead of only one type of intelligence operating from a separate area of the brain (Adolphs et al 2003, Koelsch et al 2004, Norton et al 2005, Adolphs et al 2003, Morgane et al. 2005, Phelps 2006). However, what Gardner is proposing is an alternative way of understanding the potential diversity of our children. He is suggesting that we will be able to embrace and develop our students to be the best that they can be if we are aware and understand their strength and weakness by looking through the MI glasses.Through the understanding of how MI view students learning, we are thus able capitalize it and apply it in our teaching and assessment. It is s hope that the consideration of MI in teacreas teaching approach able to make students more enthusiastic about learning and able to provide a platform for them to be critical and creative, which is hoped to result in meaningful learning and higher accomplishment levels. This is the aim of this paper – to share some thoughts on how we can make the most of the hundreds researches in MI in assisting the students to capitalized their strength and strengthen their weakness in preparing them for the most challenging years ahead. May we also share Gardner’s view on learning:

I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious. I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place. Knowledge is not the same as morality, but we need to understand if we are to avoid past mistakes and move in productive directions. An important part of that understanding is knowing who we are and what we can do… Ultimately, we must synthesize our understandings for ourselves. The performance of understanding that try matters are the ones we carry out as human beings in an imperfect world which we can affect for good or for ill. (Howard Gardner 1999: 180-181)


From Ibu today..