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Chinese Educators Welcome 'Multiple Intelligence' Theory

Seventeen years after his last trip to China, Howard Gardner, internationally acclaimed educator and psychologist, visited the ancient country again last week.

As the initiator of the "multiple intelligence" theory, he was invited to the "International Conference on Multiple Intelligence Theory and Its Application," co-sponsored by the Chinese National Commission for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the Beijing Educational Commission.

On May 19, he delivered a speech titled "Reflections on Multiple Intelligence" to hundreds of listeners, mostly teachers, from across the country.

In the two-hour speech, Gardner presented a detailed statement of his theory, which is already popular in China.

For China's education system, which has been struggling to keep pace with the rapid social and economic development, Gardner's theory seems like a magic elixir.

A number of Gardner's books have been published here, and are snatched up soon after they appear on the market.

There are even certain kindergartens which have claimed they teach their young students using Gardner's theory.

"In recent years, the 'multiple intelligence' theory has stirred great interest in educational circles in China," said Tao Xiping, president of the Chinese National Commission for UNESCO.

Traditional education in China is slanted towards cognitive achievement. Both teachers and families have traditionally placed great importance on students' academic results.

Those who excel in exams are always regarded as "good students," while those who fail to get good marks, are unfairly labelled as "poor students."

As a result, many children are exposed to a great deal of emotional pressure and frustration.

Only in the past few years have children's psychological problems sporadically drawn, when cases of abuse, suicide and murder have been made public.

One of the frequently mentioned cases was a 17-year-old boy who killed his mother in 2000.

After he killed his mother with a hammer, the boy admitted to the police that he was under heavy pressure because his mother kept setting unreasonable academic goals for him.

Another case involved a young mother, who beat her 9-year-old boy to death because he didn't finish his homework.

Another incident that has made educators reassess the current educational system involved Han Han, a first-year senior middle school student in Shanghai. Han showed a remarkable talent for writing and won first prize in a national writing competition.

His maiden novel, "Three Layers of Doors" (San Chong Men) became a hit after it was published in 2001. However, despite his outstanding brilliance as a writer, he failed his examinations in mathematics, physics and chemistry.

That stirred rounds of heated discussion nationwide on whether schools should allow students like Han to develop their specialties freely.

Such cases give insiders in educational circles much food for thought. In their efforts to find a new system, they came upon Howard Gardner's theory of "multiple intelligence."

The theory challenges the traditional view of intelligence as a unitary capacity that can be adequately measured by IQ tests. Instead, this theory defines intelligence as an ability to solve problems or create products that are valued in at least one culture.

According to Gardner, each individual possesses at least seven such relatively independent mental abilities or intelligences -- linguistic, logical, mathematical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, personal and introspective.

The first three are the traditional standards for judging IQ; personal and introspective abilities, however, belong to the domain of EQ.

"Gardner's theory is well in line with the 'quality education' being experimented with in China. Both emphasize that students' intellectual abilities are diversified, and academic results should not be the only measurement used to appraise students," said Deng Jiye, a middle school principal from Shanghai.

Deng said he was excited when he first learned about Gardner's theory several years ago. "It has helped me solve many puzzles that had been haunting me. I was suddenly enlightened," he said.

Deng soon introduced the theory at his school, Hanghua Middle School in Shanghai's Minhang District.

Liu Fengling, a mathematics teacher at Hang-hua, says that generally she carefully analyses students' intelligence, and chooses the best mode for their development.

Deng and Liu's attitudes are shared by many teachers.

As Tao Xiping puts it, "multiple intelligence has greatly influenced the study and reform of Chinese education in many ways."
(China Daily May 27, 2004)

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