Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Teacher, thinker, trailblazer

Teacher, thinker, trailblazer
Business World - Online Edition
October 5, 2010

Mary Joy C. Abaquin
Founding Directress
Multiple Intelligence
International School 

As with all great ventures, Mary Joy C. Abaquin’s revolutionary educational institution started with an idea. A developmental educator, she realized that the traditional school system where only students with strong scholastic aptitude or high IQs are considered intelligent was not always the best fit for all Filipino students. Her research inspired her to bring home an alternative education model that was experiential, multidisciplinary and holistic.

As a graduate student abroad, Ms. Abaquin was exposed to progressive schools where children learned by doing and teachers took the approach most suited to their students’ learning needs. Upon her return, she brought up the concept in seminars and consultancies with school teachers and administrators -- and was met with tepid response. She recalls, "They acknowledged that progressive education in the Philippines was ‘a good idea’ but were hesitant to adopt it. They thought it would be too difficult to implement."

She then realized that the only way to prove her idea could work was to carry it out herself. This "aha moment" resulted in the Multiple Intelligence International School (MIIS), established in 1996 as a model for educational reform. She opened MIIS with a batch of 25 students that eventually grew to 60 by the end of the first school year.

MIIS is the first learning institution in the Philippines founded on the multiple intelligences framework of Dr. Howard Gardner. A cognitive psychologist from Harvard University and an adviser to the MIIS, Dr. Gardner believes that children are intelligent in different ways -- they may be nature smart, visually smart, mathematically smart, linguistically smart, kinesthetically smart, musically smart, interpersonally smart or intrapersonally smart.

According to Ms. Abaquin, this alternative view requires a significant paradigm shift for educators, parents and students. She says, "Filipinos tend to measure success in school on the basis of grades and academic ranking, which does not always reflect a student’s competitiveness. When we started, a major challenge was convincing parents to consider an alternative kind of learning."

Ms. Abaquin believes that the multiple intelligences framework allows children to be recognized for their strengths in diverse learning areas and promotes collaboration instead of competition. Children are given a variety of entry points -- visual, auditory and tactile activities are regularly incorporated into lessons. Because of this, the classroom becomes a student-centered place for learning -- a complete turnaround from textbook-based lectures and test-oriented assessments. "Our school promotes an inclusive attitude, serving as a model for students and parents, encouraging them to embrace democratic values and respect others’ intelligences," she explains.

Like other institutions, the MIIS aims to foster excellence in various learning areas. However, it goes one step further by encouraging students to use their skills to make a difference in their communities. The curriculum and instructional models veer away from the rote learning, prioritize conceptual understanding of lessons and immerse students in real-world learning. For example, MIIS students are given opportunities to apply mathematical concepts through activities that teach them basic skills in marketing and selling. The MI Kids Can! Movement partners with organizations such as Haribon, Greenpeace and Gawad Kalinga (GK) and exposes students to social awareness projects, one of which was a campaign for Congress to pass the Renewable Energy Bill.

Among the school’s many initiatives, Ms. Abaquin is particularly proud of its entrepreneurship program for the grade school and high school levels. She says, "Creativity, critical thinking and persistence are essential leadership qualities. Entrepreneurship gives our students a language to say, ‘I’m smart in this way and I can do this’. This is what we want to produce -- leaders who are empowered to make a difference in the best way they know."

Entrepreneurship laboratories serve as a venue for integrating classroom lectures, business sense and social responsibility. Under a mentorship program, CEOs and executives are invited to share their experiences and are partnered with multiple intelligence-grouped students.

Firmly believing that "it takes a village" to raise a child, Ms. Abaquin spearheads other initiatives to address education reform. These include the Philippine Multiple Intelligence Convention where parents, educators and business leaders work towards educational reform; the Multiple Intelligence Awards, a nationwide search for youth role models (one of its first awardees was former president Corazon Aquino); and mentoring, leadership and entrepreneurship programs.

An advocate of quality education for all Filipinos, Ms. Abaquin is working towards replicating the MI Smart Start-Comprehensive School Reform (CSR) program in other Philippine regions. The program works with local government units to bring multiple intelligence instruction and teacher capability training to early childhood education centers in the provinces. The program is currently deployed in 33 daycare centers in Tagbilaran, Bohol and benefits 3,000 students.

Ms. Abaquin also plans to continue the MI Smart for All Camp, a project which has been in place for four years. After being sent as a representative to the Art for All Camp in Bangkok in 2006, she adapted the camp into a Philippine-based project. The MI Smart for All Camp brings together around 300 underprivileged children to discover and hone their different intelligences. To date, the project is carried out with the support of the Quezon City government, GK Baseco, GK Fairlane Marikina, Krus na Ligas Elementary School and Santolan Elementary School.

Ms. Abaquin’s efforts to pioneer multiple intelligences gained worldwide recognition in the 2010 Multiple Intelligence World Symposium in Beijing, where she shared the school’s advocacy for students to "use [their] intelligences to make a difference." Her accomplishments have also been presented as a model for the international community through two books: Multiple Intelligences New Horizon (Basic Books, 2006) and Multiple Intelligences Around the World (Jossey-Bass, 2009).

To continue the school’s tradition of excellence, Ms. Abaquin plans to upgrade its educational practices and continue its advocacies. Being a zero waste institution, MIIS aims to be among the first to build a masterplanned eco-campus in the country.

The educator-entrepreneur generously imparts her lessons in success which is: "My formula for success is simple: I + I = I. Your intelligences and interests will lead you to your business idea. Believe in your vision, even if it is something that has never been done before, because it is how you will make a difference."


The Entrepreneur Of The Year Philippines 2010 is sponsored by SAP Philippines. The official airline is KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, operating on behalf of the Air-France KLM Group. Media sponsors are BusinessWorld and the ABS-CBN News Channel. The winners will be announced on Oct. 12, 2010 at an awards banquet at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel.