Technology and Therapy

bigstock-Technology-and-medicine-Stet-26473718Imagine yourself living in the Stone Age; with no access to your mobile or laptop or for that matter even your fancy car. Difficult, isn’t it? To say our lives are dependent upon the new age tools and technologies would be a gross understatement. With passing years, science has made tremendous progress; with inventions leading to accessible tools which have ultimately shaped our lives. The field of speech and language therapy is no different. Communication skills are the base of the human relationship; we use various forms of speech to communicate, share emotions. But technology is playing a major role in new discoveries. Many ailments, which in past were considered beyond human control can now be easily cured. Let’s look at three major discoveries in speech and language therapy.

Robots & autistic Children

Gone are the days when robots were only used for tasks like moving objects or in operation theatres or in the ‘infamous’ Hollywood blockbuster series – Transformers. Scientists have successfully been able to develop robots who can be talked to or tickled with by children. One example of it is Kasper, developed by the researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, it can be used by doctors to detect autism in infants. Earlier, detecting autism in initial stages was extraordinarily difficult as it could only be detected by monitoring a child’s social skills like interaction with his surrounding, which develop only after a certain age; thus leading to delay in detection. But with advent of Kasper, things have changed for the good.

This robot can be used to detect autism in the initial stages as it detects symptoms through nonverbal communication like body movements and facial expressions. Also, Kasper can be a good motivation for children as the robot is child friendly and plays the role of a companion effectively.

Patients with chronic speech impairments

Until few years ago, the capacity to be able to interact or to express themselves was a distant reality. For instance, for stroke victims, loss of speech can be a common and deliberating consequence. However, recent developments in form of a new computerized treatment, which helps patients in gradually rebuilding speech has allowed the patients to be able to speak again. The technology is effectively used by doctors to give high-intensity stimulation through images to patients with high stroke and brain damage. And the results have been phenomenal, as doctors were able to improve the damaged nerve systems and enable such patients to speak again. For some, this may be “the usual science geeky stuff”, but for those who suffer from such ailments, this is nothing short of a miracle.

Speech Recognition

When we pay attention to speech, we are exceptionally forgiving: we can efficiently figure out words against the engine noise or the sound of colliding waves; filter out a particular voice amidst the uproar of an unruly crowd; handle unfamiliar accents, or make out the emotion in a speech. Though breakthroughs have been made both in speech synthesis and speech recognition technology in recent years, however, machines are still long behind when compared to the human ability of catching up or interacting fast and naturally; continually adapting and learning as we do so. But the researchers at the universities of Cambridge, Edinburgh, and Sheffield have accomplished this feat too. They have been able to develop a machine which is able to make speech technologies more usable and natural by shrinking the performance gap between machine and humans. Now imagine the next time you speak amidst an unruly crowd and a computer being effectively able to decipher your words and pass on the message or the voice assistant in your smartphone being able to decipher your commands even in a crowded field.

Apart from being revolutionary, these developments have been able to fundamentally alter our lifestyle. Technology, apart from bridging the divide is also positively impacting the medical science. Diseases which in past, posed phenomenal challenges can now be easily diagnosed. Doctors sitting thousands of miles away can conduct complex surgeries using these discoveries. I wonder if there ever was a more effective tool than technology!

 

The School Environment (Part II)

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Continuing from our earlier post, we look at some of the other environmental factors that make schools and classrooms more appealing to students, influence pedagogy, and promote an enhanced learning setting. Apart from the natural factors, a few additional factors contribute to ameliorating the learning environment: flexibility, possession, connection, complexity, and colour.

Classroom flexibility

The classroom shape, area, storage spaces for bags and other equipment, wall area, as well as learning zones for young pupils, all can be customised according to the students’ needs. For instance, older students find larger, more square-shaped classrooms to be effective; however, younger students – particularly in primary school – require different learning areas to disassociate themselves from one activity and move onto another. Wall areas are an excellent way to foster creativity and self-confidence in pupil through displaying their work. Barren walls further can be optimised to display informative posters that bring colour and life to classrooms.

Possession

Personalised space is essential for creating both mental and physical comfort; the developing physiology and the students’ freedom of movement ought not to be restricted, these, in turn, become significant factors in shaping their identity, individuality, and sense of self-worth. McMillan (1997) disputes that intimate and customised areas facilitate enhanced information absorption, memorisation, and recollection, for when they feel tethered to the classroom, children develop a sense of responsibility towards their environment. Younger children, especially, begin to feel connected as though to their own bedrooms at home. Displays of pupils’ work – projects, posters, constructions, et cetera – encourage participation in learning, as do child-centric furniture and equipment.

Connection

Moving on to the areas outside the classroom, the pathways connecting various areas of a school – corridors, if you will – need to be free of clutter and simple to navigate. Circulation in corridors can be helped by the corridor width: too narrow and it hinders movement, too wide and space is wasted. Additionally, moving around the school, or orientation, is facilitated by large imagery, landmarks, and spaces filled with sunlight. A dark corridor does not help cultivate a mental connection with a school but one filled with both bright light and imagery avoids the institutional perception.

Complexity

Returning to the classroom, visual complexity, in the form of diverse, interestingly bizarre, or uncharacteristic displays, stimulates the mind and arouses interest in other topics. Striking a right balance between little and too much complexity is essential as too much makes for distracting classrooms, while too barren a room is not mentally stimulating. For instance, having hanging lights, varying ceiling heights, and some displays is beneficial; covering the wall area entirely is chaotic and will have a negative impact on pupil attention spans.

Colour

Colour undoubtedly enhances our quality of perception, but for children especially young, bright and vibrant colours are preferable to creating a positive environment. Colour effects emotion and mood, with some improving learning and working performance, others influencing behaviour and producing positive or negative perceptions regarding the space. Again, finding a balance is essential: brighter walls, with a mixture of white and pale yellow, often create the optimal learning environment that does not distract or seem imperious. Additionally, variations in furniture colour and window curtains or blinds that complement each other produce stimulating classrooms.


For creating an optimal school environment, teachers need to pay attention to all these factors, particularly with younger pupils that are most influenced by colour, visual complexity, and a sense of ownership. Developing such classrooms requires a good understanding of pedagogy and child psychology, two essential topics educators learn during their teacher training courses.

References

  • McMillan, D., 1997. Classroom Spaces & Learning Places: How to Arrange Your Room for Maximum Learning. Charthage, Illinois: Teaching & Learning Company, Lorenz Corporation.

The School Environment (Part I)

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Depressing classrooms? Attending schools that make learning a less engaging experience? Like any complete building, the design and construction of schools and their classrooms has a significant impact on learning. A poorly built school will not foster an attitude of learning, whereas a school environment having well-lit and well-ventilated classrooms will boost the students’ engagement.

First, however, let us clarify what is meant by a well-constructed school. No, it has nothing to do with the quality of construction – though that too is significant – but rather consider the pedagogic perspective, where architectural concepts such as air quality, natural light, temperature, and personalised classroom characteristics translate into a better classroom environment for students. So how do these four central concepts translate into a better learning experience?

Air Quality

Having the right air quality affects learning, as a well-oxygenated classroom enhances cognitive functions and improves learning. However, this has become problematic in recent times due to the widespread prevalence of air conditioning and the polluted outside air. Poor air quality is characterised chiefly by parts per million (PPM) of carbon dioxide; if adequate ventilation is not provided, then students feel very drowsy and cannot concentrate for extended durations, hampering their cognitive development.

Natural Light

Natural light does not disrupt the circadian rhythm of the children. Conversely, artificial lighting disrupts the sleep-wake cycle, production of melatonin (the sleep hormone), and core body temperature cycles. In short, greater sense of both mental and physical comfort develops with extensive benefits beyond aiding sight. The diffused and soft quality of light, along with subtle changes in colour, does not compare with electric lighting.

Temperature

In tropical climates, high temperatures and humidity create environments inconducive to learning and, therefore, require regulation; in such conditions, students experience greater discomfort with their attention spans, mental performance, and productivity decreasing considerably. A slightly cool classroom is, in fact, better for thinking.

Classroom characteristics

Personalised classrooms significantly aid in fostering an environment geared towards learning. Acoustics and a link to nature are two key characteristics that help in doing so; controlling the noise, the echoes, and increasing the acoustic quality of classrooms enable information to be registered cerebrally, independent of background noise, and promotes effectiveness in academic learning and working. Sound absorbing materials are best in preventing sound echoes, such as carpeted areas, curtains, and rubber feet on chairs and desks that cushion the noise.

Nature provides children with an enhanced learning experience; from outdoor space for their expending of energy to plants kept indoors for oxygenating the room and improving the visual aesthetics of the classroom, nature encourages, among children, the development of problem solving, social interaction, and stimulating empathy for the physical world.

The best classrooms produce the brightest and most enthusiastic learners. As adults, we have a responsibility to provide young children with the best environment for their cognitive and physical development. The design of schools – being second homes – need to be tailored in a manner that truly unleashes their potential.

Scared of Mathematics?

Worried excessively when presented with a mathematics problem? Feeling perplexed when seeing a jumble of words, numbers, and symbols stuck together? Does your mind wander off elsewhere?

If you replied positively to any or all of the above, then you are not alone in facing the commonly known phenomenon of “mathematical anxiety”, which, it must be emphasised, is independent of skill. Defined by Mark Ashcraft (2002) as “a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance”, this specific anxiety was diagnosed over 40 years ago and is connected directly with avoiding mathematics, which leads to poor performance as well as spawns negative attitudes towards the subject. Moreover, very apprehensive students will avoid situations in which they have to perform calculations.

Physical Pain

The ramifications of this become evident in students losing competency, a reduced exposure to mathematical problems, and – of course – academic achievement; ultimately, confidence and motivation both lower. You may ask, “Well, what if I am just bad at maths?” If individuals were simply bad at maths, then their brain scans would not show the triggering of a specific cerebral area that is associated normally with registering bodily harm (Harms, 2012). That is right; your brain feels the same level of pain by undertaking a maths problem as it would if you were physically hurt.

As part of their student assessment every three years, PISA studies report that almost a third of students feel apprehensive when faced with a mathematics problem and over half of them worry about the difficulties they will face in mathematics classes. Confirming Ashcraft’s aforementioned statement, PISA found that greater anxiety strongly connects with lower mathematics scores; moreover, this apprehension increases when students’ classmates perform better than they do (OECD, 2015). However, exceptions exist, particularly in the case of East Asian students in Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Shanghai, Singapore, and Taipei; likely pushed by authoritative “tiger mums”, these students are not only among the highest performers in the PISA mathematics assessment but also report a higher level of anxiety.

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Cultural aspect

This anomaly can be attributed to a cultural factor, parents in Asian countries place a greater emphasis on effort rather than merely their child’s intellectual capabilities – this is beneficial as it helps to develop a growth mindset, which encourages intellectual development, learning from mistakes, and improved learning. Asian parents generally set high expectations and standards of achievements for their children, which results in them spending more time developing their skills and knowledge not just in mathematics but also in other school subjects (Stevenson & Lee, 1990).

The Gender Gap

Traditionally, mathematics is considered as a “masculine” aptitude and this gender typecast may cause girls to feel mathematical anxiety more acutely from a young age. There is a huge academic push for more women in the STEM fields but until educators do not address the confidence problem, this may remain a distant dream. PISA documents this gender gap in the graph below, with almost 70% of girls reporting that they worry about the difficulty of mathematics classes, as well as worrying about poor achievement. Among the oft-mentioned reasons are gender references – or gender labelling – on the mathematical questions; in fact, research studies suggest that although both sexes perform better on male-related mathematics questions, women that perform worse overall do well in female-labelled questions with the converse holding true: those who perform better overall tend to do best on male-labelled questions. One particular study pointed to the gender performance gap in tests that increases with age (Walsh et al., 1994). The threat of gender stereotyping can affect test performance and it affects men positively but women negatively.

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Reducing the anxiety

Mathematics is a subject taught typically with no grey areas present – the answers are either right or wrong but the methodology for arriving at the answers can vary; the accuracy of the answers can be improved and one method may be more concise. The PISA report suggests that teaching itself is perhaps the optimal way to reduce and, ideally, relieve this apprehension. Educators can achieve this in a number of ways, chief of which include informing the students of their performance, giving feedback on their strengths and weaknesses, and suggesting ways in which the students can improve – teachers who do so consistently tend to have positive results in reducing their students’ unease (OECD, 2015). Addressing the students’ anxiety is central to unlocking their mathematical abilities and knowing the best ways to approach a mathematical problem significantly relieves their stress.

Of course, there are teaching methods that make mathematics more relevant and engaging, with active students being the best learners. One of the best ways to help students learn mathematics is leaving the solution method open-ended beyond a few simple example problems; it emphasises original thinking rather than mere formulaic manipulation. Expressing, in words, their thought process in resolving a particular problem enables students to develop metacognitive skills that compel them to rationalise their thoughts, thereby improving their problem solving and mathematical reasoning skills.

References

  1. Ashcraft, M.H., 2002. Math anxiety: Personal, educational, and cognitive consequences. Directions in Psychological Science, 11, pp.181-85.
  2. Harms, W., 2012. When People Worry about Math, the Brain Feels the Pain. UChicago News, 31 October.
  3. OECD, 2015. Does Math Make You Anxious? PISA in Focus No.48. Paris: OECD Publishing.
  4. Stevenson, H.W. & Lee, S., 1990. Contexts of achievement: A study of American, Chinese, and Japanese children. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 55, pp.1-119.
  5. Walsh, M., Hickey, C. & Duffy, J., 1994. Influence of Item Content and Stereotype Situation on Gender Differences in Mathematical Problem Solving. Sex Roles, 41(3-4), pp.219-40.

The Case for Less Technology in Schools

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The advances made possible by the digital revolution in the latter part of the 20th Century need no superlatives; nearly ubiquitous as the very air we breathe, technology has and will continue to enable greater advances in all aspects of our lives, education included. It is propagated and worshipped everywhere, increasingly in classrooms, where Smartboards and other digital teaching aids are considered hallmarks of the school and advertised to the public as such. Being tech-literate is pretty much a requisite in the modern age and computer programming skills being pushed onto children from a very young age can only benefit them later on, or so goes the premise. Nonetheless, primary schools, in particular, could do without these expensive and perhaps pointless devices.

No, this does not advocate out-dated school and classroom designs but offers instead an alternative to needless inclusion of technology where none or little is required: less is better and this could not be truer for a child’s imagination – in primary school, it is still developing and needs to be stimulated naturally. Think of it as reading a book, the words and the entwined narrative both form the images and the visual representation of the ideas behind contained within. Thus, for each individual, how that narrative translates into mental imagery is unique. Now consider the very same book presented as a series of images or even a video. What happens here? The mind does not need to process the words and translate them into vivid imagery because that imagery already exists on a screen. However, somebody else’s imagination allows your brain to experience rather than perform any creative cognitive task.

Development of the visual cortex

Similarly, a child faced with such imagery, presented through iPads and other technological tools, loses that ability to think creatively because the nascent visual cortex needs natural development; and not suppressed due to artificial stimuli. Take television watching, for instance, an activity that requires very little processing of imagery and is instead a very passive mental and physical activity. Yes, technology enables students to both learn new material and produce professional-looking presentations – a noble yet flawed intention – but the novelty of handing them laptops, as schools are doing increasingly, is counter-productive. Within a few months, children tend to use these for surfing the Internet and other meaningless online activities; nevertheless, we encourage this in the hopes that technology will make the children wiser.

Development of gross-motor skills

Technology can become an excellent tool in the hands of an excellent teacher, making teaching truly memorable for the students. However, having a 4-year-old child manipulate virtual objects using a sleek application on an iPad instead of physical ones really hampers the growth of the ability to use their hands, which allow them to understand the natural world, to feel the texture, the softness, and other physical qualities of physical objects. The screen takes away the mental capacity to process these sensations and the virtual representations of the real world contained within are no substitute for real learning. Blocks, play-dough, art, and other building materials such as sand and water provide children with an incredible amount of creative freedom, precisely because of their open-ended, problem-solving nature.

Promotion of Rote-learning

While the plethora of learning applications on tablet and PCs never ceases to amaze, it is somebody else’s design and it finishes somewhere. Math-based applications and games allow a child to learn the right answer to 3×4, for instance, from tapping repeatedly on the presented choices until the correct option reads out ‘Success!’ but will never enable understanding of the causal ideas behind why the multiplication works that way. It promotes simple right and wrong, and once the child understands this, seeking the right option becomes second nature and searching for why becomes relegated to the dustbin of history.

Shortened Attention Spans

Combined with the promotion of rote learning due to ‘failure’, technology decreases the ability of a child to concentrate for an extended period on a particular activity. Screens facilitate distraction from reality and decrease a child’s ability to relate emotionally and socially not just to other children but also adults. Due to their own time-constraints, parents, too, enable this behaviour by giving them technology instead of interacting and building a good bond with their child. No wonder children are growing up with attention deficiency disorders, and then are medicated for it!

Just pen and paper, thank you

As children grow up and enter middle school, more technology is pushed onto them. After all, the child must be tech-savvy in today’s fast-paced world. “Pedagogical conservatism”, or a relaxed classroom milieu, without the daily use of technology, enables better learning. Just look at Finland’s highly envied schools, which use less education technology than the rest of the developed nations and whose students are among the highest worldwide achievers in maths, reading, and science. The old adage, “less is more”, certainly seems to work without the widespread use of education technology, proving that simplicity works better over sophistication.

Education technology is immensely beneficial if used sparingly and for certain purposes, such as for those children with learning disabilities or for complex science simulations. Tasking a teenager with producing a certain graph on Excel after (s)he masters drawing it on paper is understandably more beneficial than the reverse. The ability to focus on a task for more than half an hour without disruption is valuable in the workplace and the distractions, in the form of technology, are manifest from prolonged exposure to it from a young age.

The Unnecessary Drugging of Children

It is damning that we have gone from saying no to – all forms of – drugs towards taking a pill for [insert whichever ‘condition’ with which you have been diagnosed] in just one generation. An example of this is the recent, past 20 years or so, explosion in the numbers of instances of children being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The validity of this so-called ‘disorder’ is disputed, with scientific evidence emerging that the medication provided to counter the effects actually stunts brain growth in children, thus resulting in learning impairment and a loss in academic performance.

The peer-reviewed Journal of Health Economics recently published an article focusing on whether or not stimulant medications improve educational and behavioural outcomes for children with ADHD (Currie et al., 2014). The researchers – from Princeton, Cornell, and the University of Toronto – highlighted that an increasing use of stimulants did not improve the medium- or the long-term educational outcomes, no improvement in children with the worst ADHD symptoms was witnessed, and an increase in cases of depression among girls with a proportional increase in medication. The study suggested that expanding the medication – background of the study: in 1997, the Canadian province of Québec had made policy changes that resulted in people acquiring prescription drugs much more easily – had more harmful effects and very little positive benefits.

For the treatment of ADHD, the commonly prescribed medications are Ritalin and Adderall, which inhibit the natural behaviour of children. Instead of reducing classroom outbursts and improving their learning capacity, misinformed parents have been drugging their children with mind-altering medication in an attempt to make them docile, not realising the long-term brain damage associated with continued usage. Doubts have been expressed regarding the validity of this ‘disorder’ and the associated medical treatment by psychologist L. Alan Sroufe, who wrote in his opinion article for The New York Times, “To date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships, or [behaviour] problems, the very things we would most want to improve”, added Sroufe. “Putting children on drugs does nothing to change the conditions that derail their development in the first place” (Sroufe, 2012).

Just like OCD and other dreamt up mental disorders, hyperactivity does not need to be treated with a medication that is no different than the ‘speed’, the street drug equivalent, but needs to a creative outlet. These children are bursting with creativity; their excitement to learn, hear, feel, taste, and experience things does not need to be suppressed with anti-psychotic drugs. Stunting the development is the last thing we should be doing.

 

 

References

Lower the bar, lower the performance

In our previous article titled League Tables, Rankings, and Reputation, we provided a brief explanation of the methodology used by the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) system to rank universities. Unsurprisingly, the usual suspects occupied the top of the list: MIT, Imperial College, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, and so on. While most of us did not expect the Indian Institutes of Technology to feature very high up, an even sorrier situation was highlighted when the BRICS version of this ranking scheme – considering the top universities in Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – showed that IIT Delhi came in at a trifling 13th [1]. However, if you thought our higher education institutes were letting us down, then do not be surprised that Indian students rank bottom – 72nd and 73rd – on the 2012 PISA assessment. The PISA surveys, a global test of learning standards conducted in 74 nations by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and widely regarded as an accurate gauge of the education quality within these countries, test 15-year-olds’ abilities in mathematics, reading, and science; in some countries, problem solving and financial literacy also is included [2].

Despite their shortcomings, along with the Times Higher Education (THE) World Rankings and the Shanghai Rankings, the 10-year-old QS rankings remain vital in drawing high-quality research and teaching staff; students with good academic performance; and huge financial support. The teaching quality, one of the most important factors, does not feature in the ranking assessment. Although not a single Indian university fell within the top 200, you may think, “But at least the teaching quality must be good, some of them are outstanding”. Stop right there! Bureaucratic meddling has turned some of the finest Indian institutes into those churning out mostly mediocre, unimaginative ‘talents’, no offence intended [sic] towards Sachin and Binny Bansal.

How? Brand name expansion and the expanding the quota system. Now before you become sensitive towards the backwardness of this country, understand this: not too long ago, the Chinese government became involved in its higher education institutes too. Rather than for the sake of political convenience, as did their Indian counterparts, it supported the nine best-performing universities to rank among the world’s best and, predictably, succeeded. The Indian version of government involvement features the opening of more IITs and admitting more students irrespective of their capabilities and quality; the inability to retain the finest staff members has resulted in many unfilled teaching positions and a rather average faculty. In his book, The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria disputes, “… many of the IITs are decidedly second-rate, with mediocre equipment, indifferent teachers, and unimaginative class work”. However, the fundamental reason for the students’ strength rests on their ability to pass “one of the world’s most ruthlessly competitive entrance exams. Three hundred thousand people take it, five thousand are admitted–an acceptance rate of 1.7% (compared with 9 to 10 percent for Harvard, Yale, and Princeton)”.

China realised that the cultural Marxist tenet of creating equality does not work when striving for excellence; it, too, has plenty of impoverished citizens but is moving forward in bettering its education and research policies and practices. It is not just China, the German government too focused on a few select universities and, well, we do not need reminding of the strengths of their universities. Conversely, India is regressing. Creating a level playing field does not work in education because of the law of averages: the truly excellent are stifled and the truly dismal are given opportunities at the former’s expense. Just think of this: the 15-year-old students who participated in the 2012 PISA survey finished second to bottom in mathematics and at the bottom in science! In the span of just two generations, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea have transitioned from poor to rich economies and all three are within the top percentile of the PISA rankings – let that sink in. The foundation between aspiring to become among the best economically involves a cracking education.

For a country that boasts regularly about being an ancient superpower in terms of knowledge, the universities at Taxila and Nalanda, this is severe dent in its global ambitions. If India truly desires both to become a global mover and to be taken seriously on the world stage, because we really are not, the image of being the ‘model’ third-world country must be eliminated and it all starts with striving for excellence in all fields, starting with the core – education. Ad meliora!


[1] http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/brics-rankings/2014

[2] http://www.oecd.org/pisa/pisaproducts/pisa2012technicalreport.htm

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Part II)

In relation to IQ tests, Gardner asserts that the most common ones evaluate linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities and “intelligence-fair” testing ought to be used instead to assess the different modalities. Typically, a good result in these tests enhances the chances of attending a prestigious university and while many do well in such surroundings, others do not and require education to be wider, in which the use of different teaching methods is implemented, absorbing the attention of all students rather than only those with high linguistic and logical intelligence.

The Multiple Intelligence Theory suggests that there must be more ways to nurture intelligence and, here, schools play a vital role in nurturing the aforementioned intelligences, or abilities, to help individuals reach their vocational and leisure goals suitable to their particular intelligences. Here, the central aim is to make individuals feel both competent and engaged, thereby more predisposed to serving society constructively. More interestingly, the Waldorf education model incorporates all eight of the abilities outlined by Howard Gardner; however, Rudolf Steiner (refer to our previous blog article on Waldorf education) constructed a curriculum around the inner vision of the child and the child’s needs. You could say that Gardner is adding nothing special to a well-functioning model but many schools, especially in the US, are constructing their curricula on Gardner’s theory in an attempt to engage all children.

Although criticised due to many reasons, the Multiple Intelligence Theory of Howard Gardner has challenged the idea that any particular development stage of a child links together with the next, as though an ordered approach. Educators have realised that students think and learn in a variety of ways and, therefore, have tailored the assessment criteria, curricula, and pedagogy in schools to reflect more accurately the developmental challenges faced by students. We can all agree that, though still nascent, the Theory of Multiple Intelligences can be incorporated in more of our schools.

“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)

Further Reading

Gardner, H. (1991) The Unschooled Mind: How children think and how schools should teach, New York: Basic Books.

The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Part I)

Most of us consider intelligence governed by a single general ability, which, on first look, seems a logical method: we club together a person’s intelligence based their general education, overall competence, and social interaction levels. Most standardised tests – such as IQ, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and numerous others – assess our intelligence based on a limited range of our capabilities. Imagine how well the Beethoven would have done these tests. We are in no doubt of his genius; for the man who produced his magnum opus while deaf, a singular, narrow definition of intelligent does not suffice and there does exist an alternative: Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner’s recent Theory of Multiple Intelligences distinguishes intelligence as being sensory ‘modalities’. Specifically, a set of eight modalities, or abilities, for a particular behaviour to be deemed intelligent; these eight abilities are: musical-rhythmic, visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, inter- and intra-personal, and naturalistic. To Gardner, everyone has a unique mixture of these eight abilities, leading to a redefinition of intelligence [1]:

a. “The ability to create an effective product or offer a service valued in a culture;

b. A set of skills enabling a person to resolve various life issues;

c. The potential to gather new knowledge to resolve problems.” (Gardner, 1999)

The Modalities

  1. Musicality: related to an understanding of music, rhythms, sounds, and tones, high musical-rhythmic intelligence have good pitch or, in some cases, perfect pitch, exhibiting excellent auditory skills to re-create a musical note with minimal reference. These individuals sing, play musical instruments, and even compose based on their innate understanding of melody, meter, rhythm, pitch, tone, or timbre.
  2. Visual-spatial: found abundantly in proficient architects, this relates to spatial judgement and the ability to cerebrally visualise two- and three-dimensional spaces and is one of the most fundamental modalities.
  3. Verbal-linguistic: an ease with words and languages enables individuals with a high verbal-linguistic capability to effortlessly read, richly chronicle, and memorise dates and words. This modality is one of the most commonly assessed ‘intelligences’.
  4. Logical-mathematical: Another central and commonly assessed intelligence, this relates to abstractions, critical thinking, logic, numbers, and reasoning; individuals with high capability in this field understand the why behind fundamental classifications and concepts.
  5. Bodily-Kinaesthetic: Together known as the fine- and gross-motor skills, this area of intelligence relates to control of bodily motions and the ability to handle objects with dexterity. A sense of timing, a clear visualisation of a corporal action’s goal, and being able to coach responses are visible typically in actors, athletes, builders, dancers, musicians, and soldiers. Most importantly, this intelligence cannot be simulated virtually.
  6. Interpersonal: Otherwise known as social skills, this area of intelligence deals with communication and interaction with others. Individuals with high interpersonal intelligence display enhanced sensitivity towards the emotions, feelings, moods, motivations, and temperaments of others, along with being able to cooperate well with others. Enthusiastically debating and discussing, these individuals are efficient communicators and empathise easily with others.
  7. Intrapersonal: A frequently misunderstood and rare intelligence, this feature concerns the capacity to self-reflect or be introspective. Highly introspective individuals display a deep understanding of the self, strengths, weaknesses, uniqueness, and the ability to foresee their own emotions and reactions.
  8. Naturalistic: concerning the relation of an individual to his, or her, surroundings, this intelligence translates to effortless classification of nature – animals, plants, rock forms, mountain types, and so on. An eagerness to a “sensitive, ethical, and holistic understanding” of the ecology and its myriad complexities is prevalent in highly naturalistic individuals [2].

Further Reading

[1] Gardner, H. (1999) Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, New York: Basic Books. 292 pages. [Useful review of Gardner’s theory and discussion of issues and additions].

[2] Morris, M. (2004). “Ch. 8. The Eight One: Naturalistic Intelligence”, in Kincheloe, Joe L., Multiple Intelligences Reconsidered, Peter Lang, pp. 159

Are mobile phones affecting cognitive function?

Children & Mobiles (Inside)

With the present widespread proliferation of cellular phones in our lives today, it is impossible to ignore the benefits of electromagnetic radio frequencies that enable instantaneous communication worldwide. Their huge popularity, evidenced by ever increasing subscribers, extends to children as well, leading to a generation that will have the greatest exposure yet not just to such an enhanced form of communication but also the radio frequencies (RFs) on which it functions. The foundation of these wondrous devices, and the infrastructure that supports them, rests on body-penetrating microwave RFs that have been confirmed – through multiple peer-reviewed studies – to cause lasting cognitive and other bodily damage. Children and young adolescents, with their different head shapes and thinner skulls than adults, are susceptible to this form of radiation in particular [1], as an Australian epidemiological study observed in 2009.

Due to mobile phone exposure, preceding studies have found modifications in young adults’ cognitive ability [2], shorter reaction times in performing tasks [3], and an increased likelihood of behavioural difficulties in children beginning school and those who were more likely to have been exposed pre- or post-natally to mobile phones. Conducted in 2009, the study, comprised of 317 students between the ages of 11-14 from 20 different Melbourne schools and with a 46:54 male-female ratio, correlated the effects between increased cellular phone usage and cognitive functions – such as working memory, signal detection, simple and associative learning, and movement estimation/monitoring.

In the 2009 study, of the 317 participating students, 77% owned a mobile phone and 94% had used one. From the questionnaire, found in the appendix of the published article, completed by participating students, the research team drew parallels between shorter response times for the simple and associated learning tasks for those students reporting a larger volume of calls each week. While this may seem like good news at first, they performed less accurately on exercises assessing their working memory, with working memory accuracy stronger for the boys. Similar cognitive impairments were found for students who used SMS more frequently and, overall, simple and associative learning tasks were more accurate in students who used a mobile less regularly. A higher correlation between mobile usage and inferior accuracy on memory and learning tasks, coupled with faster reaction times, implies that those children may be more impulsive because of mobile usage, sacrificing the accuracy of a solution for swiftness.

Interestingly, this same impulsive behaviour also is found in children associated to pre- and post-natal RF exposure. In terms of speed over accuracy in those using the SMS service, it is possible that the effect of reduced RF exposure due to SMS, which uses similar transmission techniques but, crucially, is held away from the head, is mitigated by students using ‘predictive texting’. As mentioned earlier, studies investigating the effect of mobile phone usage have related the development of cognitive impairments when the exposure time is greater. An increased number of calls bring the phone closer to the brain in proportion, resulting in the risk of tumours and other undesirable brain growth. With children being particularly susceptible to prolonged exposure, perhaps parents can be more aware of these effects and wait to give their children a phone – a prized possession in the modern, status-oriented child – until they are much older.

For more information relating to the specific methodology and tests, please explore the original article (note that you may need the Adobe Reader plug-in enabled on your browser): Mobile use is associated with changes in cognitive function in young adolescents


References

[1] Kheifets L et al. (2005). The sensitivity of children to electromagnetic fields. Pediatrics 116(2): e303-13

[2] Croft et al. (2008). The effect of mobile phone electromagnetic field on the alpha rhythm of human electroencephalogram. Bioelectromagnetics 29(1): 1-10.

[3] Preece et al. (2005). Effect of 902 MHz mobile phone transmission on cognitive function in children. Bioelectromagnetics 26(Suppl 7): S138-43