Education has encountered a huge obstacle created by a global pandemic. The wonderful days of wandering children with fun and frolics have come to a temporary end. I revisited during the current lockdown, a memorable movie that I watched two years ago, this time via a YouTube channel.
Although the film “Thala” has yet to receive the necessary accolade it deserves, the theme is truly engaging with a harsh critique of mainstream education, introducing innovative and impactful approaches to learning. Today’s chronicle is a reflection of the film in the context of highly controversial educational reforms highlighting the need to develop multiple intelligences.
“Thaala” is a Sinhala film directed by Palitha Perera and produced by Nilan Weerasinghe, starring Hemal Ranasinghe and Kalani Dodantenna in the lead roles, as well as Jayalath Manoratne and Kaushalya Fernando. The innovative music composed by Chinthaka Jayakody added a lot of glamor to the overall theme.
Education generally refers to the development of knowledge, values and understanding required in all aspects of life rather than knowledge and skills related to particular fields of activity. The whole idea of education is to bring out what is in itself, in a real sense of unleashing its potential. Thaala shows how this is done in an environmentally friendly setting.
The story revolves around an isolated primary school in Sri Lanka. Asela, a young teacher, comes to Hatagalla Vidyalaya. It has, in a short period, made a radical change in the quality of education by generating enthusiasm among poor students with innovative and interactive learning methods. Despite resistance to change from parents and teachers, he guides children to believe in themselves by dreaming big and achieving big. In fact, it has stimulated the use of multiple intelligences in multiple ways.
In the old days, someone was considered intelligent if they could “read, write and calculate”. Is this the only way to assess a person’s intelligence? The answer is “no” simply because there is more than one form of intelligence. The transformation of children in Hatagalla Vidyalaya is a classic example of the development of multiple intelligences.
Intelligence comes from the Latin verb “intellegere”, which means “to understand”. It is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the abilities to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, understand ideas, use language and learn. Among the many researchers on intelligence, the name of Howard Gardener is very present. He is professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He believes that intelligence has many forms.
He defined the term intelligence in a much broader sense compared to traditional ideas. He says: “Intelligence is a biopsychological potential to process information that can be activated in a cultural setting to solve problems or create products that have value in a culture.” Essentially, it relates intelligence to an ability to understand in a cultural setting. Based on his research, Gardner posed a fundamental question: Is intelligence a single thing or several independent intellectual faculties? His suggestion was that each individual exhibits different levels of these different types of intelligence, and therefore each person has a unique ability profile. His ideas on intelligence were first exposed in a 1983 book, “Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences”. Since then, the concept of multiple intelligences has been further improved and refined. Gardner came up with eight different intelligences that people have. They are: verbal / linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual / spatial, bodily / kinesthetic, musical / rhythmic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalistic.
As the film beautifully describes, multiple intelligences can be used creatively to enhance education. It actually confirms what Finland has shown the world by producing what is known as the best education system in the world. Learning in a fun way in a relaxed atmosphere with individual potential is identified and valued.
We say, different traits to different people, emphasizing the need to meet individual needs. This also applies to education and training. As shown in the film ‘Thaala’, different intelligences can be dynamically stimulated towards learning, to ensure that the person with that particular intelligence as dominant can have a better impact. Let’s take a look at which ones are less concentrated in traditional feeds.
Musical and rhythmic intelligence: People raised here associate with rhythm and music, displaying a greater sensitivity to sounds, rhythms, tones and music. They will often use songs or rhythms to learn and memorize information, and may work best with music playing in the background.
Playing music in the classroom during reflective times can be an activity to encourage those who are gifted with this intelligence. Showing examples or creating musical rhythms for students to remember things, helping students to create a song or melody with key learning contents, using well-known songs to memorize things can be other activities appropriate in this regard. This closely matches the overall theme of the film where poor students won a major music award by beating some affluent schools, just by being authentic and innovative.
Bodily and Kinesthetic Intelligence: Those who are rich in it are generally good at physical activities such as sports or dancing and often prefer activities that use movement. They learn best by standing up and moving around. They have “muscle memory” where they remember things through their body, rather than through words (verbal memory) or pictures (visual memory). It requires skill and dexterity for fine motor movements such as those needed in dancing, athletics, surgery, and crafts.
The film “Thaala” shows how the dynamic teacher enthusiastically engages students in developing their bodily and kinesthetic intelligence. In an educational setting, the use of props during class such as asking students to have a standing discussion, engaging in multiple dialogues while moving around can appeal to bodily and kinesthetic intelligence. I know of a coach who throws a ball at someone to answer a question, which is a classic demonstration of such an approach.
Interpersonal Intelligence: Those high on interpersonal intelligence are characterized by their sensitivity to the moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations of others, and their ability to cooperate in order to work in groups.
They generally learn best by working with others and often enjoy discussions and debates. Asela, the young urban teacher is described as having a high degree of interpersonal intelligence.
As Asela shows in action, teachers need to be aware of body language and facial expressions, and offer help whenever needed, to demonstrate interpersonal intelligence. Encouraging classroom discussions, ensuring peer collaboration, and facilitating student interaction can be some of the actions that call upon this intelligence.
Intrapersonal Intelligence: This relates to self-learning and self-learning, the key theme being self-reflection. Again, the way Asela tackled obstacles and the way he turned them into opportunities is a good demonstration of his intrapersonal intelligence. With his contributions, students who were materially poor became mentally rich, with a high level of confidence.
In a classroom setting, creating a positive environment where self-reflection is encouraged can be a step towards building intrapersonal intelligence. At the end of a corporate training session, an in-camera process for participants to reflect on what they’ve captured calls on this intelligence.
Naturalistic Intelligence: Those who are endowed with it are said to have a greater sensitivity to nature and their place within it, the ability to nurture and grow things, and greater ease in caring for, taming and to interact with animals. They can discern weather changes or similar fluctuations in their natural environment. They are also good at recognizing and classifying different species. “Naturalists” learn best when the topic involves collection and analysis, or is closely related to something prominent in nature. Martin Appuhamy, who is closely associated with Sinharaja Forest, knows the interior and exterior of flora and fauna, is a classic example.
Hatagalla Vidyalaya students authentically demonstrate this. As true “naturalists” they learned to demonstrate the sounds of birds and animals and broadened their knowledge. This was the major breakthrough in converting those who disliked traditional learning to a new way of learning.
The film Thaala amply highlights the myriad ways of making education an entertaining engagement for students. By richly capturing the economic and ecological aspects, the film shows the awakening of a group of mentally retarded students, with much-needed advice from a different teacher. It effectively tells how systemic barriers can be tactfully overcome by experimenting towards progress. It reminds me of what Robert Frost said: “I am not a teacher, but an awakener.
Such an awakening approach is absolutely necessary for the current education system in Sri Lanka. As international exams such as London Advanced Level become more student-friendly with remaining standards, we always continue to assess what students don’t know. A quick transition from exam orientation to excellence orientation is what is needed. The heavy burden of tuition fees on students and parents makes us consider how free our so-called “free education” is.