The Perse School

An intelligent enterprise

The American psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has had a profound effect on educational thinking, especially in the USA.  Gardner’s intelligences include less commonly known varieties such as the ability to use the body to solve problems and the appreciation of musical patterns.

Multiple intelligences were on my mind last week at our annual Perse Enterprise Conference (#GrowYourIdea), now in its ninth year of stimulating entrepreneurial thinking and creativity. Two hundred students drawn from The Perse and fifteen other state and independent schools and colleges spent a day looking at how “from small beginnings, great businesses grow”.  Speakers included Michael Bennett (founder of Oasis), Julie Deane (The Cambridge Satchel Company) and Ben Gamble, one of a team aiming to build the world’s first augmented reality exercise platform.

Delegates listened to the experts’ views on how to turn a great idea into a multi million pound business, then assessed business plans to select the most promising and devised a strategy to grow the company. They pitched their ideas to some of the region’s top executives, including Glenn Collinson, Sarah Evans and Richard Mason. To be successful they had to work effectively with others (using interpersonal intelligence) and convince the experts about their recommendations (linguistic intelligence) – they even drew on bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence in a structure-building challenge designed to test their teamworking skills.

In recent years banking scandals, concern about the conduct of energy companies and ethical questions about some commercial practices has led to the vilification of business. Understandably, it may not be top of mind for students looking for a noble profession. It is important for schools to challenge these perceptions and ensure students consider the many benefits of a career in business, both in terms of personal satisfaction and positive impact on society through job creation, tax revenue, philanthropy, and transforming or even saving lives – as some of our sponsors’ products do.

The opportunity to learn from driven and responsible entrepreneurs can only be a positive experience. As speaker Michael Bennett pointed out, regardless of their individual career plans, learning what makes the business world tick can help young people soon to leave the relatively orderly environment of education develop the skills to create their own discipline and structure.

Successful business people tell fascinating tales that demonstrate the value of hard work and tenacity; of belief in an idea and commitment to making it happen. Julie Deane recounted “building a global brand from the kitchen”, with just £600 to invest and “a lot of hard work and nerve”.

I was struck by the evidence of multiple intelligences lying behind the success stories shared: the ability to spot patterns, know yourself, visualise, analyse and connect with people. When combined with a strong work ethic the prospects of success are great.

Leaving the boardroom to return to the classroom, Gardner’s work has considerable value in prompting debate and reminding teachers that there is more to education than simply preparing students for public exams, which tend to focus on measuring only linguistic and logical intelligences.  The function of a school must be to provide a good preparation for adulthood, helping children develop all the competencies they will require for happy and successful lives.


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