The progressive Multiple Intelligence International School asserts there is an urgent need to develop the entrepreneurial mind, not just among children of the next generation, but also among today’s businessmen


MANILA, Philippines — It used to be that people who wanted to solve a social problem—like the ever-alarming challenges of climate change or rising levels of poverty in the country—created a charity.

Today, many start a company instead. Or, in the case of Mary Joy Canon-Abaquin, the founding directress of the Multiple Intelligence International School (MI School), an educational institution that challenges its students to use their entrepreneurial mind to solve problems and create products that will make a difference in the lives of others.

The MI School, a pioneering academic institution that advances progressive education in the country, started out in 1996 as a pre-school. “At that time, I just came from doing my graduate work in the States, and one of the reasons I came back was because I really felt that Philippine education needed some push and reform towards what 21st century education is really about,” shares Abaquin, who feels strongly about not limiting education to reading, writing and math.

“When I came back, I was very influenced by Dr. Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. It used to be that people who were considered ‘smart’ were those only good in academics, which is linguistics and logical math, because traditional school systems that are IQ-based would only focus on those things,” she explains. “But a study of leaders at Harvard revealed that a lot of people who were successful leaders in their fields were not necessarily the strongest students in their classes. Bill Gates,” she states as an example, “was a dropout.”

So why is there a disconnect? If school is to prepare students for life, why is it that the brilliant leaders are not the ones who also flourish in schools? “Gardner asserts that we actually have eight intelligences, and we should develop all of it. So a school system that is based on the assumption that all students are smart, but in different ways, at that time was very revolutionary,” shares Abaquin.


Entrepreneurship As Beyond Business

More than just successfully implementing Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences in their curriculum, what makes the MI School special in its application is that they are the only multiple intelligence school in the world that marries Gardner’s concept and good work. Abaquin felt that since the Philippines is a developing country, there has to be an obligation in the way parents rear their children. “They should enable their kids to use their intelligence to make a difference. And part of that is the idea of innovative and creative minds, minds that will problem solve. That’s why we started pioneering entrepreneurship, from first grade all the way to high school,” Abaquin shares.

At first glance, one might think that being a businessman and an entrepreneur mean practically the same thing: building business for profit. But the MI School presents a more progressive view of entrepreneurship. “We’re really more about the development of the ‘entrepreneurial mind’,” explains Abaquin. Dr. Gardner’s definition of intelligence, she says, is the ability to problem solve and innovate or create products that are valued in a setting. And this isn’t limited to the business environment. “You can be a doctor and still have the entrepreneurial mind if you’re innovative and create new things,” she shares.

Entrepreneurship, for Abaquin, is also an extension to use one’s strengths to contribute positively to a particular area. This is why every year, the school embarks on a movement called “Kids Can”, a for-kids, by-kids movement wherein students are encouraged to embark on entrepreneurial endeavors to benefit other students who are less fortunate. “What happens is that in grade school, they create products and perform different roles. Every year, we run the only kids-made and -run bazaar, and the profits go to one of our long-standing beneficiaries—students who are paraplegic. So our kids help them through their products. In a way, we want more social entrepreneurship. It’s interesting because the kids come up with all kinds of products and ideas,” Abaquin shares.


Passion And Purpose

In order for the Philippines to be competitive in the global market, Abaquin says the government should really think about the kind of education students are now getting in schools. “If we do not change how the Philippine education system is, we will forever be a country that just provides encoders, we will not have programmers. There is no longer a premium in an educational system that is simply based on knowledge. In this world, knowledge is already available to everybody with an Internet connection. It shouldn’t just be about knowledge, but rather what they use this knowledge for,” Abaquin asserts.

The MI School’s advocacy toward raising leaders to make a difference is “not just token talk,” shares Abaquin. “We substantiate it through our programs, partnerships, mentorships, etc. And you really see it in our students,” she says. One such student is JP Gamboa, who, through his Kids Can project, wanted to raise awareness of the Aetas thru his writing. “He made his own book, and he went to the Aetas because he felt that people did not know anything much about them. So he went there and tried to understand how they lived, and he wrote his own book,” shares Abaquin.

Another group of students were focused on advocating green products. “They learned how to do organic body scrubs, insect repellant, etc., and their idea was to raise awareness of the importance of having green products at home,” shares Abaquin. “There was a group naman who was into cooking. They named their store ‘Maki-Baka’, a Japanese Filipino restaurant, and they developed products like a maki that had tinapa and red egg. They would do product development, etc. There was also a year when a lot of girls who were good at design created eco-bags that were hand-painted. So it can be anything that the kids are passionate about,” she says.

Indeed, even “grown-up” businessmen would do well to learn a thing or two from the students of the MI School. “For businessmen to be truly successful in their field, they need to find their purpose and passion. You won’t be successful if you’re only in a business endeavor for the money or the bottom line. You have to do it because it’s what you believe in—it’s an extension of yourself. Only then will you really not count the hours and really want to innovate and contribute,” asserts Abaquin.

Published August 6, 2012 in the Business Agenda section of Manila Bulletin