I recently had the opportunity to attend to an educational workshop on Finnish education. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that certain institutions in this country offer professional development sessions to educators and are making use of the Six Thinking Hats developed by the renowned Maltese professor Edward De Bono while training present and future teachers.

The Six Thinking Hats is described as a simple, effective parallel thinking process that helps people be more productive, focused, and mindfully involved.

Prof. De Bono was born 85 years ago and is described in the international sphere as a physician, psychologist, thinker, inventor and consultant. He coined the term lateral thinking, wrote the book Six Thinking Hats and internationally he is described as the “proponent of the teaching of thinking as a subject in schools”. He  received his education at St Edward’s College and also studied at the University of Malta, Christ Church Oxford University, Trinity College in Cambridge, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and the University of Dundee in Scotland.

He holds a medical degree from the University of Malta, an MA in psychology and physiology from Oxford University, a PhD in medicine from the Trinity College Cambridge and an honorary doctoral degree in design from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and an LLD from the University of Dundee. He holds faculty appointments at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Harvard and contributed as a professor at the Universities of Malta, Pretoria, Central England and Dublin City University.

Prof. De Bono also holds the Da Vinci Professor of Thinking chair at the University of Advancing Technology in Tempe, Arizona and was one of the 27 ambassadors for the European Year of Creativity and Innovation in 2009.

He wrote 85 books which were translated into 46 languages.  Schools from over 20 countries have included De Bono’s thinking tools in their curriculum. I was more than fortunate in the past weeks to have had the opportunity to meet Prof. De Bono on an individual basis and to discuss with him various issues, especially education, which both of us have so much at heart.

When asked how he developed his concept of thinking and teaching thinking, Prof. De Bono stressed that after having studied psychology intensively, he started to write and research about different themes, especially about the mechanism of the mind, how the brain works.

“Unfortunately as human beings during the past 2,000 years, we have done extremely very little about the concept of thinking. The only thing we have done is to emphasise a good amount of logic; but logic is only one part of thinking. Little has been done for example on how to generate ideas,” he said.

“I would like to see thinking taught in all schools in Malta and abroad. I would like to see all universities offering courses and degrees on how to teach thinking. In 1992 I set up the Edward de Bono Institute at the University of Malta with the help of Prof. Sandra Dingli and the late Prof. Rev. Peter Serracino Inglott. My institute has become a world-renowned centre for excellence in topics that include creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and foresight.”

Prof. De Bono was asked whether his theories and concepts were given importance locally and internationally from the start?

We should start teaching thinking to all children at all levels and ages. This lacks in Malta

“In the beginning, people were always interested to work with me both locally and abroad. There was always enthusiasm in my research and workings in different countries. I presented my findings and concepts in 71 countries and the reaction was always positive. Special interest was shown in countries like Turkey and China. A good number of schools in China also decided to introduce the concept of teaching thinking skills to children from an early age,” he said.

Prof. De Bono is also well known for his Thinking Hats method of training and instruction, also used in the training of educators in different countries, especially in Scandinavian countries like Finland. He told me he was very pleased when he was recently informed that teacher trainers in countries like Finland, which is so avant garde in the field of education, are using his theories and concepts during professional development sessions and implementing them at school level. Throughout the years Prof. De Bono has written and published 85 books in 46 languages.

We also discussed whether thinking could also be taught within the Maltese educational context. He said: “Yes, more than ever, we have to start teaching our children how to think. When, from time to time, I am asked what I think about the Maltese educational system I always say that I cannot state whether it is good or bad but that it can definitely be improved. One of the suggestions that I bring forward is to start teaching thinking to all children at all levels and ages. I believe that this lacks in Malta even though I did not carry out any research on the Maltese system of education.”

When asked about how thinking could be taught and introduced in the Maltese educational system, the professor suggested that within our local education system there should be a subject specifically called thinking.

“This should be offered at both primary and secondary levels. There should be sessions on theorising thinking which should complement other sessions on how to put thinking into practice. What has been done so far about thinking is through philosophy – but only logical thinking is being covered. This is good and valuable but not sufficient. It does not generate anything. It is like saying we have some facts and we are looking at how they are related to each other. But this is only a small section of thinking. There is a lot more that can and needs to be done,” Prof. De Bono said.

“Thinking could also be introduced in our schools even from early years. Children at an early age could be asked to think about something or to design a machine. Such an exercise will help the brain to practise thinking. Children could be invited to do something practical and then talk about the basic fundamentals of thinking.”

Is there a link between thinking and reasoning?

Prof. De Bono said he believed there was a direct link between these two concepts.

“Even in schools there should be a detailed and adapted teaching programme which should include both reasoning and thinking. A syllabus should also be designed so that local schools can promote both. Various countries abroad have made use of my works and developed programmes to teach thinking and reasoning. These are being used in different schools at different levels, so I am sure that such programmes could be adopted locally.”

Asked about if he was ever consulted on how his programmes could be introduced in our schools, Prof. De Bono said he may have forgotten. “In 2000 there was some form of interest in my programmes and their introduction within the Maltese educational curriculum but due to a lack of continuity and change in officials within the educational system this attempt had to stop or be postponed. Every initiative eventually depends on the willingness of the individual.

“In education there is a difference between ‘knowing it’  and ‘doing it’. In education one is meant to know the concept and not only the ‘do it’ factor.”

Prof. De Bono and his colleagues have carried out research on the progress obtained through their programmes several times and the results of these studies were positive and encouraging. Educational institutions in different countries that are teaching thinking skills have confirmed the benefits of such sessions and these lessons have also influenced the performance and attainment of students even in other subjects.

In one of his publications, Thinking to Create Value – Bonting, Prof. De Bono stressed that education insisted on the correct answer. “Yes, because education should also be concerned with doing the right things. Doing things includes having to think. Thinking should always be considered as the most important human activity and we should always reflect on how little we have done as human beings during the past 2,000 years in promoting such a concept. Some people believe that learning history is enough. History is important, but one learns only facts from this subject. History is integrated into different subjects. However, thinking is a skill, an extraordinary skill and we have done or are doing very little to promote it and teach it.”

Prof. De Bono went on to say that thinking can be taught to all ages, to the very bright and to those who are not high achievers, even though the professor does not describe people in such categories.

I would like to see people taking thinking forward

“Teaching thinking should become a habit, a source of exercise, as I consider thinking like a sporting activity, something we need to pay attention to. Almost all educational subjects (perhaps with the exception of mathematics) have to do in one way or another with history, how things are done. Thinking has more to do with an activity that helps you make something happen,” he said.

Plans for the future?

“I am getting older so I am not in a position to plan too much. But I would like to see people interested in my work, taking thinking forward and doing things with thinking.”

At the end of our conversation we promised each other to keep in touch and to try to take a national initiative together next year for the benefit of the students in my school, students in other schools and for the benefit of Maltese educators and society in general.

Dr Kenneth Vella is headmaster of Mater Boni Consilii St Joseph School, Paola, member of the committee of the Malta Society for Educational Administration and Management, member of the board of studies of the Tumas Fenech Foundation for Education in Journalism and the international representative of Learning Scoop Finland.


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