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Proper Gander: Quizzing the Whizzkids

Proper Gander

Could you talk in sentences when you were only eight months old? Or perhaps you had written four novels by the age of ten? If not, then you wouldn’t have fitted in with the brainy bairns appearing on Channel 4’s Child Genius, two of whom boast these achievements.

The show follows some of the seven to eleven year-olds who have qualified for Mensa’s ‘child genius of the year’ competition. Of course, these clever-clog kids didn’t get this far by themselves. Eight year-old Josh’s mother makes him play chess for fifty hours a week so he can be a grand master before he reaches thirteen. And little Longyin’s father has put together a strict timetable of sport and studies in half-hour instalments, including ‘controlled failure situations’ to motivate his son to succeed. The less pushy parents seem slightly bewildered and drained by their offsprings’ abilities and never-ending energy.

At the competition, maths and logic questions are fired at each whizzkid while they stand at a podium, watched tensely by the cameras, their parents and the other contestants. The pressure gets to some of the miniature masterminds, raising questions about what effects the label ‘IQ in the top 0.1% of the population’ has on people so young. For example, many of the children face difficulties in relating to others because of their intellect.

Most of the child geniuses (genii?) come from families wealthy enough to afford extras like the weekly private tuition with a chess master which Josh enjoys. And good luck to them; of course parents should encourage their spawns’ strengths. But this gets you wondering why few of the competing prodigies have emerged from more humble backgrounds. As a rule, the less money you have, the fewer opportunities you get. So, the contest isn’t really just testing innate abilities. It’s also a competition between families and how much they can afford to invest in their kids. Regardless of their IQs, will the children think about their good fortune in this way?