Julie, my Head of Department at work, told me earlier this week about Channel Four’s “Child Genius”. I didn’t know anything about this series, but the second episode was shown on Tuesday night, and I watched it on On Demand last night.
Basically this fly on the wall style documentary follows several children who are competing in the Mensa UK Child Genius competition. The episode that I watched last night focused on the second round of the competition, which gave the children two challenges. The first was a Mastermind style spoken general knowledge test against the clock – maximum of 15 questions. The second was a challenge to learn the sequence of every card within a randomly shuffled 52 card pack in one hour.
This really isn’t the place for me to make comments about any of the children involved. For one thing with any TV show you have to remember that the Producer and Director make the decisions as to what you actually get to see, and there are times when that makes the small screen into a very distorting mirror indeed. But as a general knowledge quizzer of long standing, and a teacher of even longer standing I found the show fascinating. I also found it interesting that it involved a General Knowledge round at all, since I’ve heard an argument that mere general knowledge is not necessarily a measure of intelligence at all. The counter argument posed by the show would probably be that children with higher intelligence might be expected to take a greater amount of interest in the world around them, and children with higher intelligence might be expected to learn facts more quickly, and to retain them for longer.
Mind you, I wasn’t exactly clear as to the weighting of the two halves of this part of the competition. The voiceover informed us that there were a maximum of 15 questions. Which suggests a maximum of 15 points available for this part. Yet theoretically there were 52 points available for the playing card recall. The voiceover just didn’t make it clear whether there was a higher tariff for GK questions, or how they arrived at the final scores. Or in fact what the final scores actually were. On the surface it made it look as if the GK was pretty irrelevant, with a full house on the card recall guaranteeing you a place in the next round. In which case you wondered why the GK was included in the first place. Also it would have been nice to have been told whether the children were told beforehand – “In the next round you are going to have a general knowledge test. It could be about anything. So learn everything. Full stop.” – or whether they were told “ In the next round you are going to have a General Knowledge test. The categories will be etc. etc. “ – or even “In the next round you will be given a General Knowledge test – you will need to learn the contents of these books – “ etc. Yes, I know that the show was far more interested in the personalities of the children involved, and also to a large extent their families, but I would really have liked to have known the whole mechanics of the competition.
I did say that I wasn’t going to say anything about the children who were highlighted in the show, and I’m not really. But in a time when we’re often told that kids have no general knowledge, and no interest in the world around them other than the latest bands, films, fashions, phones and TV shows, was I the only person to feel just a little reassured by the sight of many of those kids ripping their GK rounds to shreds?
Oh, and I made a pact with myself to take an hour tonight and have a go at the pack of cards memory test. I’ll let you know how I got on in a future post – providing it’s not too embarrassing.