Child Genius, the Channel 4 series that will claim to identify the country’s cleverest child, has been compared to a circus exploiting children by educational experts and criticised as a “missed opportunity” by an authority on gifted children.
The current series has repeatedly run into controversy. Its makers were accused of putting children as young as nine years old under pressure akin to child abuse. Parents were also accused of pressuring their children and of cheating to help them improve their scores. And viewers have targeted the young contestants for getting upset when they fail to perform as well as they hoped.
“I am horrified by this programme for same reason that I’m horrified by circuses, beauty pageants or anything that appears to exploit animals or children,” said Wendy Berliner, author of Great Minds and How to Grow Them. “It sends shudders through my very being.”
“These children have been drilled to perform,” added Berliner, who is the joint chief executive of the Education Media Centre, the first UK charity to aim to raise public awareness of the research and evidence behind education stories in the news.
“There’s no creativity in what these children are being asked to do,” she said. “Instead, they’re being put in a situation where they’re running out of the competition room in tears because they haven’t memorised an abstract and meaningless list as well as they’d like to have done.”
Berliner said that instead of making it cool to be clever and encouraging children to stretch themselves academically, the programme encourages the shutting down of children’s natural intelligence.
“These children are working very hard to acquire a lot of facts,” she said. “But the hours and hours of time that they spent being drilled in those lists was time that they weren’t doing what all children naturally do and should be encouraged to do: asking questions and using the answers to develop original thoughts and creativity.”
Previous series of Child Genius had a very different format to the current one. Instead of being a competition, the original series was a documentary that followed gifted children over many years, with Prof Joan Freeman conducting in-depth interviews with the families involved.
Freeman, an eminent child psychologist, resigned from Child Genius in 2013 in protest at the direction the show was going in.
“The programme used to be a really interesting insight into the characters and lives of children who are highly intelligent. Now it’s just a competition that tests children on their ability to learn lists,” she said.
“The current format is not one I choose to use to look at gifted children,” she said. “I don’t think it’s damaging. I just don’t find it interesting.”
Simon Coyle, a former teacher of an inner-city school, co-founded the Brilliant Club and Researchers in Schools – charities that help underprivileged schoolchildren get to university. “Putting children into such a highly pressurised environment that they cry because they haven’t learnt a list as well as they’re being pushed to learn it, isn’t nice,” he said.
Coyle agreed with Freeman that the programme was a “missed opportunity”. “It doesn’t test the children on breaking creative ground, which is where genius lies,” he said. “Instead, it tests their cognitive recall abilities, which is all about technique.
“It would be far more helpful and interesting had Channel 4 made a programme that attempted to define and explore what genius actually is.”
A Channel Four spokesperson rejected the claim that the programme tests memory recall rather than intelligence. “Each round is designed in conjunction with the experts in that subject area to test a wide range of intellect,” she said.
Child Genius 2017 questions
- If A = 20, B = 5 and C = 42, what is the value of B (C – A) – 11 = ________
- What is the missing number? ____, 3,720, 4,557, 5,394, 6,231
- Add the following: 7,331 + 9,326 + 3,746 + 7,504 ___________
- A car drives for 2 seconds at a constant velocity of 12 metres per second. Calculate the work, in joules, done on the car by an opposing force of 120 newtons.
Answer: 2,880 joules
- A 1,500kg car accelerates at constant acceleration from rest to a velocity of 12 metres per second in 4 seconds. Calculate the force, in newtons, exerted on the car.
Answer: 4,500 newtons
- A cricket ball is bowled at a velocity of 43 metres per second. Calculate, in metres, how far it travels in 0.5 seconds.
Answer: 21.5 metres
- A box is pushed with a force of 130 newtons over a distance such that the work done on the box is 91 joules. How far is the box pushed in metres?
Answer: 0.7 metres
- Calculate the following: multiply 28 by 9, subtract 24, multiply by 5, divide by 4, and finally add 32.
- On which continent is there a trade coalition known as Mercosur?
Answer: South America
- Muhammad Bello, who died in 1837, ruled which kingdom in Africa?
- Anne Brontë wrote a novel called The Tenant of … where?
Answer: Wildfell Hall
- In a plant, root hairs grow out of which layer of the root’s epidermis?
Answer: Pilferous layer
- The autobiography of which African slave was published in 1789?
Answer: Olaudah Equiano
- What was the name of the early form of photograph invented by William Fox Talbot in 1840?