Child Genius

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I don’t know why I like programmes where children have to demonstrate some form of academic ability in a competition, but Child Genius (Channel 4) was another programme that I enjoyed watching. It’s a mixture of empathy for the children, competition with them (as in my adult self competing to see if I am cleverer than children two decades younger than me), and concern about their childhood. This four-parter followed children on a British Mensa sponsored competition to find Britain’s ‘Child Genius’. 21 children were selected to start and each week some were eliminated. The programme concentrated on 3-4 different children each week, showing them in their homes preparing, and then snippets of the competition itself. The first week was maths and logic, the second week general knowledge and memory (they had to memorise the order of a pack of 52 playing cards), the third week was spelling, and the final week was a debate and then quickfire maths, general knowledge, logic and spelling.

There were six finalists this week – in three head-to-head debates and then three left for the final quickfire. The first child to 10 in the quickfire (they answered in turn but only had a limited time to answer their questions) won. The winner was Shrinidhi. Shrinidhi is 11 years old and World Scrabble champion (I’m not sure if she’s a junior or adult champion). Born in South India, she was in the news when she was three because she knew all the world flags and her parents moved to the UK three years ago for her as she was so proficient in English. She’s written three (or four?) fantasy novels (I’m not sure if they’re published, or where) and the unauthorised biography of Susie Dent, from Countdown’s dictionary corner! I wonder if this unauthorised biography included research and covert interviews with neighbours a la Andrew Motion or was just gleaned from printed and recorded interviews and clips from Countdown…Anyway, she excelled in all the rounds and was clear favourite to win.

Shrinidhi’s mother seemed fairly normal, but had made the sacrifices to move to the UK, and the programme focused as much on the parents as the children. In particular, in the last programme, runner up Connor’s (9) mother who actually wrote his debate for him (they were told the motions a week or so before) and made him memorise it. She was desperate for him to win/do well – making him stay up late to revise for the spelling round the week before even when he was getting tired and agitated. Earlier weeks had focused on Longyin’s father, a former Hong Kong policeman, who concocted a whole schedule of revising and extra-curricular activities for his child. The star of previous weeks was Hugo, a trainspotting enthusiast, who when he was eliminated last week, had his parents reassure him that at least he wasn’t a swot like the other childrens and said ‘Fuck them’ (both the father and Hugo said this on camera). Great attitude.

The third finalist was Ben, 11, who had formed a ‘Team Geek’ at school with two other boys. They talked about how they were unpopular and so formed their group to discuss questions like where the world circumference starts and ends… The two other members looked like the geek in the title card above (minus the ginger hair) but Ben had a Bieber-esque haircut and was obviously interested in his appearance – not that that means he isn’t a geek too.

Anyway there were some extremely bright children, all of whom had been put forward on the competition by their parents. Chess champions, Go champions, people with extraordinary maths and memory skills. They’re all much cleverer than me, I’m not ashamed to say. The competition was quite a good experience for them to meet other like-minded children and experience the competition setting but I’m not sure it proved anything beyond that. What are they going to do with the title of ‘Child Genius’, or runner up, in 10 years time? The narrator talked about how these children would become the future leaders of our country, but these kind of ‘genius-types’ aren’t going to be Prime Ministers, they’re too academic for that….. Anyway, I won’t say anymore as these are all child geniuses/genii who know how to use computers and can easily search for articles written about them and they are only young kids whose parents were willing to allow cameras into their house and the focus and pressure of a primetime programme … so Good Luck to them in their futures….

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