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22. Science & School

text Malini Witlox illustration Bas van der Schot

The first time @ TiU: A day at the Kids University

Cameras are clicking. A son has to pose in front of the Dante-building, a daughter under the TiU-sign. Then the family goes in for a lecture at the Children’s University, a series of lectures for 9- to 12-year-olds.

T

he lecture-hall is filled with 160 children from primary school classes. Fons van de Vijver, Professor of Cultural Psychology, will give a lecture today on where the world’s smartest children live. A few minutes before the hall opens there is a lot of pushing and shoving at the door. “We can go in”, somebody calls out as the doors finally swing open at 16:00. We soon discover that 160 children don’t all fit through the door at the same time, as one child falls over his own legs in the rush, but luckily there are no accidents. “Stay together now,” a mother warns her flock. Once inside, the children are seated in no time. Almost all of them in the front row, the time that they’d rather huddle at the back still has to come. “I usually teach older people – it’s called a lecture. That’s what school is called when you’re older,” Van de Vijver starts his story. His first question for the young students immediately stirs up a commotion. “Where do the smartest people in the world live?” “Tilburg!” one of them blurts out. “Moergestel!” it sounds from a few rows further back. Another is convinced that it is in Eindhoven. “You’re all wrong, they don’t live the Netherlands”, the cultural psychologist says to their dismay. “Who is the most intelligent person you know?” is the next question. “My dad, he knows lots of things and he graduated”, one of the kids calls out. A young girl believes it must be “my parents” and another looks beyond the home and names Albert Einstein, “even though I don’t know him personally.” “Einstein was very clever indeed,” confirms Van der Vijver, who hadn’t expected such a smart-ass in the audience. “E=mc2 has just been overthrown, hasn’t it?” the clever kid continues. The Professor is not going to be a taught a lesson. “It hasn’t been proven that Einstein was wrong, but it is a good example of how we work in the world of science. Somebody will say one thing and another clever person will say that it’s not right.”

Univers 24 november 2011

Van de Vijver explains that intelligent children can reason, solve problems, think logically and be quick. “In Western cultures this is considered to be clever. But In African and Asian countries being obedient is also part of what is considered an intelligent child.” “No!”, cry out 160 little voices in disbelief. Master Fons warns them that “now it’s going to get a bit complicated” as he whizzes out a graph, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale. “There are lots of average children. But there are only a few very dumb and very intelligent children. What do culture and intelligence have to do with one another? Intelligence tests in Flanders and the Netherlands have shown that Flemish children are more intelligent. But these children learn far more facts at school. And other tests, in which numbers had to be repeated, have shown that the children with the best memories live in China. But Chinese numbers are short and easy to say. If you take these things into account, there is no difference in memory.” All over the place, hands are raised by children who have questions and comments. The Professor can hardly keep up. “The children with the highest IQ live in Asia, but where the smartest children live, I don’t know”, he concludes his lecture. Clearing the lecture-hall after the lecture doesn’t prove to be so easy. Dozens of children want to have their picture taken with the Professor, a handful also want his autograph. “A children’s-lecture is totally different to a regular lecture”, he explains afterwards. “This is more like entertainment. I use a lot more pictures. I filter out the difficult words. I can’t use a word like hereditary. In a regular lecture I explain a theory but here it’s just part of a theory. I think the children asked good questions, though. And although you can’t compare it to a regular lecture, they have been to University for the first time. All 160 of them sit in a lecture-hall and watch a Powerpoint-presentation. That is just like it will be when they grow up.”

The first time @ TiU: A day at the Kids University  

Univers Magazine, 24 november 2011. www.universonline.nl Uitgeverij: Tilburg University. Auteur: Malini Witlox

The first time @ TiU: A day at the Kids University  

Univers Magazine, 24 november 2011. www.universonline.nl Uitgeverij: Tilburg University. Auteur: Malini Witlox

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