“Many highly intelligent people are poor thinkers. Many people of average intelligence are skilled thinkers. The power of a car is separate from the way the car is driven.” - Edward de Bono
Each year at this time, the pressure cranks up in the race for school and university places, as SATS and A-levels prepare to feed another raft of league tables. As these help determine our standing on the world stage, through the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), our obsession with measuring children takes centre stage.
Confident in our system of public examinations, that is broadly designed to separate those more ‘intelligent’ from the less ‘intelligent’, we can feel content that we are filtering out our most able for higher education and all the opportunities that entails. Sounds simple enough, if it was really that easy.
The problem lies with the word intelligence. The common definition, that of possessing ‘a quickness of understanding and an ability to apply knowledge and skills to a high level’ – should give us pause to ask how well equipped our current examination system is to deliver?
Many ‘intelligent’ students, so identified by the data emanating from various intelligence tests (which incidentally too often reinforce teacher expectations), are frustrated by papers that trot out the same questions in a different garb. These allow for little or no original thought and even actively discourage creative thinking and intelligent responses.
Simply stated, measuring intelligence through examination is, inevitably, as limited as the examination itself. Whilst it might prove a reasonable sieve – perhaps even the best we can provide – it will not identify many of those we instinctively know to be intelligent.