How high intelligence is identified in Argentina, the special challenges gifted children face in school and what parents can do to support their kids’ education.
IQ tests were originally used to identify children who scored near the bottom so that special education could improve their ability to learn and grow. But what about children at the top end of the scale? In Argentina, little support is given to high IQ children, where appropriate programs and services for the exceptional students are scarce and discontinuous, particularly, in the public sphere. Our interview with Cintia Allega, Director of Education Inclusion for Mensa Argentina (the regional high IQ society), looks at how these students can excel and what parents can do to support. The current challenges can lead to a child’s extraordinary intelligence being channeled into somewhat more ordinary endeavors, or worse, criminal behavior. Allega looks and discusses whether intelligence is based on nature or nurture and how parents can work with schools to change the curriculum to meet the needs of their children.
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly: Cintia, thank you so much for being here. Can you tell us what qualifies someone to be a member of Mensa Argentina?
Cintia: To be a MENSA member you have to have an IQ that corresponds to the 2% of the population. So the 2% is taken just like MENSA England, that is and IQ of 138 or more to get into MENSA.
Kelly: How early can you test children here to become a member?
Cintia: In Argentina, the traditional tests are done from 3 or 4 years old. For the babies, from 9 months, other tests are done by the pediatrician, but is more in relation with the maturity, to know if they mature in time, if they walk at the right age, so it tells you if they are above that age. Is not used as a statistic, is used only on the problem of slow maturity.
Kelly: When they’re very young, if they’re doing things above, like the walking earlier, talking earlier, is that always is a sign that they’re going to have a high IQ.
Cintia: Yes, there is a relation. But a kid that starts to talk before he is supposed to, tends to have a high IQ or a high ability, so let’s say it can both happen and not happen. Every kid with high intelligence starts to talk at an early age, but not every kid that starts to talk at an early age has high intelligence.
Kelly: What’s the difference between just a really bright child and someone who has a very high IQ?
Cintia: Let’s take (Lionel) Messi for example. He is very skilled using his legs. At a very early age. Very skilled. He’s got talent. But he was not necessarily a high IQ kid. He is skilled, but we need to know what his thinking process is. To know whether this kid has a high IQ or not.
Kelly: How do you test the three-year-old for IQ? Sometimes they can’t read or write. So how do you know? what kinds of things do they do on a test?
Cintia: There are specific tests, like the WAIS or the Raven. Those are specific tests for kids, they are tested through games. A three- or four-year old kid that has a very rich vocabulary, that uses words that other kids of the same age don’t use, they learn them and immediately use them in the right context. They have a notion of the numbers, addition, subtraction in a very early age. There are tests that by using games can identify the IQ, specific tests.
Kelly: You don’t offer like any kind of, a youth program or something for younger, the younger Mensa members?
Cintia: No, there is no program for the children. Mensa is from 16 years old. What the secretary of Education Inclusion does, that’s where I work, are projects regarding the state or the schools but not with the children, more between institutions. In Argentina there are no specific schools for children with high intelligence, nor educational standards in regard to these children, the teachers and the educational psychologists have no preparation in this topic, in their curriculum.
Kelly: What do you recommend? How do you support a child with high IQ? Can they go to a public school or they need to be put in some kind of special school or is there any kind of thought here around that?
Cintia: Is very had for the parents. I am a mother of a child with high intelligence too and is very hard to integrate him in the formal education. Many parents end up doing home schooling with their kids and they stop having formal education because these schools are not prepared for them and is very hard that a teacher understands this situation. At home, behind closed doors, parents are used to the kid and can handle all the concerns with the internet and that. But school is very complicated for the kid.
Kelly: Culturally speaking, is that a good thing, is a positive thing to have a high IQ, particularly among young children?
CIntia: The problems that the children have are in the classroom, they are not understood by their teachers, or peers, their classmates. They start to have impulsive behaviors in the classroom, bad behavior, they defy the authority, they can turn into a violent kid, a violent situation that cannot be controlled. At the same time, they can hide themselves and make themselves go unnoticed, not showing what he knows and thinking less of him, that has to be with his personality and affects his own person. With teenagers, it is a bit more complex. in Brazil, they have statistics, they say that the teenage population that has a good social status, move away from the country, Brazil loses that potential. Kids that are poor, and don’t have a good family environment, turn into thieves and are these thieves that no one can find. On the other side, kids that belong to the middle class, that have values but don’t have the financial capacity to get out of the country, these kids kill themselves. Suicide rates for teenagers in Brazil are very high. In Argentina we don’t have statistics to corroborate that is the same. Kids with a high IQ and a wealthy family go study in another country and the ones with high IQ and a less favorable family environment can end up being very bad people.
Kelly: Do you think that people are having these issues here because it’s not seen as a good thing to have high IQ and there’s no support for them? Is that why some of these issues are happening with high IQ people?
Cintia: I cannot tell you, whose fault it is. But what can I tell you is that the government has no state policies regarding this, there is none. When teachers are preparing, they don’t know that there are kids with high intelligence and how to work with them. When the educational psychologists are preparing, they don’t have the experience in their curriculum. We pay attention to the ones that are not yet there. In the Gaussian curve, we see this 2% but this other 2% is ignored, they manage by themselves. And the government also doesn’t do anything for this 2%. There are no policies to promote study trips, scholarships and so on, there is none.
Kelly: Are there any positive stories of children with high IQ that are doing something positive or that are blossoming here, that are not having issue that?
Cintia: Well, it is not always like this. There are cases like those we talked about and some others where kids go through school without major issues. I had high notes, in average, during school and nothing wrong happened. I still have friends from there. But society is different now than then. Being different is not accepted. Let’s say it this way: Picture kids of different heights and a fence. If every kid gets the same stool to stand on and look over the fence. That’s equity. But the taller kids will be fine while the shorter ones aren’t yet able to look over the fence. But give every kid with a stool according to their size, they all be able to see. That’s equality. Argentina looks for equity, same stool for everyone. That’s not equality.
Kelly: What is the benefit of having your child tested for high IQ here? It sounds like there’s no support. And is not seen in as a positive thing to have a higher IQ. You said that I think a mom, typically is the one that identifies their child. What would be the benefit of her going in and having her kids tested?
Cintia: First, knowing what is happening with the child, knowing who he is. The kid understands that he is different to others but he doesn’t know why. Knowing these differences calms him. He knows what is happening to him, for example, my son when he was three years old he used to say, “when are my friends going to grow up? Because I cannot play.” He was waiting for the others to associate with him. We had the test and identified him as a high intelligence kid and we explained to him that his friends are not able to play the same right now, you have to play what they play. After this, the sensation of seeing himself as someone different all the time was less. He was like the different one, but I’m not different, I am like this and I accept myself. And the other part also knows that he is like that and they accept themselves. He had a friend that was Chinese, who spoke Chinese and he learned Chinese to talk with his friend, and his friend accepted him just how he was. That’s why is important to test them, so they feel identified with themselves.
Kelly: Do you think that IQ is genetic or environmental?
Cintia: That’s the one-million-dollar question. Many say that is genetic, because there is more probability of having a high intelligence kid if you have high intelligence, you as a woman, not men, women. There is a higher probability that children from women with high intelligence have also high intelligence, is about X and Y. There are many families that do not understand what happened with the kid, why came out like that, because neither the father nor the mother has high intelligence, then is like this big mystery, not knowing why if they don’t have any relatives with the gene, they have kids with high intelligence. The kids, a topic of XY, is a mathematical equation, if is XX, XY, then if you have three X is more probable. In theory is transmitted through the X, the gene that is in charge of intelligence, then if is like that, the more X, the more probabilities there are to have a kid with high intelligence.
But inside Mensa there are many male associates that have children with high intelligence. So that is the one-million-dollar question for us, why are we born like this? We don’t know.
The positive part is that we are doing things to try to revert this, trying to bring up the topic the situation before the ministers of education, of the provinces, capitals and nation. Trying to explain the situation and what is happening with the children in the schools and what things we need to modify to improve it. I always say, that once they reach the university, they are free. Is like wow, here their high intelligence is exploding.
Kelly: Where can people go for more information about supporting their high IQ child?
Cintia: Well, in the MENSA web page (www.mensa.com.ar), there is information about what is high intelligence, what happens, how do these kids think, why do they think that way. There you can find a bit of information. In the career idea page, that’s another organization with whom Mensa works a lot, they do activities for kids with high intelligence, there you can get some information. But also us, from Mensa, recommend that you talk with a registered psychologist, that knows about the topic and that can help the parents learn how to work with the children, either at home or at school. They are not kids that are behaving like that just because, like a weird case of just wanting to know about the stars, is a genuine concern, is real, the questions are genuine and that is nothing bad. Mensa and the Quilmes hospital are working on a mutual cooperation agreement, where the psychology area will do the tests for the children and in that way there is possible to have statistics, give certificates, which doesn’t happen in Argentina. And this could be done for free, because these tests are very expensive and not every psychologist works with children and tests. On one side we are working with this, and we are starting to give it more shape so this can be done at the hospital. On the other side, we are talking with a psychologist that does private social work, to see if the same that’s being done in the public hospital can be done there. So in that way there are two places where children can be tested and have statistics. This what Mensa is working for the future.
Kelly: Well, thank you so much. It was really interesting to hear about – the cultural differences, the perspective of high IQ children and Mensa Argentina, and I appreciate you coming to share all your information.
Cintia: Thanks for inviting me
About Cintia Allega
Mensa is an international non-profit organization founded in 1946 in Oxford, England, with the intention of identifying people from around the world with high intelligence quotient and put them in contact through publications, meetings and correspondence. This society is open to individuals of any religion, ideology or political affiliation that have the same quality: an intellectual quotient that is among the 2% most outstanding of the world population. It currently has 100,000 members in over 100 countries and is the most recognized High IQ Society in the world. The criterion for acceptance is highly pluralistic since there is no prior condition of any kind. Only the entrance evaluation must be approved. For more information, visit: http://www.mensa.com.ar