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by John Ang, Kenneth Lyen and Myint Myint Thein

Our understanding of intelligence is somewhat limited. We know that it has something to do with mental functioning. It is presumed that the more intelligent a child, the more successful this child will be in school and in job performance later on in life. This may be generally true, but not necessarily so. Other factors such as diligence, motivation, interest, encouragement and opportunity also play a big part.


Sometimes we speak of intelligence and intelligence quotient (IQ) in the same breath as if they mean the same thing. They do not. IQ is a mathematical abstraction derived by dividing the child’s mental age by his chronological age and multiplying this by 100.

Through a test, a child’s mental age can be obtained. His score will be compared to the average score of children of the same age. Thus if a nine-year-old child performs like most other nine-year olds, his mental age and chronological age would both be nine and his IQ would be 100. We can say that a child with an IQ of 100 is of average intelligence compared to his peers.

However, if both a six-year old and a 10-year old have a similar IQ of say, 110, they are not equally intelligent. The older child will most certainly outperform the younger in many intellectual tasks.


An intelligence test can measure a child’s performance in a range of tasks such as arranging a series of pictures to tell a story, matching the signs, giving meanings of words and orally repeating an increasing sequence of numbers.

However sophisticated, an intelligence test merely samples a narrow range of a child’s abilities. Since the results depend on the child’s performance, it is important to have test conditions kept to an optimum. The type of test used in one country may be unsuitable for use in another. Needless to say, IQ tests should be conducted by qualified persons who are trained to administer them and to interpret the results.

Because of the inherent uncertainties of the testing conditions and other problems, ideally results should not be given as a single score but as a range, e.g. 105-115.


In a normal population, the IQ is expected to be distributed in a bell-shaped curve. It is found that 68% or slightly more than two-thirds of a population will have an IQ ranging from 85 and 115. Slightly more than 2% of the population will have an IQ of below 70 and another 2% above 130.


It may seem strange, but there is no common agreement of what intelligence really is. Some believe that there is a basic general capacity - a “g” factor - that certain people have more of than others. Such a view is not very helpful since we do not really know what this “g” factor is.

Others believe that there are seven or more distinct multiple intelligences: linguistic, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, musical, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal.

Linguistic intelligence refers to special facility with language.

Those with superior logical-mathematical ability are good with numbers and logical thinking.

If you have no problems understanding architectural plans, have a memory for shapes and forms, or can find your way around a complicated shopping complex, you probably have a spatial intelligence which is above average.

People with high musical intelligence can carry a tune in their head long after they have heard it for the first time and can reproduce complex rhythms without much trouble. Others cannot carry a single line of melody without going off pitch.

Gymnasts and dancers are supposedly highly intelligent in the bodily kinesthetic sense. So are boxers, jugglers, surgeons and skateboarders.

If you find that you have a special way with people, that you make friends easily and seem to know the right things to say and do in any given social situation, you are probably more interpersonally intelligent than others who feel uncomfortable interacting with people.

People who can empathise with others and have deep spiritual feelings have good intrapersonal intelligence.

There is a great deal of overlap in these types of intelligence. They are areas of ability that are not easily measured, but can be of great importance in determining a person’s career path. Observe your child’s interests and provide opportunities for him to pursue them.

There are two other ways of looking at intelligence. One distinguishes between fluid intelligence and crystallised intelligence. Fluid intelligence is reflected in general reasoning ability, attention span, memory and problem solving. It is what an individual is born with. Crystallised intelligence is acquired through learning and experience, of which a person’s vocabulary and general knowledge are examples.

The second approach to intelligence considers the human brain as a very sophisticated computer which organises, stores and retrieves information. The more intelligent a person is, the more efficient these processes are.


There is a difference between intelligence and creativity. What we normally refer to as intelligence and what is normally assessed in intelligence tests is convergent thinking - reasoning from the general to the specific.

Creativity is characterised by divergent thinking, that is, thinking that derives many plausible solutions from a given problem.

If you ask a creative child what he can do with a cup, he is not likely to just say that you could drink from it. This child may say that you could display it, break it and scratch somebody with it, cup a spider with it, stretch a balloon over its mouth to make a drum or step on it to gain extra height.

Notice that this child does not merely have many ideas, but each one of them is distinct from another. Moreover, some of these ideas are rather unusual. In creativity, we look for the number of ideas and the degree of originality.

Many people argue that in today’s complex world, it is not enough to be a convergent thinker. We need to think divergently. It is interesting to note that when children are encouraged to think divergently, their scores of creativity increase. This suggests that children can be encouraged to be more creative, given the right environment.

Unfortunately, because creative children may be more independent and non-conforming, they may be seen as more troublesome. Whether at home or in school, our insistence on the “correct” way to do things may unwittingly discourage creativity. Playfulness, humour and fantasy seem to be common characteristics of creative individuals. Parents and teachers should not be too quick to discourage such qualities.


Intelligence and creativity need the right emotional climate at home for their proper development. The child must feel emotionally secure in a mutually rewarding relationship with a caring and responsive adult.

Children are strongly encouraged by adults who show interest in and are willing to be involved in what they do. Parental interference is very discouraging to children.

By all means, communicate your expectations to your child, but avoid pressurising him. Fear, anxiety and stress generated by parental pressure will curtail exploration and interfere with the child’s learning. When learning ceases to be fun, a child is robbed of a precious ingredient of success in later life.

Encourage your child to develop a wide interest by talking to him and providing him with varied experiences, including the toys and books that you buy, the places you bring him to, the things that you do with him in and outside the house.

For example, there is much to be learnt and fun to be had by digging into a patch of earth, growing a plant, observing ants in their activities or attempting to repair a broken telephone.

Whenever possible, allow your child to explore with all his senses - to see, listen, touch, smell, taste. Children learn more by doing than through formal instruction.

Encourage your child to find answers to his questions; do not be too quick to give him the answers.

Some children like to finish whatever they are doing quickly so that they can go on to another activity. Encourage them to attend to details.

Persistence, absorption and intensity of effort are qualities of high achievers. You can encourage your child to develop such qualities through your own involvement, interest and example.

An intelligent child needs a chance to grow up and be treated normally. Sometimes, parents of intelligent children tend to have an unduly high expectation. Your child’s intelligence will not decrease if you treat him normally. The problem is applying too much pressure on the child which can make him over-anxious if he does not do well.

Parent-child conflicts such as a child resisting simple requests from parents, temper outbursts and, in severe cases, depression can result from undue pressure on intelligent children.

Value your child’s uniqueness and strengths, regardless of his intellectual abilities.