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Groan ups

In Britain, the debate about whether 11-year-olds are worse-educated than previous generations fills newspaper columns and hours of earnest discussion on Radio 4.

In the US, it has proved the basis for a smash-hit game show.

The first episode of Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? was watched by nearly 27 million people when it was aired on the Fox network last week.

The programme gives adult contestants questions from textbooks aimed at US children in grades one to five, the equivalent of primary school. Questions have included "Do polar bears feed on penguins?" and "Who was the first President to be impeached?"

The adults can win up to $1 million (pound;515,000) and are helped by a panel of 10 and 11-year-olds, who are child actors rather than especially bright pupils.

But if the grown-up contestants fail - as one graduate did in the first episode -they have to look into the camera and repeat the series'

catchphrase: "I'm not smarter than a fifth grader."

The viewing figures make the programme's premiere the most watched of any US series since 1998, putting it ahead of Desperate Housewives and Lost.

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