Nov 9, 2009

Congratulations to the Boy

Stephan is a German expat working in Singapore. He married a local lady and settled down here. They have twin boys. Stephan is also a long-time reader of my blog and we had met for lunch a few years ago.

I recall Stephan telling me then that his boys were sporty, and good with their hands, but not academically inclined. He was a little worried that they wouldn't be able to cope with the Singapore education system. He didn't know the education system here very well, but he had heard some horror stories.

Stephan's concerns look a little misplaced now. He just emailed to tell me that one of the twins has qualified for the Gifted Enrichment Programme. That puts the boy somewhere in the top half to one percent of the general student population.

The question is whether the boy should accept the GEP place. That would mean that he has to transfer from his current school, to one of the GEP schools. Neither twin is very keen on this idea, because they, being two good brothers, want to stick together in the same school.

I think that joining the GEP has some practical advantages. One such advantage, as I understand it, is that a few top secondary schools will accept GEP students under the DSA programme, without even waiting to see the GEP student's PSLE results. Okay, you also have to show some ability in some sport, art or musical activity, but the main thing is that you are a GEP student. That's what makes the door swing open.

This also means that if GEP students know how to play their cards right, they can enjoy a relatively fun-filled, stress-free time, from Primary 4 to 6. Sure, they can also choose to slog, if they prefer. But at least they have the choice. It isn't exactly imperative for them to do very, very well in the PSLE.

One concern that parents may have is that the GEP child may feel unduly stressed, about having to compete with other extremely bright kids. I don't think that this is such a major concern. With some parental guidance, the GEP child should quickly understand that the GEP student population comprises the very brightest. Even if he is the bottom 10% of his GEP class, in all likelihood he still compares very well to the wider universe of non-GEP students. His ego need not feel too bruised.

Also, between being constantly bored in a normal school (because you are too bright and the the usual curriculum doesn't challenge you) and being stressed in a top school (because the GEP curriculum is too tough), I actually think that it's better to be stressed. Boredom is a kind of suffering too.

If Stephan eventually decides not to send his son to the GEP, then I think that Stephan should just constantly bear in mind his son's giftedness anyway, and give him regular, ample opportunities to develop and explore his own interests. (Of course, the same applies to the twin brother too).

A useful book I once read was The Gifted Adult, by Mary Elaine Jacobsen. The author made the point that gifted people tend to develop quite intense interests - this in itself is one of the defining characteristics of giftedness. Although the book was about gifted adults, I believe that this point applies equally to gifted kids. So if you're a parent of a gifted child, do try your best to give him the room, space and resources to pursue his hobbies. He will appreciate that, because that's how he grows.


Anonymous said...

assuming that they are identical twins with the same environmental influences, i am amaze that identical twins should exhibit such varied aptitudes, i.e. sufficiently varied to segregate their qualifications for GEP.

i think the issue for the twins (or parents) is not about enrolling to GEP, but more of, what would the other twin that did not qualify for GEP feel/think? and how would it affect him.

Anonymous said...

I strongly encourage your friend to send his son to the programme. The primary school GEP was possibly my best educational experience, surpassing even college. All we did was learn poetry, put up sketches, learn about Greek mythology and Fibonacci numbers. I don't recall studying a single day in primary school. The programme really allows for creativity, innovation and experimentation among the students.

jun said...

anon November 9, 2009 9:55 PM

it might be the case that one twin is slightly better at english and/or maths. (is that what the GEP tests test nowadays?)

boonleong said...

The point about parental guidance for primary school GEP kids is important. I remember back in Primary 4, I had a classmate whose mother expected similar exam results as in Primary 1 to 3 - basically perfect or near-perfect score on everything. He dropped out of the GEP programme after a year, and none of us have heard from him since.

Onlooker said...

Our education system tend to have a stifling effect on the student.

And please anon 10:07pm technically it is called Fibonacci sequence:-
f(n)=f(n-1)+f(n-2);where F(0)=0 and F(1) = 1

See <-_-> snobbish Competitiveness.
What to do? it happened......

Anonymous said...

They don't pick people for the programme who are likely to be stressed by its intellectual stimulation. Indeed, one wonders why such enrichment isn't more often extended to the "mainstream". Kids in the GEP have tons of fun while the rest slog away at rote learning. It's a big gap.

Anonymous said...

I don't remember studying very much either, but somehow everybody scraped through except for a handful. The company was certainly different. Having completed the programme more than 10 years ago, I have never met a bunch of people who were anywhere as intellectual, quirky, passionate, and delightful. Not in JC, NS, uni, or at the workplace.

Some critics think that GEP students have difficulty integrating into society later in life. That may be true for some, but would you want to pass on the chance for your kid to mix with a truly eclectic bunch?

The issue about having siblings or twins not being selected could be problematic, but it's no different from one sibling going to a top class and another being somewhere on the opposite end. They will have to deal with the same tensions with or without the GEP.

Anonymous said...

I remember facing the same issues as I didn't want to leave my primary school friends (I was nine at the time) and my mom had to literally force me into the GEP. It was THE most awesome experience of my life. I must say however that the level of English taught in the GEP was incredibly difficult for our age (at least SAT level) and no one really scored above 70-80% for the exams. But we all had fun anyway. Math was pretty fun too, with Fibonacci numbers, non-decimal base systems and combinatorics exposing us to more advanced math through interesting story-based problems.

Sometimes, when parents feel their kids aren't 'academically inclined', it's because the kids are bored with the primary school curriculum and/or don't care about their grades (being kids) That being said, there were the few children in the GEP that couldn't cope with the stress and left the system halfway (possibly also due in part to their kiasu parents forcing them to excel in the GEP programme). IMO, the primary school GEP curricula can't really be studied for and does somewhat reward the intelligent students over the hardworking ones.

The secondary school GEP programme... is another story. heh.

On the sibling issue, my sister didn't enter the GEP though she got through the second round. She turned out fine though. IMO, even though two children of similar intelligence level may take the GEP screening test, it is pretty challenging, if not extremely challenging, so there will be a significant proportion of questions which each student may need to make educated guesses at the answer. Therein lies a source of randomness.

Anonymous said...

I had a fantastic time in GEP! Life was a lot of fun from Primary 4 all the way to Secondary 3...and much of Secondary 4 as well. Some things your friend might wish to consider:

- School culture makes a difference. The GEP is not a social bubble (well it shouldn't be) and how it works in each school is partly influenced by the attitude of the mainstream students, teachers, and the school environment and ideals in general. I had a far better time in secondary school than primary school, most probably because the mix of people and teachers and mainstream culture all came together.

- Is it tough? Well certainly it can be. If it was all a breeze the programme would have failed, imho. It's part of the challenge, and part of the fun. The only ones who are likely to be stressed and unable to cope are those who mugged their way through the qualifying tests and now face a future of mugging their way through another 7 years without the benefit of more structured classes and with the distraction of classmates who finish their work early (or just don't do their work) and ask them to play.

- Watch out for falling grades. When a child enters the GEP, things are turned up a couple of notches, and this might catch him by surprise if he's been coasting through the non-GEP exams. His self-esteem could take a hit, so be ready to cushion it.

- The danger of falling out with old mainstream friends is quite real. It's not about snobbery, or jealousy, but a diversion of life experience that makes it more difficult to relate, at least as children. This can cause quite a bit of distress. Not sure if this will be the case with siblings, who share so much more than just school, though.

To me the biggest lesson of life in GEP, beyond any academic benefit, is this: however smart you are, there are other equally smart, if not smarter, people out there, so the proper course is humility.

Anonymous said...

"Having completed the programme more than 10 years ago, I have never met a bunch of people who were anywhere as intellectual, quirky, passionate, and delightful. Not in JC, NS, uni, or at the workplace."

-- lol you need to get out more.

Anonymous said...

"Having completed the programme more than 10 years ago, I have never met a bunch of people who were anywhere as intellectual, quirky, passionate, and delightful. Not in JC, NS, uni, or at the workplace."

-- lol you need to get out more.



Anonymous said...

Onlooker at November 9, 2009 11:30 PM:

Please, Onlooker. Fibonacci numbers are numbers that are part of the Fibonacci sequence. Perhaps it's stifling for people who don't see outside of the system.

Anonymous at:
November 10, 2009 10:56 AM
November 10, 2009 2:10 PM

Because clearly people who have this opinion don't go out enough, am I right? Clearly such opinions cannot possibly reflect anything but a narrow-minded person who hasn't made any remote attempt at finding like-minded individuals outside of the GEP.


Anonymous said...

Gilbert....if your friend is keen, the window is still open for an official appeal.... they do try to keep twins together. But do it NOW.

Onlooker said...

Clearly you just prove my point.

Stephan H. Wissel said...

Hi Gilbert,
thx a lot for this post. I consider it and the comments most helpful. Ernest is really struggling with the idea to leave his school friends behind, so seeing all the encouragement was motivating. I spoke to some of the GEP schools and they at least would take Anthony in for the regular program. I will try the appeal as recommended by "Anonymous" :-)
Thx again to all for chipping in.
:-) Stephan

P.S.: I actually consider myself rather a migrant than an expat. I left Germany for good and work on local T&C. My wife being Singaporean surly helped to leave Europe behind.

Anonymous said...

As a former "gepper", I would strongly encourage the boy to take the chance and enroll in the programme. In any case, the twins could quite possibly end up in different schools in the end. My brother took the GEP test a year after I did. He got in and we attended the same primary school, but two years later we were posted to different secondary schools based on our PSLE results.

My first few months in GEP were tough - I failed the GEP math exams repeatedly. They were much more challenging than normal exams (although I eventually scored A* in the PSLE math paper, my school average was 50-60). I believe, however, that my experience in the GEP has made me more prepared to take up challenges, both academic and personal.

The classroom environment was extremely stimulating - I remember having political debates with my GEP classmates when we were 10 years old, our political consciousness being heightened by the fact that our school was situated in a very contested electoral district and one of my classmates being an MP's son. Many of said classmates are now studying in top universites worldwide, and one is a President's Scholar. To be sure, the environment is rather elitist (I was one out of 3 students in my class to live in a HDB flat) but I would say being in such an environment made me more sensitive to social (and other) inequalities rather than the inverse, and I never hesitated to engage in debate on such issues when the opportunity arose. Perhaps that's what makes the GEP special - you're encouraged to develop your own ideas rather than being told what to do - and that's the best experience any child can have.

(N.B. it's Gifted Education Programme, not Gifted Enrichment Programme)

Anonymous said...

Hi Onlooker: To be fair to Anon, from experience, the eccentricity quotient on average in a bunch of GEP (or ex-GEP) students -is- higher than in a bunch of non-GEP students. Not sure if the eccentricity is caused by the GEP experience or is already inherent in the selected kids, but that is how it is.

- Anon at November 10, 2009 10:50 AM

Insider said...


Good luck with your boys. It may have been a case of a close-shave cutoff for your 2nd kid. Appeal directly to the GEP Branch in MOE; there's a good chance of sympathies for twins.

As for quirky, intelligent people -- they are everywhere in the world. It's true they tend to cluster in Singapore cos of GEP, but the same could be said of a good univ. faculty, or specialised community, or some workplaces, esp if one goes outside Singapore.

I note also that Anon made a "LOL" comment so it was at least half in jest. No need to be touchy!

All the best finding your peers and soulmates.

Fox said...

The educational benefits of being in the primary school GEP are overblown. Poetry, Greek mythology, Fibonacci numbers, etc can all be learned, by a bright primary school kid, *outside* of the programme. I learned many of these things on my own simply by reading voraciously in the old National Library while attending the GEP in ACPS. Kids at that age are naturally very curious and can soak up information like a sponge. A sufficiently involved parent can replicate most of the educational benefits and more.

The primary advantage, as pointed out some of the posters here, is that you can get to hang out with very bright schoolmates. For many people, it will be the most cerebral company they ever keep for the rest of their life. Kids at that age with similar interests are quite good at keeping one another occupied.

That is also a *great* disadvantage because society is not full of quirky cerebral people and sooner or later, your kid will have to learn that society is less accommodating of such people.

Ex-GEP-spotter said...

Let's play spot-the-GEPer!

Many of them are now in public life and pushing 40.

Any guesses, anyone?

Anonymous said...

My friend who was working in Canada had his kids in an IB school there. He moves around so his kids had to change schools once in a while.

The kids are now in a US University. One of them came over for exchange programme with one of our Universities. The kid interacted with the students and had this feedback.

He found those IB kids from that IB school in Singapore unimpressive. There was a huge difference (lack of) in social skills, "class", "life", "intensity" compared to those IB students in schools outside of Singapore. It seems to point to one thing, that our education system, is indeed stifling. No matter what outside programme we attempt to put in.

Anonymous said...

I know this will be irrelevant.

Being a good citizen, I am curious to find out why and in what way, our government allow foreigners to have free education (I assume it is paid by tax payer) in Singapore and to serve other country upon graduation (without a bond) when there are so many locals that do not have a chance to recieve an education in our very own universities?

From the article:
"The scholarship covers three to four years of tertiary study depending on the discipline, return airfare, full tuition and a living allowance of $4,300 per year (approximately P142,000).

Scholars will be selected based on their academic merit, leadership qualities and potential to contribute to the Philippines' development.

They are expected to return to the country after graduation.

Applicants must be Filipino citizens with excellent academic records and a good command of English."


I hope to Mr Wong can consider to write an entry of your thought for this issue.

Anonymous said...

Not exactly relevant, but thought I share this article -

Disadvantages of an elite education

But I still say, go for it. =D

Anonymous said...

"A prophet is despised in his own country, and in his own house, and among his own kindred." -Mark 6:4

Anonymous said...

"That is also a *great* disadvantage because society is not full of quirky cerebral people and sooner or later, your kid will have to learn that society is less accommodating of such people."

How is that a disadvantage? Your kid will learn to push the boundaries. That's what gets people ahead in life, not conforming to the state of the masses.

Anonymous said...

He should just send his kids to a private school.

Anonymous said...

As a former GEP student with siblings both inside and outside the GEP, I can tell you that it is the nature of people to point, whisper and compare. The comparisons extend beyond your siblings to your non-GEP friends / schoolmates - all the way from primary school to secondary school and beyond. I think that whether it becomes something beneficial or not depends on both the personality of the child and the attitude of the parents.

But if you were to ask me whether I enjoyed and benefited from my 10 years there, my answer would be yes. And were there adjustment difficulties going in and coming out, also yes - but I believe that it is part of the process of self discovery.

Anonymous said...

Anon Nov 10 10:50 AM's point about self-esteem taking a hit after first getting bad results in the GEP must, I cannot emphasize this enough, be noted and appropriately discussed by astute parents. When this happened to me, my father looked at my result slip sadly and told me, "You are in GEP, so you are smart, right? Take care of this yourself." which was probably the worst ever thing that could have been said. Ah well, time heals wounds, but it could have been handled better, I feel.

Anonymous said...

When I entered the GEP at Primary 4 and got less than expected grades, compared to my brother who did not, my parents would often remark that something probably went wrong with the selection process and that I was chosen by mistake. Please don't do this to your kid.

Rialce said...

Mr Wong said'"Even if he is the bottom 10% of his GEP class....His ego need not feel too bruised." I apologise but I can't really agree to that as most people only looked at people around them and compared with them. There are alot of people dying of hunger and we are of course better of than them, but do we compare ourselves with them or with your fellow neighbour who had just bought a BMW? So if the kid is in the bottom 10%, definitely his ego would be bruised, especially when he was among the top from his previous school.

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

That is why I say that some parental guidance is needed, so that the kid sees the big picture, when he makes any comparison.

Anonymous said...


This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father.

Anonymous said...

If your child is considered gifted, you should be happy. Alot of parents sent their childrens to additional classes every week to improve their learning abilities but may not necessary end up in these programmes.

Anonymous said...

I myself is a GEP student at Primary 5. I do think the whole thing is quite stressed up, with squillions of projects and a lot of other stuff. We all have experience of suffering. The GEP is the CORRECT place to suffer. So, please DO NOT COME HERE or be prepared for tons of projects and a lot of assorted "crap".

Anonymous said...

I myself is a GEP student at Primary 5. I do think the whole thing is quite stressed up, with squillions of projects and a lot of other stuff. We all have experience of suffering. The GEP is the CORRECT place to suffer. So, please DO NOT COME HERE or be prepared for tons of projects and a lot of assorted "crap".