Monday, May 29, 2006

He's Gifted. So, What's Wrong?

Hou, The Students' Notebook

"Gifted children suffer in a normal education environment, as much as a retarded child would suffer in a normal education system. Therefore (it is) very important that gifted children be placed in an environment that at least acknowledges their different-ness, and makes some attempt to cater to that different-ness." - Mr Wang

Mr Wang justifies the implementation of gifted education with the otherwise negative psychological effects that a gifted child faces, and the potential opportunities missed if he/she were to otherwise undergo a normal education.

It is natural, that every parent would want to see their child realise their full potential. Mr Wang also brings in the case of Einstein. Up to this point, it may sound fair and square.

So, when we have the Gifted Education Programme :

  • Students of similiar gifted intellect come together as a class, and were given opportunities to explore knowledge the world could offer.
  • Yet rarely mixing with others at the next-door classroom, and were seen to be "out of touch"
  • To be exact, the problem of inability to mix with the rest remains unresolved.

  • They were encouraged by the teachers, reminded of their "giftedness".
  • In turn, regarded themselves as superior and declared everyone else as immature and stupid.
  • To be exact, the "different-ness" is used to discriminate upon other students instead, which is counterproductive.

  • Students receive education that is catered to their "giftedness", paid for, and that is different from the rest.
  • Then, invited to join the civil service, subsequently rule over the country and its people.
  • To be exact, their giftedness is seen more as a form of investment, rather than to fulfill their thirst for wisdom.

  • What has gone wrong here?
    (Stop and Think first before highlighting the text above.)
  • 17 Comments:

    Blogger unknown said...

    Like I've mentioned, the 'gifted' students are always given the best facilities, the best enrichment training, etc. things people like me can only dream of having.

    determining how much education a person should be given based on his or her 'giftedness' is plain discrimination. no difference from determining how much education a person should be given based on his or her 'financial ability', or their 'racial/religious background'.

    In turn, regarded themselves as superior and declared everyone else as immature and stupid.

    when they call people like us immature and stupid, they've displayed their immaturity and stupidity. because they don't even know such a simple concept call -- being humble.

    7:00 PM  
    Blogger love's child said...

    My one big problem with the Gifted Education Programme is that students only seem to be considered 'gifted' if they are particularly brilliant at Mathematics or the Sciences, and the GEP is still mainly focuses on the 2 subjects.

    How, if children/youths are found to be exceptionally talented in other areas, say the Arts (like performance arts), they are still not given opportunities, or considered 'gifted' at all. Most of the time, these students seem to be forgotten.

    Perhaps GEP might be renamed to be GIMSEP; Gifted In Mathematics and Sciences Programme.

    A point brought up in the post could probably explain my observation...

    "Then, invited to join the civil service, subsequently rule over the country and its people.
    To be exact, their giftedness is seen more as a form of investment, rather than to fulfill their thirst for wisdom.
    "
    So perhaps the reason that artistic children have been so often overlooked is because there is no use for them in the civil service. Lawyers or doctors will always be needed in ruling a country, but violinists and singers aren't as essential.

    6:51 AM  
    Blogger unknown said...

    ya i agree...in singapore you can be better than mozart, but you are still a loser

    5:23 PM  
    Blogger Mr Wang Says So said...

    Thanks, Hou, for your email. But it seems to me that you're mixing up two things:

    (a) the desirability of having a special education programme for gifted kids; and

    (b) whether or not the Gifted Education Programmme in Singapore is working well.

    Those are two fundamentally different issues. Point (a) is a much broader point, which could be relevant in any country, not just Singapore.

    Whereas your post (and your readers' comments) really focus on GEP in Singapore, and its perceived weaknesses / disadvantages etc.

    But no doubt you will realise that there could be many ways to plan / run a programme for gifted kids; GEP represents only one way - in different countries, it could be done quite differently.

    3:16 AM  
    Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

    I do not mean to generalise, but I have met many GEPers who were rather hostile to any suggestion of the fields of quantum mechanics, politics, or intellectual debate.

    This doesn't illustrate the average GEPer, but I am skeptical that the GEP induces sentiments of lifelong learning, or appreciation for intellect and esoteria in general. Meanwhile, the facilities are denied to those truly passionate in intellectual activities.

    What's so hard about teaching the mainstream about recognising a logical fallacy? Is it so that they can't recognise the logical fallacies within propaganda?

    Why a special education programme for certain kids? Why not special education that caters to everyone as an individual? People are more than streams, whose entry is based on examination results.

    Isn't it also ironic that the entry into the integrated programme, or the IB is based on examination of people within the old system? So, if a person isn't thriving in the old system, feels repressed in the old system, but is denied any chance to participate in any other streams because guess what? He doesn't do well in the old system.

    Catch-22.

    11:59 AM  
    Blogger Mr Wang Says So said...

    "Why a special education programme for certain kids? Why not special education that caters to everyone as an individual? People are more than streams, whose entry is based on examination results."

    ---------

    Perhaps a simple illustration. Imagine a class with 30 students. Some are 16 years old. Some are 14 years old, some are 12 year old, some are eight years old, and some are four years old.

    Will effective learning be able to take place in such an environment? I don't think so. The difference in mental capabilities between the 16-year-olds and the 4-year-olds is too great.

    So traditionally we put people of the same age together. For example, a Primary One class for six-year-olds.

    The assumption then is that six-year-olds basically have sufficiently similar mental/intellectual capabilities to learn and be taught in the same way, in the same class.

    But of course we know that this is not true. There is the average six-year-old. Then we may have mentally retarded 6-year-olds; autistic 6-year-olds; above-average six-year-olds; six-year-olds with ADHD; gifted six-year-olds; profoundly gifted six-year-olds; visually handicapped 6-year-olds; deaf 6-year-olds.

    So the question becomes how effectively we can segregate them, bearing in mind the practical considerations of teaching and the fact that ultimately, each of us is a minority of one.

    And the need for some form of segregation / classification etc leads to streaming. Which has a deservedly negative reputation in Singapore, but again this is more a reflection on Singapore and how it has implemented, than on the idea of streaming itself.

    8:46 PM  
    Blogger Wowbagger said...

    I am skeptical that the GEP induces sentiments of lifelong learning, or appreciation for intellect and esoteria in general

    I disagree strongly with this. While I agree that most GEP students do not have those values, the proportion of the general population that has those values is even more depressing. I used to be rather disenchanted with the kind of company I found myself in in GEP -- most people were more concerned about grades than learning, etc. Then I went to a so-called top JC, and found out the horrible truth that things can always get worse. It says a lot about our so-called top students that the fact that one reads books for leisure during lunch breaks draws scoffs of "must be GEP" and accussations of intellectual pretension. By contrast, reading prescribed textbooks is perfectly acceptable.

    At least in GEP, if you did read for fun, you were tolerated, and could possibly earn goodwill from the few other people who shared your intellectual interests. In GEP there were always a few who did. In that top JC, if you met anyone who had a positive response to your intellectual interest, you'd know straight off that that person was either from GEP or from the Humanities programme.

    2:55 PM  
    Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

    My perception is that mental capabilities tend to be more or less equal, with different strengths and weaknesses across a range (ah, the randomness of genetics).

    I also go along with the idea that in fact, nurture predominates more than nature, so that mental capability in terms intellectual interest in specific subjects (which may vary) is taught. The attitude itself is encouraged. Generally mainstream students are capable of bearing such an attitude.

    But if one only encourages those with the existing attitude, then one only perpetuates the catch 22.

    Catering to the individual naturally usually puts one in the same general age group.

    As a side remark, about age differences, as a sophomore in a US high school I find myself in classes that people one or two years older than me generally take, with little problems. (I think most Singaporeans if they enrolled would be in more or less the same position: the American mathematics syllabus is laughable.)

    If anything, as a former student of Cape Elizabeth's school system (which was too in Maine) I had special education students in my class all the time. There was a student who had polio and could not articulate clearly because of muscle disability, and had to use a machine to speak for him (think Stephen Hawking).

    This did not prevent an enriching experience for both the rest and the class and him (and this occurred in most of my classes for elementary school up till I left at age 10.)

    The student in this example studied many things we did not study as advanced as him (in particular, sign langauge). I think we would have studied some things he did not study, probably in terms of creative writing. But yet, we were in the same class more times than not, although often he would in special classes. We learnt how to do basic sign langauge because of this - the exchange was invaluable.

    There were many other such children like him within that school system, and they attended common classes. But in fact, they usually were never put into a class all on their own, isolated from the rest. They were very much integrated with the main body of students.

    Perhaps you might object to my example by countering that he was by no means retarded - he just happened to have polio. But yet this disability did affect his learning. But rather than putting him in a different class, or a different school, he thrived among us.

    Thus, I see streaming as totally unnecessary. I take it your example of putting people of different ages in the same class was because they might be judged to have the same proficiency. That was not what I meant by "catering to the indivdual" at all.

    If we can afford the resources to perform such exhaustive streaming, surely we would afford to teach according to the individual in the same class. It is really high time teachers stop merely reading out of the textbook and actually teach (I had a geography teacher where that' all really what she ever did.)

    I am not suggesting we follow the American example. I actually do not like the setup of the modular system in high school the way it is implemented here in the US, and I think that reforming Singaporean education will be easier than reforming American education (notably I encounter massive bigotry in that system, past and present), but I bring it up as a point integration.

    After all, I only suggest we take a page out of their book, while keeping the things that already work.

    Non-Chinese students (or students like me who did not know Chinese) generally temporarily go to different classroom during the mother tongue period than most of the students in a particular class. This kind of procedure is what I prefer so can a curriculum be adapted to each individual rather than putting them in totally different classes.

    If each of us is a minority of one, there is no reason to put us all in radically different classes: after all, much of us have something in common. There would be no need to lower the standard to the "lowest common denominator" either. The approach would be to stay in the same class, but the teacher would approach each student accordingly.

    After all, that's what a teacher is supposed to do. Otherwise we might as well have a security guard in the classroom acting as invigilator or discipline master making sure we do our homework and not an actual teacher at all.

    9:39 AM  
    Blogger John Riemann Soong said...

    wowbagger: Well, reading can be done afterschool. Doing it during lunch is passing up an oppurtune moment for general communalising and playing, so generally the perception could be more of "how socially isolated" rather than despising intellectual activity.

    Methinks that the higher percentage of people with intellectual interests that you found in the GEP has less to do with the GEP itself than the fact that more intellectuals would be attracted to the programme. Is the higher ratio because of the GEP, or is it that they had a higher chance of getting into the GEP?

    I think that most of the so-called "mainstream students" have every capability to have intellectual interests. Geniuses are not born, they are taught and encouraged.

    9:48 AM  
    Blogger indolentia said...

    i'm what you may call a regular 'mainstream student' and i must say that i find this discussion rather amusing (to say the least).

    wowbagger: you must have had really bad luck with people in JC. i must say that i'm quite affronted by your blatant generalizations... (and i quote)

    if you met anyone who had a positive response to your intellectual interest, you'd know straight off that that person was either from GEP or from the Humanities programme

    are you implying that mainstream students are not capable of pursuing intellectual interests or even acknowledging the benefits (and joy) of doing so?

    i was from a top JC, and if i remember correctly, NONE of my classmates were GEP students or from the humanities program. but we still enjoyed having passionate debates and stimulating intellectual exchanges about a myriad of topics ranging from world politics to shakespeare to the best way of cooking eggs. we read widely and recommend books to each other (and YES! *gasp* these books were not in our prescribed readings!!)

    i do have to say however, that the singapore education system (in my personal experience) has not done much to encourage this love of knowledge and intellectual pursuit. much of my love for reading was the result of encouragement and nurturing from my parents, and the fact that was in an international school for the most part of my primary school life.

    this is the part where i say that i agree with john. the singapore education system does have a lot of potential and it can be changed to suit the teaching of the individual AND to nurture a love of knowledge. take it from me. i'm from a SINGAPORE international school in hong hong. but it would require very dedicated (and better trained) teachers, as well as smaller class sizes.

    the interesting thing about SIS (singapore international school), is that while we studied the singapore syllabus, we had no streaming at primary 4. so in other words, we all did what the em2 students do in singapore. no em3 stuff and no em1 stuff. our classes were never split up, even though we had a wide range of students with different abilities. the teacher took note of our different levels and gave us harder and more challenging tasks to do if we were quicker. we all progressed and learnt from each other.

    i understand the rationale of streaming.. and perhaps at the time of implementation it was the best way to divide resources... but we as the guinea pigs of the system have shown that it is wanting, and that it needs revision.

    12:17 AM  
    Blogger indolentia said...

    maybe a handful of geniuses are born. but for the rest of us potential geniuses (there is always hope ;P)... nurture plays a big part in the game.

    12:20 AM  
    Blogger KiWeTO said...

    We are all geniuses in some way. Unfortunately, some of us never discover that particular thing that they can be geniuses at.

    Is that a more important question to ponder on? Does our education system give us the opportunity to explore, or does it just cram us with facts and figures, and hope that the spark of interest does not die out?

    Can our education system change? Are we brave enough to ask for quantum change? or are we going to follow the tried and true model of 40 years and continue making incremental change?

    When in our education system do we have the opportunity to "open" the mind?


    E.o.M.

    1:53 PM  
    Blogger KiWeTO said...

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1:54 PM  
    Blogger dennis said...

    I want to address three points:

    1) the Today article on Dom Soon's blog is a ridiculously slanted piece that uses a few choice quotes to support the notion that GEP students are largely social idiots.

    Example of words being twisted in the article:
    ---
    Though they go to school with general students, the gifted ones are in a world — and a group — of their own.

    Even they don’t deny it.

    GEP student Gwyneth Teo, 15, wrote: “Ask yourselves if our so-called elitism is very much different from that of the girl-next-door who has a group of friends who hang out together."
    ---

    2) the conclusion that GEP students "regarded themselves as superior and declared everyone else as immature and stupid" is hardly justified by a single GEP student's letter. Link more evidence?

    2) the assertion that GEP students are later invited to "rule over the country and its people" - the article linked is gone. More importantly, I don't see where this occurs, assuming we're talking about the PSC inviting JC students to apply for scholarships. Some information would be in order.

    Thanks in advance.

    8:25 AM  
    Blogger jenNifer said...

    i agree that perhaps the GEP is a little overrated. and yes they are given many opportunities. but i would like to gently remind people that many GEP programs, such as the creative arts program and the leadership development program, are now open to normal students as well. so it's not that unfair. :) this is just what i think. i don't mean any offence to anyone. :D

    6:01 AM  
    Blogger madi said...

    Being gifted is hard when your not challenged, you tend to slack and get bored easily.

    There's controversy over whether gifted students should get special treatment or their own curriculum...and I think yes, they should be because if your gifted then you were tested to be challenged so why not challenge them?

    I find it completely stupid that people are jealous of other students being called gifted because they are in fact gifted. So if you think that they should be degrated because you think its "unfair" to be at your level and be at your own rate then thats you. But I think that anyone can be smarter if they tried...so maybe you "average" students should try harder!

    8:39 AM  
    Blogger madi said...

    Being gifted is hard when your not challenged, you tend to slack and get bored easily.

    There's controversy over whether gifted students should get special treatment or their own curriculum...and I think yes, they should be because if your gifted then you were tested to be challenged so why not challenge them?

    I find it completely stupid that people are jealous of other students being called gifted because they are in fact gifted. So if you think that they should be degrated because you think its "unfair" to be at your level and be at your own rate then thats you. But I think that anyone can be smarter if they tried...so maybe you "average" students should try harder!

    8:39 AM  

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