SINGAPORE: He has been attending preparatory classes for the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) entry exercise for six months. But Ahsan Nathyr does not even want to go for the GEP selection assessment next week.
“I think I’ll be among the last few who get in, or I might not even get in,” said the nine-year-old, who is featured in the current affairs series Talking Point (watch the episode here).
That lack of keenness, however, has not stopped his father from forking out over S$7,000 on GEP preparatory courses so far.
“We don’t believe in him making his own choices (as a nine-year-old), so we have to channel him a bit here and there, but we have to monitor his response,” said Mr Noor Azman.
“For example … he doesn’t like to eat vegetables, but we still have to push it.”
More parents like him are going all out to ensure that their children stand a better chance of entering the GEP by sending them to such classes, which do not come cheap.
Ahsan’s father, for example, spends S$650 a month on the weekly classes and S$3,000 on the holiday preparatory classes.
Explaining the difference between the two, Mr Noor Azman said: “One is actually a more regular session, so he doesn’t … lose the familiarity with the questions. And the other class is a bit more intensive, where in a week, there are daily sessions to get the methods right.”
NOT ABOUT GAMING THE SYSTEM?
There are at least 10 centres offering GEP preparation courses, with a price range of between S$300 and S$1,000 a month. These are more expensive than regular tuition, as they are specialised classes and more intensive, according to the centres.
One reason parents would splash out on such lessons is to familiarise their children with the format and questions asked in the screening and selection assessments, the two stages of the GEP entry exercise for Primary 3 pupils.
That was what Mrs Jenn Lee did for her son Andrew, now 11, because “we didn’t know anything about the GEP selection and screening tests” – not so much to game the system as to “help him cope with the anxiety”. She said:
(Others) think that high-ability children are good at everything, but they’re not. So when it came to Andrew, we knew that he has difficulty handling anxiety.
On its website, the Ministry of Education says that pupils are given questions based on what they would have been taught by Primary 3, and that the format is similar to the mathematics and English language questions assigned in school.
The ministry also urges parents not to enrol their children in “test-preparation activities”, which could “inflate pupils’ scores and not reflect their actual potential”.
And yet, such classes have become more popular.
DOES IT ALWAYS WORK?
Tutor Adrian Kuek, who has been preparing pupils for the GEP assessments for the past seven years, used to offer the classes only during holiday periods.
But these have been extended to a full-year course owing to demand.
“(Parents) always ask, before anything happens, “Do you think that my child is suitable for the GEP? After one lesson, after two lessons: ‘Do you think my child can get into GEP?’” said Mr Kuek, the dean of Joyous Learning.
"These are very tough questions. Even after having taught this programme for seven to eight years, there’s no way to tell."
The Math Classroom tuition centre, which specialises in advanced mathematics, has also received requests from parents for an official GEP preparation class. But in this case, its director Tong Hong Mun decided against it.
With excessive training, even a general-ability student who may not be naturally gifted would be able to qualify and get into the GEP. However, this is something I don’t recommend,
he said, citing the different learning preferences of GEP and non-GEP pupils.
“When tackling a problem or a certain question, (GEP pupils) may prefer an investigative approach, so they may want teachers to give them general parameters and a reasonable amount of autonomy to explore and come up with the solution.
“General-ability students may not have developed this mental skill yet, and so would benefit more from a teacher going step by step and maybe elaborating more on certain difficult points.”
PROGRAMME IS NOT EASY
Well-prepared pupils might score high in the GEP assessments, but the question is whether that will be sustained if they enter the programme, said educational psychologist Pamela See from psychology and counselling practice Think Kids.
“The kid needs to be quite motivated as well to learn,” she said, suggesting that children would be stressed by the constant need to perform and may not cope emotionally with the expectations of teachers and parents.
Only the top 1 per cent of each cohort is selected for the GEP, and the MOE says pupils who are not ready for the programme’s intellectual rigour will struggle with the curriculum and not benefit fully from it.
Mrs Lee agrees, which is why she signed up Andrew, who did get into the GEP, for an online course in composition and comprehension, areas in which he is “a bit weak”. She also bought lower secondary comprehension material for him to practise.
The Primary 5 pupil admits that the going is not easy. He said:
(I) could easily cruise through (the mainstream curriculum), but now I find myself having to study a lot just to get, maybe, 70 per cent.
“We have more homework, we get project work more often, and teachers can be sometimes quite demanding about the quality of our work.”
Some parents of fast learners are not deterred, however. Said Mr Noor Azman: “I think the programme provides an opportunity for (Ahsan) to learn more things, probably at a faster rate, together with peers of a similar ability.”