The Gifted Education Programme, of Singapore, is a failure. I shall explain and detail why, in this post, although I have addressed the issues piecemeal in other posts over the years.
The Gifted Education Programme, or GEP, as it is known, for short, in Singapore, is a government programme supposedly intended to support the education of gifted students. I say, "supposedly" because our experience of them, and that of others we know, is that they don't seem to know what support actually means.
We became involved with the Gifted Education Programme (GEP), shortly after Ainan passed his O level Chemistry at an unprecedented seven years and one month old. This world record was enough to get their attention. Interestingly, when we had tried to approach his school about his special educational needs, prior to his O level exam, they essentially snubbed us, not taking our word for it. Their attitude soon changed once we had a piece of paper to prove it: how Singaporean.
Anyway, the Gifted Education Programme/GEP spoke a lot about what they could do for Ainan. Their first interest was to assess him. This turned out to be a long and rather involved process, putting him through a series of interviews with scientists, a psychologist and various tests. It took months to satisfy them - despite his O level - that there was a need to intervene.
When, finally, they were satisfied that a need was revealed, their offerings were remarkably slight. The only thing we asked for was laboratory access so that he could gain practical experience of Chemistry. However, this was the one thing that they seemed reluctant to provide in any meaningful way. They arranged for five sessions at Raffles Junior College and Raffles Institution. That was a help and a good start, however, at the end of it, they told us that this was "Resource intensive" and that they were not prepared to support ongoing laboratory work for him, because there were "No funds available."
Privately, we arranged access to some Chemistry workshops with RJC. When the GEP heard about it, they seemed to put a stop to it, for after the Gifted Education Programme had contacted them, Raffles Junior College told us that they were no longer able to help. They declined to give a reason, despite the fact that they had made the offer of help, themselves.
This was our first concrete indication that, far from actually helping Ainan, that the GEP may actually be interfering with his opportunities.
Interestingly, when we discussed our experience with the mother of another gifted child, she said she had had very similar experiences. Every time she let them know what she was doing to nurture her child's gift, the Gifted Education Programme tried to discourage her, or interfere in some way. So, our experience was not unique. Incidentally, she eventually left Singapore, in frustration, at the Gifted Education Programme, and is now living in another country, with her gifted son. No doubt that is beneficial to Singapore's long term potential.
The Gifted Education Programme, after much prodding, arranged for Ainan to attend NUS (National University of Singapore) High School for Maths and Science, at the age of 7. Again, the process of admission was a long one, which seemed to take forever. Eventually, however, they offered him ONE HOUR a week, at NUS High. We were rather shocked at this, since it seemed too little to actually feed his interest. However, we kept an open mind and brought him along for the first couple of weeks.
It was a great disappointment. They had assigned him to a class and a level that he had already studied. In his first two weeks there he told me that there was ONLY ONE fact that he didn't already know. That is one single piece of information encapsulated in a few words. We quickly came to the conclusion that this was a waste of time and money. It wasn't worth the taxi fare there and back again.
We explained our observations to the Gifted Education Programme. They were not very understanding. The GEP Officer said: "Oh, it is not about what he can learn, it is all about the other things." It turned out that she was referring to the social side. It seems that the GEP considers that the greatest need for a gifted child is a social club. He wasn't supposed to be there to learn anything. He was supposed to be there to make friends and get used to being around older people.
Now, that is all very well...but hang on a minute, isn't it supposed to be a Gifted EDUCATION Programme? Ainan had a need to learn, and this wasn't being met.
We asked for various things, all of which were denied us. We asked for him to go on a broad spectrum O level programme (at 7) covering all the other subjects that he hadn't yet studied, in combination with an A level in Chemistry. They denied this, saying: "He hasn't proven himself in the other subjects."
I thought this was very silly. Basically, they were saying: "We don't believe he can get an O level in the other subjects, until he has already got an O level in them. At that moment, we will believe it, then he can have an O level course, which he will no longer need."
Ainan was already the youngest O level holder in the world. If he could do that, he could do the other subjects too. It seemed a "no-brainer" - but not to the GEP no-brains, it seems.
We then asked if he could attend a broad range of courses at NUS High, to get a feel for them and see which he would like.
They wouldn't allow it.
I suggested he could just sit on the courses and audit them.
They wouldn't allow it.
I asked if he could have a Chemistry practical class at NUS High, for that was his real need.
They wouldn't allow it. Not only that but the GEP Officer, Yogini Yogarajah, said: "Why don't you find a private school and pay for it yourself."
We had already researched that, and had quotes of 600 dollars per session. Clearly, the private option was out of the question.
In our final meeting with the GEP/Gifted Education Programme, we tried to explain to the Gifted Branch Officers present that Ainan had a very practical learning style and that he needed to actually DO Chemistry, to learn it properly.
Yogini Yogarajah said: "Oh, we at the Gifted Branch think learning style is very important."
"Well, can we have practical classes, for Ainan, then, because I have just told you he has a very practical learning style."
"Oh, that's not good enough for us.", she said, with the utmost dismissiveness.
That was too much for me. She was dismissing the input from the parents - who, of course, know Ainan about a hundred thousand times better than the Gifted Education Programme ever could. Apparently, such inside knowledge, from people who really know a child, is "Not good enough for us."
I rose, said: "We will never speak again." and left.
I kept my word. We have never spoken to the GEP since, nor do we intend to. They are not what they purport to be. They are extremely slow in responding. They refuse to make funds available to support a gifted child's special needs. They attempt to block initiatives that would help the child. They refuse to take on board the views of the parents. They offer provision which is so abstemious that it makes no difference at all to the growth of the child. That which is most essential to the child is that which they precisely deny the child.
The account above is a very brief one. It leaves out detail on occasions on which the GEP made difficulties for us, in our attempts to provide the right education for Ainan. However, it does give some idea of the ways in which the Gifted Education Programme is not truly functioning as an education programme.
There is one way in which it is functioning, however. At our final meeting with the GEP, Yogini Yogarajah had a very thick folder in her hands, which she would not let us see. Apparently, it contained reports on Ainan written by everyone in the education system who had had contact with him. It transpires that all who had contact with him were under instructions to write a report on their observations of him. I found this really spooky. The Gifted Education Programme does not provide a suitable education for the gifted. However, it does keep gifted children under close observation and writes reams of reports about them. You can come to your own conclusions about what this means. Personally, I found their emphasis on observation over educational provision to be really quite perturbing. It seemed that their true intentions were rather different from their expressed ones.
One of my questions to Yogini Yogarajah and her Gifted Branch colleagues that last day, was: "What is the Gifted Education Programme for
?" Yogini tried to twist the meaning of my question and rephrase it to make it seem less critical of her and her people, but I reiterated my question unchanged. Our year or so with the Gifted Education Programme had left me genuinely puzzled about what it was actually for. I could no longer see it as an educational support initiative for the gifted, because it wasn't really performing as one. I was left with a big question mark in my mind about what was the actual, real purpose of the Gifted Education Programme. I was left to conclude that either it had another (unstated) purpose, which it may well be succeeding in, or that the Gifted Education Programme was failing in its (stated) purpose of supporting the educational needs of gifted children.
Ainan is just one scientifically gifted child. Singapore, through the Gifted Education Programme, had shown itself unable to cope with the needs of just one child. One of the repeated phrases we heard on Yogini's lips was: "If we do it for your child, they will all want it." The justification, for doing basically nothing, was that if Ainan was provided with the laboratory access he needed to continue to learn science, that it would create a stampede of parents also wanting the same for their children.
I can just see it now: Singapore is clearly overwhelmed with scientific prodigies. Clearly, in Yogini's mind, there are millions of them out there, just waiting to "all want it". I found her remarks absurd. Singapore has only one child like Ainan, gifted in this particular way. There would have been no stampede of other parents demanding the same for their child. All that was happening here, was that the Gifted Education Programme were finding reasons for doing nothing to help.
To my mind, that means that the Gifted Education Programme is NOT an education programme. It is something else. What else, I don't know, but they certainly don't do even the obvious things to help a child like Ainan.
If they really have no funds available, I could make a suggestion for making funds available. They should fire the Branch Officers assigned to us...because they were completely unable to listen to us. They shouldn't work for an education programme at all. The money saved through not paying their salaries would liberate resources for many gifted children.
Better still: why not sack the entire department, then there would be plenty of resources for Singapore's gifted. All that would be needed is one person to co-ordinate the activities.
So, my advice regarding the Gifted Education Programme is not to expect much from them. In fact, you might be a lot happier not to become involved with them at all in the first place. We could have done without the experience we went through with them. I expect you can too, if you have a gifted child.
(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and seven months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, five years exactly, and Tiarnan, twenty-eight months, please go to: http://scientific-child-prodigy.blogspot.com/2006/10/scientific-child-prodigy-guide.html
I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, wunderkind, wonderkind, genio, гений ребенок prodigy, genie, μεγαλοφυία θαύμα παιδιών, bambino, kind.
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Labels: GEP, Gifted Branch Officer, Gifted Education Programme, Singaporean Education, Yogini Yogarajah