Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The discourse of giftedness

I couldn't believe my eyes when I read this letter in Today newspaper (21st Nov 2005), which is about the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) in Singapore! Let me quote some of the interesting sentences for you....

(1) "You see, GEPers (as we call ourselves) are more mature than most mainstreamers, the result of being in the GEP. The mainstreamers think we are snobbish — when they stereotype us, they are being immature......Being in a specialised class lets us interact with people like us."

(2) "....I didn't have many good friends because I found my classmates to be immature. But when I entered the GEP, I was impressed with my classmates and now we can't bear to part ways."

(3) "Most of us found it boring in mainstream classes, as we knew most of the curriculum and it was easy to get good grades. But when faced with someone at our own level, we step up our efforts to compete."

(4) "The GEP broadens our experience. Nobody minds if a girl mingles with a bunch of boys, or if she is interested in DotA, Final Fantasy VII or PS2 games. We accept each other. Would we be able to do that in the mainstream, where everyone follows the trends or the person who is the "coolest", and everybody starts gossiping if anyone talks to someone of the opposite sex?Nobody except us, the GEPers, could know how much fun we have being in the GEP."

Do I even need to do a critique? :) I can't believe that Today actually published it! I think the writer of the letter needs to see a counsellor.... :)

Let me say that there are too many assumptions involved in this whole 'gifted education' debate. Instead of re-typing everything I've posted as a comment somewhere else, let me reproduce it here:

(1) Against the assumption that "motivated teachers prefer to teach classes full of bright kids rather than classes full of kids who are seen as disruptive wastrels". This is not true...There are good as well as average teachers in all streams. One cannot assume too much about what motivates teachers. Teachers who are more motivated when they see a bright kid and disinterested/demoralized/unmotivated when they see a not-so-bright kid shouldn't be in the education profession.

(2) Against the assumption that "children left in these [Express/Special/Normal stream] classes - the vast majority of children in the educational system - face an environment that makes it harder for them to learn." If that is the case, then the problem is classroom discipline, rather than anything else. Discipline and punish. :)

(3) Against the view that a gifted student must/should be placed in the GEP. It could be bad for his self-esteem, if he's not the most gifted among the gifted (e.g. if he belongs to the bottom half). He might shine and develop more if he goes to Express stream. And yes, there seems to be an assumption that all Express students are nowhere near gifted students in terms of academic cleverness - this is not true: the very good or top Express students are (or can be, as I've seen) as smart or smarter than the bottom half of the GEP.

(4) This leads me to the next point: bear in mind when the test was conducted, and what questions those tests involve. The kids are all so young then. Those hundreds(?) of kids who narrowly missed the 'cut-off point' and then entered Express stream (possibly in top high schools) may well develop faster when they are 13-16 years old, resulting in Situation (3) described above. I think some kids from GEP are indeed 'gifted'. But in principle, I would hesitate to equate test-taking ability with giftedness.

*Due to my lack of giftedness, I wasn't too sure how the 'comments moderation' function works at first and turned it on. Then for 2 days I was wondering 'how come no new comments'? After seeing so many interesting comments 'pending approval' in my account (which I have not checked for years), I have decided to turn that function off! All the comments have been published now - apologies to my friends, fans, and readers! :)


Blogger trisha said...

Interesting post. I haven't read the article in Today but you should see my jaw drop when I read the excerpts in your blog. If those comments are representative of the GEPers, then I most surely do not want to teach bigots like them!

Here's what a friend of mine who teaches GEP students tells me about these supposedly more mature students.
- Many of them are gifted in one particular area, eg. Maths. But are sorely un-gifted or mainstream in say, English.
- A number have low EQ. (why am I not surprised?)

Of course there are those who are truly brilliant. And like you said, there are probably lots of late bloomers in mainstream schools who miss the earlier streaming and who may have made the cut if streaming is done later.

As a teacher, I will deal with such students differently. If I meet students who express such cocky comments like those quoted in Today, I make sure they get a dose of reality from my razor tongue. In my class, there is zero tolerance for elitism. I thumb down such brats mercilessly. :)

Wed Nov 30, 11:20:00 AM 2005  
Blogger jllt said...

Even if you are gifted, a good reason to go to express stream is for the bursary. :D

Wed Nov 30, 03:48:00 PM 2005  
Blogger A.Ball.of.Yarn said...

the letter reeks of elitism and snobbishness (from the quotes alone). i didn't see that letter in Today but if such an attitude is actually encouraged in the schools, that's really shameful!

Wed Nov 30, 04:44:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Molly Meek said...

As much as Molly holds some of the letter writers in ghostly disdain, she thinks GEPers could well be victims--victims of a social experiment or whatever it is.

They bad part of the system (assuming that it has good parts) is that there is no room for fluidity at all. Why set up a program for the so-called gifted instead of treating everyone as gifted or at least potentially so. The point should be to develop people to their full potential and not to decide what their potential is even before the potential has a chance to be developed or tested.

So, now the gifted must be gifted. The not-gifted must be non-gifted, leading to condescension, stereotypes and perceived conflicts.

Can we also assume that all gifted people are the same (and hence put them in one program)? To presume what is good for the people presumed to be gifted could do them in.

So, maybe some people need counsellors. But it's really sad that people, GEPers or not, have been manipulated by the system.

Wed Nov 30, 09:52:00 PM 2005  
Blogger BL said...

The stratification is artificially built by both groups and the rift is perpetuated by silly media articles like these. These labels are not only silly but demonstrate snobbishness on both parts.

Yes, the GEP does produce successful people in a higher proportions, given the access and privileges for them in the system. It does not deter anyone who wants to reach that kind of success.

Every individual is different. I know of GEP people who can communicate with other non-GEP people. Similarly, I know of non-GEP people who are late-bloomers, and they become successful in their own right.

Wed Nov 30, 11:09:00 PM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is precisely why I don't read MSM anymore. I find myself reacting to the particular selection of articles and not the full range of attitudes of everyone. It's always wrong to judge people by their most extreme viewpoints. The same way Muslim extremists want to polarise the debate.

Fri Dec 02, 09:36:00 AM 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm... thought provoking. It's a matter of being a small fish in a big tank or a big fish in a small tank in the education system here.

Fri Dec 02, 03:41:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

More stuff here!

Fri Dec 02, 07:37:00 PM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Greetings all! :)

Trisha: the writer of that letter should be made to do community service among ordinary folks...her prejudice is misguided...

Jllt: long time no see! I would prefer a specially tailored stream - 'study-at-home-on-your-own' stream, it's free! :)

A.Ball.of.Yarn: yeah, I agree...Her teachers really need to pull her to one side and have a good talk with her.

Molly Meek: I like this part...

"....there is no room for fluidity at all. Why set up a program for the so-called gifted instead of treating everyone as gifted or at least potentially so. The point should be to develop people to their full potential and not to decide what their potential is even before the potential has a chance to be developed or tested....So, now the gifted must be gifted. The not-gifted must be non-gifted, leading to condescension, stereotypes and perceived conflicts."

Singapore has a 'label-is-the-content' culture, which needs to be changed to a 'content-means-more-than-labels' culture.

BL: The newspapers really do have a responsibility to select articles that are more properly written, rather than this type of article that is clearly written to provoke people and create rifts in society. Today newspaper has disappointed me.

Anonymous (1st): I still have faith in local newspapers in general, but it seems that every now and then there would be an article that pisses everybody off.

Anonymous (2nd): good analogy...I personally like to be a medium fish in a medium pond :)

Fri Dec 02, 07:59:00 PM 2005  
Blogger The Screwy Skeptic said...

Wow... that's pretty blatant. But no matter the country or school, there'll always be those fools who delude themselves into condescending the very masses who established their "giftedness" in the first place.

I should know. I went to grade school and high school with gifties, though there are a lot of us who aren't total assholes, mind you.

Sat Dec 03, 06:05:00 AM 2005  
Blogger Heavenly Sword said...

Hi Screwy Sceptic, yup, the gifted students I have met are nice people - totally unlike the impression conveyed by silly articles/letters!

Sun Dec 04, 02:35:00 PM 2005  
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