GEP was my safe harbour

GEP was my safe harbour

Whenever people find out that I was in the Gifted Education Programme (GEP), I always say that I was a weird kid.

That was how my classmates and I saw ourselves, after all. We were pre-teen poets and computer programmers with a strange sense of humour, and we clung to that "weird" identity much more tightly than to any idea of being clever.

Focusing on weirdness is also the socially acceptable option. It is hard to talk about what the GEP means to you without sounding like a pompous humblebragger.

For instance, I was not an attentive pupil in Primary 3 - before I joined the GEP. I would doodle, colour the illustrations in my maths workbook or even craft tiny books from scrap paper during lessons and at least one test.

So when my teachers gave me extra work - problem sums and comprehension passages meant for older pupils - I was glad because I was the sort of annoying child who finished her work too quickly and then got bored.

They also suggested that I try for the GEP. And it was there that lessons become enthralling, and I found friends on the same not-quite-normal wavelength.

To me, those two things sum up the GEP's significance: The programme gives precocious pupils the intellectual challenges they need and a place where they can belong.

GEP lessons in primary school stretched our minds and creativity. We wrote plays, learnt linguistic theories, toyed with mathematical proofs and did all sorts of things that had nothing to do with the Primary School Leaving Examination.

These pursuits were important not just because they kept us interested in school. Learning higher-level concepts and taking different, harder exams were also much-needed blows to our complacency. Without them, we could have become even more arrogant than we supposedly are.

But the GEP's significance waned swiftly. In secondary school, it meant little more than some extra research projects. By junior college, let alone university, nobody cared whether you had been in it - and rightly so.

The idea of the GEP as a route to success has never rung true to me. It is not so much what the GEP gives you, but what it saves you from.

Without the GEP, would this girl have become a scientist regardless? Or would she have become an unengaged and disruptive student, and wasted her potential? Without the GEP, would that boy have learnt the need for hard work and humility? Or would he have coasted through primary school, each stellar exam score cementing his arrogance?

My time in the GEP does not mean much now. At most, it is a flippant explanation for my lack of social skills or my fondness for cryptic crosswords.

But to the 10-year-old girl who found like-minded peers and fresh, exciting lessons, it meant a lot. The GEP was a safe harbour and a necessary challenge for awkward, precocious children.

Whether its continued existence can be justified, in the face of competing interests, is a question of relative priorities. But the programme - at least at the primary level - is surely relevant to such children.

janiceh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on October 25, 2014.
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