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Letting gifted children shine

SINGAPORE — Among the many decisions that parents have to make for their children’s education, there may be one related to the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). It is a programme under the Education Ministry where selected Primary 3 students are offered the chance to enrol in the programme through a two-stage exercise.

Letting gifted children shine

Dr Karen Soh and her family on vacation. Her three older children have all gone through the gifted education programme. Photo: Dr Karen Soh

SINGAPORE — Among the many decisions that parents have to make for their children’s education, there may be one related to the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). It is a programme under the Education Ministry where selected Primary 3 students are offered the chance to enrol in the programme through a two-stage exercise.

As a parent, you might feel a sense of pride at the invitation. Some might even ask if they can tell beforehand if their child is gifted. Experts believe there are certain signs “gifted” children display.

Ms Pamela See, an educational and developmental psychologist at Think Psychological Services, said: “Children who are intellectually gifted usually pose questions that are way more complex than children of the same age. They also exhibit an unusually high ability in one or more domains, such as language, maths or music. And they show the desire to master those skill sets as well.”

Ms Irena Constantin, an educational psychologist at Scott Psychological Centre, defined intellectual giftedness as an “intellectual ability significantly higher than average, which includes either general high ability or specific abilities”.

She listed some common characteristics of gifted children: They have a wide range of interests and the ability to develop one or more of them into considerable depth, they learn quickly and have the ability to retain what is learned, and they show a persistent intellectual curiosity.

“Research studies show that creativity, motivation and having a high self-concept are key qualities,” she added.

Another common trait in gifted children is tied to social isolation.

Ms Constantin said: “Parents and school professionals should be aware that gifted children often try to hide their abilities in order to gain popularity among their peers or to win social approval. In that case, they might show underachievement.

“Allow them to have a range of friendships and let them play with all sorts of children. Also, give them the opportunity to meet like-minded peers. Gifted children want to be treated ‘normal’, as any other child.”

GOING ON THE GIFTED TRACK

Once parents are notified that their child qualifies for the GEP, it is then up to them to decide if they want to enrol the child into this programme. And, although it might seem like a simple decision for some parents, there are still certain things to be taken into consideration.

“Decide if your child is socially and emotionally ready for a more stimulating programme,” Ms See suggested. “Find out if your child is bored with the (mainstream) curriculum or is still enjoying it. Speak to your child about the programme. There’s no harm getting their input as well before making a decision.”

There are two sides to every coin and the same can be said about placing children in the GEP. The advantages are that the child would be learning together with other children with similar abilities, Ms See said, and they would be cognitively stimulated in school.

However, the downside is that they would be separated from peers they are already close to, they could face extra pressure from parents and teachers to be continually successful, and they may be more frustrated due to the demands from the programme.

One couple who went through the GEP themselves — Dr Karen Soh, 44, a doctor, and her husband, 45, an orthopaedic surgeon — had no hesitations putting their three children through it, having personally witnessed its advantages.

Dr Soh said: “The children enjoyed the programme. It challenged them and brought the syllabus to a different level as there’s much more participation. It allowed them to stretch their skills and prepared them better for secondary school.”

However, she found that the preparation for the Primary School Leaving Examination under the GEP was not as focused as it could have been, because they were still submitting projects a few months before the exams.

The GEP also placed some stress on the children because there was a lot of extra work to do, but the main thing was that they enjoyed themselves and learnt from it.

When she asked her children — now aged 12, 13 and 16 — if they would recommend their four-year-old brother for the programme should he qualify in future, they gave a resounding “yes”.

PARENTAL SUPPORT

Unlike Dr Soh, stay-at-home mum Hazel Chew, 44, decided not to put her daughter in the GEP even though she was chosen last year.

One of her main reasons was that the GEP requires children to perform well across all subjects and there are also mandatory projects for the subjects, which may or may not be in her daughter’s areas of interest or strength.

“My daughter is at her best when she has time on her own to explore and pursue her interests,” Ms Chew said. “We did not think it wise to have her time tied down to mandatory projects, or struggle to keep up in areas where she is not naturally gifted.”

Ms Chew said that there have been some advantages of not putting her daughter into the GEP. The girl still gets to work and socialise with classmates of different learning abilities in the mainstream curriculum, and this helps her to become more socially adaptable. Without the “gifted” label, her daughter remains grounded, she said.

Of course, her daughter may wonder what it would have been like to have taken up the programme and be among peers who could potentially enhance her learning journey intellectually.

Whatever parents decide for their children, it is important to give them continued support. Ms Constantin suggested that parents be more understanding because gifted children can be misunderstood since they learn differently or do not conform to behaviour that most of their peers show.

Therefore, it is important to discuss the child’s qualities with friends, teachers or other family members, so that they are able to understand the child better. This helps to make the child feels accepted.

If gifted children show interest in a specific activity, sport or area of study, give them opportunities to extend their learning in those places. Ms See said: “Take note that your child may be gifted in particular areas, but he or she may not excel in every area, so ensure that those areas are not neglected.”

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