Mixing kids of different learning abilities can bridge gaps

A Physical Education class in Rosyth School where Gifted Education Programme pupils and mainstream pupils get to interact with one another.
A Physical Education class in Rosyth School where Gifted Education Programme pupils and mainstream pupils get to interact with one another.PHOTO: ST FILE

In Anglo-Chinese School where I was educated back in the 1960s and 1970s, primary school classes were grade-blind and every standard had academically good and poorer pupils evenly distributed among the classrooms.

Some shone in the classroom but things evened out very nicely on the sports field where the nerds were easily shown up in physical competition. There was little animosity among fellow classmates and schoolmates as each had his own talents on display.

In secondary school, we were segregated into different classes based on innate learning capacity. Differences too big to ignore started to emerge such that were classes to be grade-blind, all students would suffer with the faster learners impeded by the slower ones if the syllabus and rate of learning were maintained as one-size-fits-all.

Yet extra-curricular activities bonded us together as all were mixed in the same pool. Everyone knew we sweated and smelled just like the next person.

Homophily, the tendency for people to seek out others like themselves, is a natural psychological phenomenon. Reinforced or simply left unchecked, it leads to segregation and chasms of mistrust and misunderstanding between different groups, starting in school.

Mixing and interacting among students of different socio-economic groups and learning abilities within the same school, and also with other schools, encourages integration and the bridging of perception gaps (Schools start joint classes for gifted pupils to mix with peers, Aug 11).

Being the father of a child who was in the Gifted Education Programme and interacting with such individuals both professionally and socially, it is apparent that the more society treats them socially like any other, the more they are likely to flourish in the field they are talented in.

Conversely, the more bias, prejudice, preferential treatment and cloistered environment we subject them to, the more detached, self-entitled, maladapted and socially awkward they become.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2019, with the headline 'Mixing kids of different learning abilities can bridge gaps'. Print Edition | Subscribe