Forum: Gifted Education Programme a lifeline for talented students

I read with a familiar sinking feeling the letter "Reassess gifted programme in schools" (Aug 23). As with most calls challenging the form or existence of the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) in the past, Ms Sunita Sue Leng's letter reveals no criticism of the programme contents or an understanding of the children it caters to, but cites extraneous issues.

The GEP is not about streaming. It is about providing learning and acceptance for children who are academically gifted and for whom the mainstream curriculum is not suitable. I speak as a parent for whose children the GEP was a lifeline.

The popular refrain about how the budget for the GEP can be taken and spent on some other worthy programme is misconceived.

Singapore has enough to allocate a budget to any aspect of education that is valued. If speech and drama should one day be determined to be of sufficient value, I doubt the authorities will need to cull an existing programme to fund it.

As a nation with only its people as natural resources, it must be a top priority to nurture talent, whether this is sporting talent, performing or visual arts, or academic talent. We must put money, ideas and efforts into grooming our people to excel in whichever aspects we are good at and value as a nation. The Olympics and the Paralympics are reminders of how sporting excellence can unite a nation like very little else can.

Academic excellence has a different, but critical, impact on the nation.

The letter begins with the story of a crying classmate. I am a mother of three (the youngest of whom is also in Primary 3) and so do not say this lightly, but there will always be crying children.

There will occasionally be a disappointed child who has failed to make it into the school debating team, who narrowly missed qualifying for the National School Games or who has failed his audition to enter the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music.

These endeavours would have taken far more time, effort and money to prepare for than the GEP screening test, but disappointment to qualify for a programme which is selective cannot be a reason to challenge or remove its existence.

If we want our children to be resilient and prepare them for the real world and its disappointments, then we as parents must take our children's disappointments and rejections in context and view them with a positive outlook.

The GEP is certainly not perfect and we should address the negative issues that surround it, but please do not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Parents hot-housing their children into the GEP is unwise. It is a disfavour to their children, and should be discouraged, but it is certainly not a reason to reassess or remove the GEP.

To the students and parents who have benefited from the GEP over the years - let us share our experiences of the programme and not let the public narrative about the programme focus only on doubts about its value and role.

To the people involved in the GEP - the policymakers, the GEP branch and GEP teachers - thank you for everything you do, and please persevere.

Lena Chan Chern Chern

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