Parents sending kids for GEP tuition

From ‘My child is GIFTED’, 3 June 2012, article by Jane Ng, Sunday Times

Parents desperate to get their children into the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) are turning to tuition centres that claim they can help bright nine-year-olds ace the screening test. A growing number of enrichment centres are offering these classes at monthly fees of between $200 and $1,000.

…Mr Kelvin Ong, 36, went from being a GEP student to a GEP teacher before he quit to start his tuition agency, AristoCare. He decides whether to accept a pupil only after a month of lessons which cost $1,000.…He has even started GEP ‘foundation classes’ for kindergarten pupils priced at $600 a month.

At Doctor Peh Associates, a 10-year-old outfit started by Mr Allen Peh – who does not have a doctorate – children who want to sign up for the ‘GEP clinic’ must have English and mathematics scores above 90, while kindergarten pupils must have an IQ score of 130 and above.

‘If they don’t meet those criteria, the GEP is not suitable for them as their foundation is not there,’ said Mr Peh, 51, who has a science degree from the University of Toronto and an MBA from the University of Warwick….He charges $2,600 for 10 lessons.

Enrichment school Morris Allen offers an annual two-week GEP intensive preparation course in June, after selecting its pupils through an IQ test…. ‘With practice under pressure, and repeated exposure to the questions, they show significant improvement and become more confident in answering them,’ said Mr Scarrott (Principal). The fee for 10 days: $888.

Housewife Cindy Tan, 40, is among the hopeful parents whose children are attending GEP preparation classes ahead of the ministry’s screening test in August….’Every mother has hopes for her child. Since we can’t help him at home, we have to get some help for him,’ said Mrs Tan…Adrin, who scored above 95 in his English and mathematics mid-year exams, is getting help at AristoCare. He also has tuition. ‘He has the occasional tantrum but I’ll tell him to finish his homework and I’ll take him out for a McDonald’s treat,’ said Mrs Tan, who has O-level qualification.

What if Adrin does not make it to GEP in the end? ‘I’ll be very sad and disappointed – after all the money spent and we get nothing,’ she said.

I vaguely remember going through the GEP screening test myself and I had no idea what to expect, though I spent most of the time flipping my paper around to work on picture puzzles.  I might as well be deciphering hieroglyphics or Matrix alien squiggles. Not being naturally GIFTED, I flunked out of the first round. Now, if I had MONEY then, that could have been a different matter altogether. I would be out there, you know, making a DIFFERENCE, instead of writing a blog post complaining about GEP.

‘Gifted’ used to describe individuals ‘born’ with a special ‘talent’, and implies extraordinariness and exclusiveness, not something anyone can attain purely through ‘hard work’, or in this case, the help of an ex-GEP student turned tuition teacher with a ‘gift’ for business. One would expect an ex GEP student to do something more worthwhile with his intelligence, like solving the problems plaguing the world today (and getting a doctorate while at it), but that’s besides the point. It’s obvious that having a scorching IQ as determined by some screening test doesn’t guarantee that you’ll do anything particularly useful for humanity. There are so many exceptions to the rule, game-changers, high school dropouts turned self-made billionaires or Nobel-prize winning authors or scientists, people who excelled not just through IQ alone, but mostly through creative innovation, inspiration and sheer luck, things which all these tuition centres and GEP programmes can’t deliver in an entire lifetime no matter how many derivative puzzles they drill their gifted brethren with. Yet these ‘geniuses’ and ‘icons’, though having qualities of the ‘gifted’,  remain, in all appearances, perfectly NORMAL save a few eccentricities without anyone seeing the need to classify them as higher evolved beings in school.

Being a prodigy and working on your ‘gift’ go hand in hand, and one shouldn’t deny kids with a genuine obsession for complex maths puzzles from achieving one’s fullest potential in this scheme, at the risk of being oestracised from their ‘mainstream’ peers, which is an inevitable side effect of being cleverer than your age group. A screening test alone isn’t THE litmus test for genius, and selects for only a certain skill-set that may or may not qualify you as being ‘highly intelligent’.  If you can buy IQ scores through very specific practices like training an archer how to shoot arrows, one trivialises the GEP programme to that of a very expensive, elite mind-sports fraternity. You may well get a couple of sharpshooters in the end, though you’ll also have some singed by their own arrows, victims so worn out by the demands of the programme that their behaviour changes completely, some into angry little recluses who ignore their families. Moreover, the Ministry clearly feels that you’re wasting your time with ‘normal’ students, as what is stated in their GEP webpage.

The intellectually gifted need a high degree of mental stimulation. This need may not be met in the mainstream classroom and the gifted child may become mediocre, indifferent or disruptive in class.

Meaning, if you don’t put your above average kid in GEP, he’ll ROT in class among the minions! Such divisive , sweeping presumptions on what smart kids need for mental nourishment have led many to call the GEP programme ‘elitist’. In fact, the MOE’s statement is copied and pasted wholesale in Kelvin Ong’s Aristocare Gifted programme website. Hell, even the name of his agency has a kingly ring to it.  Here’s a chicken-and-egg argument in reference to those GEP kids who think high and mighty of themselves: Are these kids ‘gifted’ hence arrogant, or did they ‘become’ arrogant once they were labelled and exalted as ‘gifted’ 1%-ters? What have we produced in 30 years that justifies the relevance of a GEP breeding ground in creating mavericks, trailblazers and great thinkers? In an age where brains alone don’t cut it and ‘EQ’ matters more than ever, have we instead LOST ‘functional’ geniuses rather than spawned them through a scheme that cuts them off from the more socially fertile morass that is ‘the rest of us’?

The gifted have been stereotyped as being ‘socially inept’, stick to their own ‘kind’, and summon the image of an awkward, quantum physics textbook totting, bespectacled kid with imaginary friends because all his real ones have left him/her. Meaner ‘mainstream’ kids would refer to them as ‘freaks’.  ‘Gifted’ already has a euphemistic cousin known as ‘high-ability’, which attempts to tone down the lofty suggestions of innate genius but ironically emphasises the disturbing trend that one can be ‘trained’ to qualify for GEP, as long as you’re willing the spend the money and forget about June holidays altogether. One thing these tuition centres dare to boast about is a high success rate of passing tests, but as to what becomes of their students after that, nobody has the slightest clue. High-ability doesn’t equate to hire-ability. From the way they are being groomed and hothoused, they’ve either become stark raving mad scientists  or Phantoms of the Opera.

Adrin above is a high-scoring kid with the occasional lack of interest in homework (like everyone else) but yet nudged by parents to prepare for a programme which he may not be suited, using McDonalds as bait like a  Pavlov dog salivating to the sound of a bell. He may very well ace the screening thanks to some insanely methodical and ultimately meaningless grilling, but end up at the bottom of the GEP pack because his ‘giftedness’ is a product not of his genes or upbringing, but that of a tuition machine. Not to mention having his arteries clogged with all the fat from the ‘reward’ fries he’s been eating to finish his work. His mum may be utterly disappointed from all the wasted money and effort, but failure to get into GEP only means one thing for a face-saving kiasu parent: More enrichment classes.

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