Gifted Education Programme

The Gifted Education Programme (GEP) is an enrichment programme designed to nurture intellectually gifted students to their fullest potential. It was introduced in 1984 by the Ministry of Education (MOE) as part of reforms to create an education system that caters to diverse talents and learning aptitudes.

The implementation of the New Education System (NES) in 1979 marked a shift towards greater flexibility in the education system to enable each child to learn at a pace suited to his or her ability. The impetus to make special provisions for the education of exceptionally intelligent children arose against this policy backdrop. It was recognised that these children thrived on a high degree of intellectual stimulation and may become mediocre, indifferent or disruptive in class when their learning needs were unmet.1

In 1981, the then minister of state for education, Tay Eng Soon, led a team to study gifted education programmes in Russia, Germany and Israel.2 It was eventually decided that the Israeli model, which featured self-contained classes for gifted pupils within mainstream schools, was most suitable for Singapore.3

Gifted pupils would follow the regular curriculum and take the same examinations as those in the mainstream, but with additional subjects, greater depth of coverage and exposure to varied learning experiences such as project work and field trips.4

Compared with placing gifted children in an accelerated programme or in separate schools, the enrichment approach was favoured because it enabled those in the gifted classes to interact with others from the regular classes through extra-curricular activities and thus benefitting their social and emotional development.Moreover, pupils who chose to opt out of the gifted programme could rejoin the mainstream easily.6

Planning and implementation
A proposed programme based on the idea of enrichment was then drawn up in the “Gifted Project” concept paper in 1983.The paper defined the objectives of the GEP, which were to cultivate higher-level thinking skills and capabilities for self-directed learning, as well as social responsibility and civic awareness.8 It also discussed the identification of teachers and selection of pupils for the programme.9

A Special Project Unit (now known as the Gifted Education Branch) was formed soon after in May 1983 to select teachers and pupils for the GEP, conduct teacher training sessions, prepare the new curriculum, implement the programme and track its progress.10 In August 1983, the project members underwent a weeklong training course by Irving Sato, a Japanese-American expert on education for gifted children.11 Fourteen primary- and 16 secondary-level teachers were selected and trained to teach in the GEP.12

Raffles Girls’ Primary School, Rosyth School, Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls’ Secondary School were the first four GEP centres. The process of identifying pupils for the pilot programme involved a series of special tests at the end of Primary 3 and 6.13 Selection began in September 1983 when some 40,000 Primary 3 pupils sat for an initial screening test of 100 questions that assessed their quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension and vocabulary.14 About 2,000 shortlisted pupils – the top five percent of the cohort – went on to take a selection examination comprising three papers that respectively tested their language, numerical and general abilities at a higher difficulty level.15 The best 100 pupils were subsequently chosen for the pilot Primary 4 GEP at Raffles Girls’ Primary School and Rosyth School.16

At the Primary 6 level, pupils who scored at least three A-stars in the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) – about 4 to 5 percent of the cohort – were invited to take the selection examination, from which the best 100 pupils were picked for the secondary-level GEP in Raffles Institution and Raffles Girls’ Secondary School.17

Special programmes

A hallmark of the GEP is its special programmes that complement the enriched curriculum. Beginning with the Science Enrichment Programme (now known as the Science Research Programme) in 1988, the number of special programmes has expanded to support pupils’ interests in the humanities and social sciences, the creative arts, and innovation, where they work on projects with mentors from tertiary institutions and other organisations.18

Monitoring, feedback and evaluation
The progress of the GEP is monitored through regular feedback and informal meetings involving pupils, their parents, principals and teachers in consultation with MOE.19 The programme has garnered positive feedback and praise for effectively providing all-round development for high-ability students. A 2005/2006 survey of former GEP students found that the majority gained admission into prestigious overseas universities, obtained scholarships and outperformed their peers in national exams and critical thinking tests.20

However, there have been cases of students who struggle to cope with the workload and expectations of the programme, as well as suffer ridicule and discrimination from their non-GEP classmates.21 Moreover, the GEP has also been criticised for breeding elitism, as GEP students tended to interact only among themselves and had difficulty relating to their non-GEP peers.22 Efforts to mitigate the problem led to the eventual implementation of integrated classes in 2008 where GEP and non-GEP pupils would spend up to half of their curriculum time together.23

Expansion and change
The GEP gradually expanded from two primary and two secondary schools to a total of nine primary and seven secondary schools by 2003.24

Currently, the primary GEP centres are Raffles’ Girls Primary School (1984), Rosyth School (1984), Anglo-Chinese School (Primary) (1985), Nanyang Primary School (1990), Tao Nan School (1996), Henry Park Primary School (1997), Catholic High School (Primary) (1998), St Hilda’s Primary School (1998) and Nan Hua Primary School (1999).25

Secondary GEP centres comprise Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary) (1984), Raffles Institution (1984), Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) (1988), Dunman High School (1996), Nanyang Girls’ High (1999), the Chinese High School (1999) and Victoria School (2001).26

At the post-primary level, the introduction of the Integrated Programme (IP) in 2004 has led to changes in the GEP.27 While the curriculum and approach are similar, IP has the advantage of allowing students to proceed to junior college without taking the General Certificate of Education Ordinary Level (GCE ‘O’ Level) examination.28

With the popularity of IP and declining enrolment in the remaining GEP classes, MOE moved to channel gifted pupils to IP schools that offer their own School-Based Gifted Education (SBGE) programmes and discontinue the centrally run secondary GEP by end 2008.29 The SBGE programmes are offered in seven IP secondary schools (five of which were former GEP centres): Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary), Raffles Institution, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Dunman High School, Nanyang Girls’ High, Hwa Chong Institution and the NUS High School of Mathematics and Science.30

Janice Loo