• Leo Education

Part 2: Opining on the GEP

Author: Watermelon

Many parents probably think that getting into the GEP is of great advantage to the future, like getting into IP schools, which in turn leads to better grades at the A levels, better chances for good courses in university, better working life, better life. To some extent it’s true, but of course it’s also a little of a slippery slope argument and I’ll explore that later.

Preparation or nah?

The first part of course, is how to get in. I’m going to say this: no preparation can guarantee entry, because honestly, unless you are part of the team designing the test, we can’t tell what exactly they’re looking for. However, there are still similar exercises one can do in preparation for the test and I personally think they develop a child’s thinking faculties, whether he/she makes it into GEP in the end.

It has been 10 years, so I don’t quite remember the test. I know the math wasn’t about jumping into advanced topics like algebra but to test spatial reasoning and logic. From what I remember of it, it’s very much based on pattern recognition and I naturally liked puzzles and math, so it probably helped. For the English sections, it was to perform quick analysis given the time limit. It was also my first introduction to critical reading and thinking. I don’t exactly remember how it was like, only that I came out of the test thinking I probably flunked because…words are hard.

Then I somehow got to the second round. I don’t remember anything that happened in that classroom. I only know I came out of it disoriented and confused. After conversing with my other friends who got into GEP later on, I realized practically everyone thought they weren’t going to make it. This is likely because we chose answers that we thought were reasonable but the correct answer was so well hidden within the options that no one knew whether they were right.

And that’s just my take on the preparation process. So if you ask me, should kids enroll in GEP preparation? Sure, but don’t expect too much from it, treat it like another supplementary class that teaches kids to recognize patterns, learn how to grasp main ideas in comprehension passages, and these are skills that are highly transferable in the future whether in academics or not. Additionally, I would advise parents and kids alike to not put GEP on such a high pedestal and there are other considerations to be made when deciding whether to join GEP.

GEP content

This brings me to the second discussion point. What exactly is GEP like? Is it very beneficial?

I would say the syllabus was quite structured and I don’t think much has changed over time (I could be entirely wrong don’t flame me) because they have a set of skills they want to develop.

The first math topic we were taught was strangely on number systems. Roman numerals, Mayan numerals, and we were encouraged to find out other systems and share it. Later, we had these math topics that were called investigation, where they gave a sequence of numbers and we had to find the next one or a formula to predict the nth term. It was only later that we recognized them to be arithmetic progressions. Then in P6, we had a math project where we had to choose a topic, and do a few tasks and we were graded on it. Many of us chose linear design (go look it up it’s pretty cool) where illusions of curves were created based on straight lines.

I would say the learning process is a little bit more self-directed than the regular style, with lots of encouragement to do more than what’s in the syllabus and certainly suits kids who like a little bit more freedom.

For English we dabbled in literature very early, there’s a reading list of recommended books and every year we would have a book that we have to focus on and we would discuss themes. For my batch, we had Charlotte’s Web, then A Wrinkle in Time, and finally Friedrich. I don’t remember much of CW, and that’s because discussion over them increased over the years. Friedrich introduced themes of genocide, and we watched The Boy in Striped Pajamas, which was a little traumatizing for a bunch of 12-year-olds. In recent years I heard AWIT has been replaced by The Giver, I’m not too sure, but anyway they both serve to introduce the idea of dystopia. But the point is that they tried to expose us to new themes and to be more reflective. I no longer have a copy of the list of books, but they’re mostly Newbery Award books and influential young adult fiction. Would definitely recommend to any child. We also had rather strange projects like making a family tree (don’t remember if this was part of English or Social Studies) and writing a 1000 word mystery story. It felt so daunting to us then, but I guess that was the point of the programme: to challenge kids.

I honestly don’t remember much of science except that we had to make a solar cooker and cook an egg with it. That was a mild disaster but I guess it does teach kids how to manage time, do simple research and problem solve. Sadly we couldn’t solve the problem of there being no sun on the experiment day, and my friend with the thinnest solar cooker turned out to have made the best decision.

Social Studies was quite highly emphasized. It was actually a graded subject that we had to do well in. Apart from the history of Singapore, we were taught how to write commentaries and a biography (this is either part of English or SS or both, memory is failing). The commentaries were based on whatever we wanted to write about. In one year I wrote a book review for Hymn of the Tiger Mom, and in another I did a commentary on Spain v Netherlands in the World Cup. I had so much trouble expressing my thoughts at the beginning, but it was good practice. There were also small projects and tests that have since escaped my memory.

For me the best part of GEP wasn’t the academic curriculum, but the extra activities we got to do. It’s probably changed a lot now, but we had a computer programme. There was video editing, podcasting, photography, and basic computer literacy (excel and ppt). There was an external company that taught us how to record videos and do simple editing and in small groups, we chose an issue and acted out a storyline and made a video. There were videos on unhealthy eating, cheating the elderly, stress in school, loan sharks, and a bunch more. Podcasting was similar and for photography we made a little photo book of our own pictures. These activities stimulated creativity and teamwork and was honestly so much fun. There was also other activities like mini research programmes. Some kids were selected to join the innovation one, others a problem solving programme and the rest of us did individual research where we chose a topic and investigated on it, like what brand of soap was most effective.

Coping with the curriculum

I think a lot of questions will be asked about how students cope and how to do well within the GEP considering we had so many ‘distractions’. In GEP, consistency is more important, and we had a lot of small tests apart from the big ones. My experience is that usually students have subjects they’re good at and they’re less good at. If some students really struggled in the programme, the smaller class size made it so that teachers could pay more attention to them. My bane was English, and I tried out some tuition classes, but they weren’t so helpful. In the end in primary school, teachers still play a big role and practice over the years and voracious reading eventually helped me improve. Struggling in the beginning is quite common, and I would say giving kids space to think and breathe is important. Patience is the key sometimes, and unless there’s something really wrong in terms of stress and attitude towards learning, we often just have to trust in the programme and the child’s ability.

Pros vs Cons

So this is how the programme was like for me, it’s probably different these days, but the core teaching principles probably lasted. But as you can see, the GEP in fact isn’t very beneficial in preparation for the PSLE. In P5 and 6, while other kids used all curriculum time following the PSLE syllabus, we had other activities, and while we didn’t miss much of the PSLE curriculum, the time dedicated to practice was definitely less. And personally I think that’s why there used to be a DSA (GEP) track. But now that has been removed, and students either try to DSA through individual subjects (e.g. math) or go by the PSLE route. Of course, the general trend is that GEP students do eventually DSA through or score well enough, but there isn’t a clear edge over students in the mainstream. Thus if the main concern of kids is to score well for the PSLE or to get into an IP school, I would say the GEP doesn’t make a giant difference. Tying back to the slippery slope argument earlier, I will admit that GEP has made my life a lot smoother. I approached the PSLE with less pressure to do well, went straight into IP, and didn’t have to worry over O Levels at all. But this also means that for me, I had never been in a high stake examination until the A Levels. And that’s a little bit of a disadvantage.

There are also other aspects that people don’t usually talk about, regarding the psychological impact beyond the material advantages and drawbacks. In general, being in the GEP improves confidence. Teachers know that kids may feel lost when thrown into a group of kids where everyone used to top their class, and there’s a lot of emphasis on our potential at the beginning. Then later they also try very hard to keep us grounded by telling us just because we were ‘smart’ doesn’t mean we’ll do well for exams. It’s a delicate balance. In general though, when people keep telling you that you’re smart, you tend to believe it. It helps for confidence, but it’s also not the best attitude to instil in students. We’re rewarded for our potential, not so much our effort, and with that breeds entitlement.

There’s also the thing of exclusivity. In general, I had some mainstream friends but not a lot. The only classes we shared with other classes were mother tongue, art and PE, and where we did share, it was with the ‘best’ mainstream classes in school. Not the best integration if you ask me. A more extreme incident I experienced was this kid who I vaguely knew passing me by and calling me crazy. I had no idea what had happened and was just bewildered honestly. But this is probably just rare events and with better integration these days these things shouldn’t happen. I’ll admit though, that it was only much later that I got rid of the exclusive mindset and stopped questioning who was in GEP and who wasn’t. Now I generally treat it as a good experience I had, but not something that defines anyone.

As you can tell, I’m not very good at being succinct, but if I were to try summarizing this entire journey and my takeaways, I would say a few things:

1. Preparation is helpful, but not in the way you might think it is

2. Those who get in should debate on what they are best suited for

3. GEP isn’t some elusive magical programme that’s the key to education, it’s very valuable but has a few drawbacks as well

4. Maintaining a positive attitude whether you get in or not. I know very intelligent people who’re not in GEP, and I also know that often effort matters more than potential.

Previous: Part 1: Early education

Next: Part 2.5: PSLE

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