GEP and Elitism
GEP, the well-known contraction for ‘Gifted Education Programme’, has been a topic of debate ever since it was established over twenty years ago. The overseeing authority, the Gifted Education Branch of the Ministry of Education, has been de-established as of last year, heralding a new era in Gifted Education – school-based Gifted Education.
Gifted Education and elitism have been closely linked, and GEP students are often the victims of fierce attacks by the public. One of the reasons must be all too obvious – GEP students are clearly a privileged and elite class of students comprising a mere top one percent of each cohort, and their special programme planned and overseen closely by a dedicated branch of the Ministry must have drawn much jealousy and hatred towards them. How different are GEP pupils from others, in the way they think and behave? Let us take a closer look.
To call GEP students elitist is definitely too much of a hasty generalization, but it is a fact that GEP students are generally proud to be in the GEP, and show it through their self-confidence in daily life. Being members of a privileged class, such an attitude is not unexpected. It must be noted that while the vast majority of GEP pupils do not perceive themselves as superior as compared to their counterparts in other streams, but a sense of difference is keenly felt universally.
Some traits that distinguish GEP pupils include their higher mental acuity, better oratorical and debating skills, greater competitiveness and eccentricity. Indeed, within the small GEP community, it is possible to find a very diverse community with eclectic tastes and interests. GEP students in general celebrate diversity and are more resistant to peer pressure, making every individual unique and very much so in every sense of the word. GEP pupils are well-known for being argumentative; it is hard to persuade one without first being forced to defend your stand and argument, and it is this trait that makes interaction with other students who are not quite so oratorical less comfortable and natural. GEP students do tend to form close-knit groups, and the vast majority has close friends within the GEP only. Their relative isolation, coupled with distinctive characteristics and privileged treatment, has sparked the resentment and suspicion of many.
Indeed, it is their isolation and mental superiority (which is reflected in their attitudes, mindsets and judgement) that creates an image of elitism amongst GEP pupils. They may seem arrogant while actually being earnest, condescending while merely indifferent, and aggressive while just passionate. GEP students tend to wed their ideas faithfully, which makes any intellectual argument which challenges their ideas and beliefs seem akin to a physical fight. To the GEP students, however, arguing and debating are part and parcel of life, and an effective way of learning beyond the classroom. Unfortunately, this does make them seem unusually aggressive and haughty to the untrained observer.
Perhaps the greatest justification for calling GEP students elitist lies in the attitude of GEP students towards stratification of students by academic ability in the system. GEP students generally believe that there exists a need for separate classes in the educational system, just as a society comprises a higher class, the middle class and the lower class. GEP students believe that people are not born equal intellectually and should hence accept their fate in life and seek to excel in the field they are best at. While some believe this is a manifestation of elitism, I beg to differ. Such inherent attitudes in GEP students are a result of greater intellectual capability, and are a realization of a true nature of society. This must not be confused with elitism.
In actual fact, despite their distinct characteristics, GEP students do suffer from the same teenage woes, indulge in similar interests such as gaming like their counterparts, and complain incessantly in a similar fashion. Ultimately, it is important to remember that GEP or not, they are all students after all.
As the aims of the GEP included the nurturing of talent for the future of Singapore, the achievements of GEP pupils after leaving school are not to be missed either. Many former GEP pupils go on to become professionals, civil servants, and teachers. While they quietly blend into society, the impacts of an education under the GEP manifest in them today still, as so many go on to be experts and luminaries in their respective fields.
While the national, institutionalized Gifted Education has since disappeared from Singapore, its principles and ideals will perpetuate in elite schools that offer the Integrated Programme. After making its footprint on the educational landscape of Singapore, gifted education, and its pupils are simply not going to disappear quietly into the sands of time.