This is the second of a trilogy of posts about gifted education in Singapore.
Part 1 reviewed the historical background: the gradual expansion and refinement of provision for highly able learners in this small South-East Asian educational powerhouse. It also examined the Singapore Government’s rationale for investing so heavily in their development.
But the bulk of the post is dedicated to a blow-by-blow description of the various strands of gifted education available to learners in the country’s primary and secondary schools.
It concludes with a section about professional development for educators working with gifted learners in Singapore.
As with Part 1, my primary source has been the Ministry of Education’s gifted education pages, but I have supplemented this with all other material available online with a view to providing a thorough and objective assessment.
Selection for the Primary GEP
The Ministry’s website offers a broad definition of giftedness to explain how the GEP and subsequent school-based gifted education (SBGE) fits alongside other elements of provision:
‘The term “gifted” is used to include many kinds of strengths. However, there are a few broad areas in which giftedness can show itself. They are intellectual ability, leadership ability, talent in art and music, and psychomotor ability. The GEP, as well as School-Based Gifted Education programmes offered by Integrated Programmes (IP) schools at the secondary level, cater for the intellectually gifted.
There are concurrent programmes such as the Music Elective Programme and the Art Elective Programme which cater to the needs of the musically and artistically gifted respectively.’
So the GEP is exclusively for those deemed ‘intellectually gifted’, though there are presumably some students gifted in more than one field who must choose between the GEP and these other options – there is no scope to pursue two strengths simultaneously. And, as we shall see, there is now a wider range of other options, extending well beyond the Music and Art Electives.
The GEP cohort is officially 1% of the national pupil population – around 500 pupils are currently admitted annually, at the beginning of Primary 4, on the basis of tests taken at the end of the previous year. The testing process is designed to identify pupils with what the Ministry calls ‘high intellectual ability and potential’, as opposed to high attainment.
There is an initial screening test comprising English language and maths papers. This is used to identify a field of around 4,000 pupils (so some 8% of the national population) who compete to join the GEP.
They are eligible to enter a selection test consisting of English language, maths and general ability papers. (The latter is described as ‘a locally developed test to assess the abstract reasoning ability of the pupil’.) There is no set pass-mark. Success depends on being amongst the top 500 in the appropriate competition.
One reliable online source – presumably located within the Ministry’s Gifted Education Branch – adds the interesting detail that an age adjustment was introduced into the identification process in 1997 when it was discovered that, from 1991-1995 successful pupils were relatively more likely to be born in the first three months of the year and much less likely to be born at the year end.
This source also reveals that the take-up rate amongst successful candidates varied between 90% and 95% during the first 15 years of the GEP, from 1984 to 1998. Interestingly:
‘The 2 most commonly cited reasons given by parents for declining the invitation to join the programme were fear of heavy workload and stress in the GEP and reluctance to have their children leave the school where their children were doing well and happy to join a ‘new’ school – the GEP centre.’
How Susceptible are These Tests to Coaching?
The Ministry advises parents (the emphasis is mine):
‘not to prepare their children for the Screening and the Selection Tests. No test/assessment books have been prepared by the MOE for such a purpose. The GEP Screening Test and Selection Test are based on what all pupils should have been taught by Primary 3 in our schools…
We have no evidence that schools are preparing their pupils for the GEP Screening and Selection Tests. The questions for the selection of pupils for the GEP are not accessible to the schools. Also, the test items are not the same from year to year.’
This rather defensive statement appears directly to contradict the earlier statement that the tests are designed to locate high ability and potential rather than existing high attainment. If the tests are based on what pupils have been taught, they must relate to a defined range of knowledge, understanding and skills. As such, they must be coachable.
On the other hand, it is hard to understand how a test of ‘abstract reasoning ability’ can be ‘based on what all pupils should have been taught…’ There is a fundamental contradiction here..
It would appear that the tests are a mixed bag. Those based on what children have been taught (ie the entire screening test and two-thirds of the selection test) will be relatively more susceptible to revision and cramming that will help candidates to boost their scores. The abstract reasoning test will be harder to coach, though practice in answering similar questions may improve performance at the margins.
The Ministry seems at pains to convince parents that primary schools are not preparing pupils for these tests – presumably to dissuade them from putting pressure on their children’s teachers to do so. But, if the schools do not offer preparation, the private sector will be sure to exploit the opportunity this creates.
And it doesn’t take much effort to uncover extensive online reference to GEP ‘training schools’ and ‘preparatory courses’. An article from the Straits Times of October 28 2007 illustrates the kind of provision available as well as the nature of the debate about its value.
At least three private learning centres and ‘a handful of private tutors’ are reported to be offering preparatory classes costing up to 1,500 Singapore dollars (about £750) for an eight-hour course.
‘Experts will say that giftedness cannot be taught and these centres are merely training kids to be ‘exam smart’ in preparing for the GEP tests.
Private tutor Kelvin Ong, who said that he was a former GEP teacher, is unapologetic about his coaching courses.
‘You expose them to the type of questions they’ll be tested on. Then they won’t freak out. It’s about being exam smart,’ said Mr Ong, who gives his pupils past papers to practise on. As a GEP teacher, he used to invigilate the screening tests.
He coaches his pupils – whom he charges between $250 and $400 per two-hour lesson – throughout the year in English Language and Mathematics and is ‘very focused in getting them through the tests’.
‘If you’re willing to pay, that’s the objective you’ll meet,’ he said, adding that he screened the children before deciding if he would accept them.
He claimed that all 10 pupils he coached this year got through the first round of the GEP screening….
Mr Morris Allen, who teaches a two-week GEP prep class every June, exposes the kids to all sorts of IQ puzzles – words, pictures, numbers – to prepare them for the General Ability paper, which tests their problem-solving aptitude.
He also teaches them about time management, so that they do not panic and stumble or waste too much time on questions they cannot answer.
Of the 22 pupils he had last June, almost all got through to the second round. Eleven of them returned three weeks ago for a revision course.
He charges $30 an hour for the 20-hour course.
‘It’s just familiarising them with the unfamiliar,’ said Mr Allen, who sources cognitive ability tests from other countries for his pupils to practise on. He has been running his centres for 15 years.’
The Ministry spokesman responds:
‘Giftedness cannot be trained and preparatory classes cannot enable a child to perform at a level beyond his capacity…By sending their children to these prep classes, parents may actually be doing more harm than good, since a child who gains admission into the GEP through intensive coaching may not be able to cope with the programme’s demands….
But the story (indeed the Ministry itself) rather contradicts this latter argument a little further on:
‘While there have been cases of children who have asked to leave the GEP for various reasons, those who do because they cannot cope with the enriched curriculum are ‘very few’, said the ministry.’
Educators suggest that pupils’ time would be better spent developing a wider range of abilities and interests, and a psychologist warns of the added pressure and stress generated by such courses.
The debate is heavily redolent of the positions taken by advocates and opponents of academic selection here in England.
Supporters of coaching are keen to buy their children every chance of success through extensive practice, which has at least a marginal effect on test performance even if the tests are not directly coachable.
They may argue that heavily-coached learners are demonstrating the drive and commitment to succeed in an academically competitive environment (and could, if they wished, draw on some research evidence that calls into question the Ministry’s assertion that ‘giftedness cannot be trained’.)
Opponents point out the limited impact of such practice on performance and may suggest that candidates who succeed through coaching are likely to struggle in the company of more naturally able peers. (But we know that few GEP participants drop out because they cannot manage the academic demands. The highly selective nature of the programme means that all successful candidates will be relatively high attaining.)
One can reasonably hypothesise that some relatively late developers will be overlooked at the expense of their more precocious peers; also that each successful candidate will depend on a slightly different blend of innate ability on one hand – and personal drive and commitment on the other. These two factors will to some extent compensate for each other.
But opponents will also argue that – to the extent that coaching does benefit candidates – those benefits are only accessible to families that can afford the cost. This further increases the probability that programmes will be disproportionately dominated by those from relatively advantaged backgrounds.
I have been unable to uncover any information about the socio-economic background of GEP participants, but it is highly likely that advantaged learners will be over-represented. There is apparently no effort made to counterbalance the impact of home background on success in the selection tests.
In short, there is clearly an extensive coaching industry in Singapore linked to GEP entry, which is likely to further advantage the higher socio-economic groups who will already be over-represented within the Programme.
It would be fascinating to see the data…
The Primary GEP Experience
There are nine schools offering the primary GEP:
Two are boys’ schools, one is a girls’ school and the remainder are co-educational. Part 3 of this post will take a closer look at how some of these schools implement the GEP.
Each school hosts 2-4 GEP classes in Primary 4, 5 and 6. In total there are 23 classes in Primary 4 and 5 and 22 in Primary 6. The average class size is 25 pupils (significantly lower than comparable mainstream classes).
Pupils admitted into the GEP may already attend the school in question, but can attend any school running the Programme provided there is a space. If GEP classes at a particular school are oversubscribed, additional criteria determine priority for admission, including the school’s proximity to home.
The Ministry says that the GEP is ‘essentially the same’ in all nine schools, because Gifted Education Branch works with teachers on curriculum development and also ensures that comparable standards are applied. There are, however, differences in ethos which will impact to some extent on the nature of the GEP.
GEP participants benefit from an ‘enriched curriculum’ which, while based on Singapore’s national curriculum, is ‘pitched to challenge and stretch’ them and offers ‘individualised…attention’. Enrichment is provided through four familiar dimensions:
- Content enrichment developing the standard syllabus by incorporating a greater breadth of material, studying standard material in greater depth and ‘covering more advanced topics wherever necessary’. The course develops inter-disciplinary connections and supports real-life problem-solving.
- Process enrichment through the development of higher level thinking, research and study skills, opportunities for experiential learning and group activities and support for different learning styles through a variegated pedagogy.
- Product enrichment through presentation of outcomes and creative expression.
- A learning environment that is stimulating yet supportive, encouraging risk-taking, and encompasses a suite of out-of-school learning experiences.
One element is Individualised Study Options (formerly known as Individualised Research Study). GEP participants in Primary 4-5 typically complete an independent research project reflecting an area of personal interest. This tackles a ‘real-life’ problem and is designed to develop research, analysis and communication skills.
But other approved options are now available and some pupils pursue externally-provided opportunities such as Odyssey of the Mind and Future Problem Solving.
A teacher-mentor works with a small group of pupils. The work is not graded but entered instead for an annual exhibition.
The standard out-of-school activities are outlined on the Ministry website.
Primary 4 pupils analyse traffic statistics and plan a class party within a fixed budget. There is also a mandarin poetry-writing and recitation competition for GEP and non-GEP pupils alike.
In Primary 5, there is also a Mandarin language camp, again for GEP and non-GEP pupils, a creative writing and performing arts programme, a 3-day maths masterclass for those with exceptional ability and also a maths trail focused on solving real-life problems.
Primary 6 provides opportunities to attend a series of weekly advanced maths enrichment classes (also for those with exceptional ability), a maths exploration day and a physics session including demonstrations and hands-on activities.
Progress throughout the GEP is continually assessed. Common assessments are used across all nine participating schools and test content knowledge as well as critical and creative thinking abilities.
If a pupil cannot cope with the demands of the course, his parents are invited to discuss his progress with Gifted Education Branch staff to decide whether or not he should be withdrawn. (It is implicit therefore that other solutions may be possible, even desriable – we know that very few learners drop out of the GEP in practice.)
At the end of Primary 6, GEP participants enter the common PLSE examination. Progression on to School-Based Gifted Education in the secondary sector depends on their PLSE performance, their GEP performance, ‘including a pass in Social Studies’ and ‘attitude towards work and the enrichment programme’.
Some 99% successfully make this transfer however, suggesting that only a tiny minority move into an independent school outwith the GEP, or transfer to a school abroad.
Programmes for High Ability Learners
Gifted Education Branch also offers enrichment activities for primary pupils outside the GEP. These Programmes for High-Ability Learners, designed for the top 2-5% of the school population in each subject, but confined to English language, maths and science. One source suggests that participants are selected by schools on the basis of checklists rather than via a testing regime.
The offer seems fairly limited at present, by comparison with the intensive year-round GEP. The programmes in English include:
- The National Spelling Championship for Primary 4-6
- An inter-school debating competition for Primary 5-6 and
- A Creative Arts Programme for Primary 5 for those with an aptitude for an interest in creative writing.
The maths and science programmes comprise:
- A Primary Maths Project Competition to stimulate innovative and creative mathematics. There are separate elements for Primary 4 (submitting a poster or report) and Primary 5 (designing and submitting a game)
- A Maths Exploration Day for Primary 6 pupils encouraging them to explore and apply their mathematical knowledge
- A Science Carnival offering workshops and activities to Primary 4 pupils and
- A Maths Trail – a team problem-solving competition for those in Primary 5
Perhaps this provision is scheduled for significant expansion in the years ahead, or perhaps it will remain relatively undeveloped. One might reasonably expect online options to be introduced before too long, so making it easier to offer a significantly wider range of learning experiences across a wider range of subjects, should this be deemed a priority by the Government.
As for former students, there is a GEP Alumni Association although the website is now rather out of date, suggesting that it may not be thriving.
The Parliamentary Secretary (Education) spoke at its launch in 2004:
‘From what I hear, the response by alumni to the Association has been most heartening. The GEP Alumni Association was registered as a society on 5 January this year. Already, a few hundred alumni have signed on as members. Many more are expected to do so in the coming months.
The GEP Alumni Association has been set up to accomplish several aims. One of them is to raise the public’s awareness of Gifted Education in Singapore. Another aim is help the alumni stay in contact with one another. Yet another, a noble one, is to explore opportunities for the alumni to contribute to the community. According to a Chinese proverb, when one drinks water, one should look to its source in appreciative gratitude. We should remember and keep in mind those who have helped to nurture us. In the same way, the ex-GEP pupils desire to give something back to society, a society which has acknowledged the importance of catering to the needs of the intellectually gifted by providing programmes to support intellectual development in their crucial years of growth.’
The Secondary SBGE Experience
The Ministry’s gifted education pages suggest that School-Based Gifted Education (SBGE) is only available within the Integrated Programmes offered by seven schools. SBGE is partly devolved to institutional level, in that it is ‘designed and implemented by the schools with specialist advice from the Gifted Education Branch’.
The schools involved are:
- Anglo-Chinese School (Independent)
- Dunman High School
- Hwa Chong Institution
- Nanyang Girls’ High School
- NUS High School of Maths and Science
- Raffles Girls’ School (Secondary)
- Raffles Institution
As with primary GEP, we will take a closer look at provision in a sample of these school in part 3 of the post.
Four further schools offer the IP without SBGE and the Ministry says another seven schools ‘will offer the IP in the near future’ but does not give a date and does not specify whether they will also offer SBGE.
It is important not to exclude these other IP schools from consideration as they too fall under the purview of Gifted Education Branch. An article in a May 2011 Newsletter notes:
‘The Gifted Education Branch, MOE, will help the new IP schools build their capacity, through teacher training and consultancy, as well as advise on curricular framework, programming and student assessment. This is in line with the Branch’s mission to provide leadership in the education of the intellectually gifted, and to nurture gifted and talented individuals to their full potential.’
The core curriculum for SBGE is described as ‘rigorous and differentiated’. Schools typically offer additional optional subjects – electives – such as philosophy, research education, information and communication studies and integrated humanities.
The typical class size is given as 25-30.SBGE students are typically grouped together in a class with a minority of IP students who did not undertake the primary GEP.
The Ministry refers to support for gifted learners’ social and emotional needs. Counselling is provided by the schools and also by counsellors attached to Gifted Education Branch.
There is little further information about the structure and content of IP SGBE at a generic level – one must turn to the schools’ websites to find out more about the programme on offer in each institution, and these are significantly different as we shall see.
Additional Enrichment at Secondary Level
SBGE within the IP is clearly a direct descendant of the GEP (apologies for the embarrassment of acronyms) in that it is designed for academic all-rounders. But the in-school provision is complemented by three centrally-organised and subject-specific out-of-school activities:
- A maths enrichment workshop – a two-day non-residential activity for mathematically talented SBGE pupils in Secondary 2 covering areas of maths not normally addressed within the school syllabus;
- A maths seminar – a half-day event for SBGE participants comprising lectures on maths not normally encountered beforel higher education; and
- A literature seminar – the format varies but is designed for SGBE participants in Secondary 2-3 with an interest in – and aptitude for – literature and writing.
There is also an extensive range of what are called Special Programmes. These are subject-specific ‘extensions of the enriched curriculum’ designed to:
‘identify and reach out to motivated and high-ability pupils in a specific domain, and offer them opportunities to deepen their interest in the field and to learn from practising professionals and academics.’
Such programmes typically incorporate a mentoring relationship and are developed and run by Gifted Education Branch as collaborative ventures with higher education, business or community partners. The Ministry website lists nine options.
Science-based activities are typically open to participants who are not undertaking SBGE as well as those who are:
- Creative and Heuristic Applications of Science (CHAOS) – a team-based online science competition for Secondary 1-4 to develop creative and critical thinking skills in problem-solving.
- Science Mentorship Programmes in which Secondary 2-3 students undertake science-based projects with the guidance of a teacher or university-based mentor. Participants write a paper for presentation at an annual Youth Science Conference.
- A Science Research Programme intended for students with an aptitude for scientific research in the first year of Junior College or Year 5 of an IP course. Participants undertake university-based research projects over an extended period. About 130 annually will pursue an initial Research Methods learning module and 100 of these will proceed on the basis of an approved research plan.
- Science Focus – again for first year Junior College and Year 5 IP students – a 4-day programme of lectures, demonstrations and workshops covering physical, biological and pharmaceutical science, as well as IT and engineering.
Humanities-based activities are more typically confined to SBGE participants:
- A Creative Arts Programme for creative writers in Secondary 2-3, Year 5 of IP and the first year of Junior College. This comprises a seminar and – for selected participants – a 9-month mentorship.
- A Humanities and Social Science Research Programme, for SBGE participants in Secondary 3-4, which involves a research project guided by a university-based mentor, a symposium at which selected findings are presented and subsequent publication of the best research papers.
- A Moot Parliament, again for SBGE participants in Secondary 3-4. The first phase is built around attendance at a Parliamentary debate; the second gives teams of pupils an opportunity to draft and debate their own bills.
- A Leadership Development Programme for SBGE participants in Secondary 3-4 who show leadership potential and have completed initial leadership training sessions. A half-day seminar is followed by an 8-month attachment to a mentor and a final symposium, in which participants present their experience to those considering the programme for the following year.
There is also a cross-phase Innovation Programme, open to pupils in Primary 5 and Secondary 2 ‘in selected schools who have an interest in innovation and invention’. This runs from January to October each year and involves developing an innovative idea or product, ending with a fair at which the most promising projects are presented. All projects are stored on a dedicated website.
Standing alongside this provision is a separate entity called NUS-MOE Humanities and Social Sciences Research, for A level students ‘with outstanding aptitude and ability’ in either Chinese language and literature, Malay language and literature, English literature, economics, geography or history.
Participants undertake independent study and research under the supervision of university staff. This provides the basis for an extended essay assessed as part of the A level examination. Interestingly, the 2012 offer excludes English, Malay and geography, suggesting that suitable university staff may be in short supply.
Whereas this additional enrichment provision is targeted primarily at those following SBGE, there are also several in-school opportunities for those in the mainstream with strength in a particular subject domain.
Secondary Electives in Art, Music and Languages
A Music Elective Programme was introduced as long ago as 1982, so predates the GEP. It is open to:
‘academically able students with talent in music at selected secondary schools with special and express courses and selected junior colleges’.
It is offered in a dozen institutions which, between them, offer a range of options including O level, 4-year and 6-year IP courses, and 2-year Junior College courses for IP and non-IP students alike. Non-IP participants typically take O level music at higher level. IP participants typically offer music as an A level or an IB subject.
Up to ten scholarships of 1,000 Singapore dollars are available annually. Participants have access to out-of school activities including a music camp, and composer-led workshops and masterclasses.
An Art Elective Programme was introduced two years later in 1984. The target group is similarly defined (except of course that talent must be in art). It is available at six institutions, offering higher level O level or A level. Scholarships of 1,000 Singapore dollars are available to those at junior college.
Participants have access to fully-equipped studios and the usual range of enrichment opportunities.
The declared aim of both these options is to:
‘Stretch these students’ talents…and to develop individuals who would be able to provide leadership favourable to the cultivation of the arts in Singapore.’
The Language Elective Programme is a slightly different animal, being a 2-year option offered only at selected Junior Colleges. It provides the opportunity for students to offer the LEP as a fourth A level subject and is available in Chinese, Malay, French, German and Japanese.
The Chinese LEP is offered at five institutions. Participants can write research papers and take undergraduate modules that attract credit at Singapore universities. They can also access additional enrichment activities, including an immersion course in China or Taiwan. Outstanding students can win scholarships worth 1,000 Singapore Dollars annually, plus exemption from school fees. The offer in other languages is broadly similar.
Rather confusingly, there is also separate provision for secondary students who score in the top 10% of the PLSE and ‘have a natural ability to learn a foreign language, in addition to English and Mother Tongue’ to study a third language from Secondary 1, culminating in O level French, German, Japanese, Malay, Bahasa Indonesia or Arabic. These courses are provided by a Language Centre which is part of the Ministry of Education.
Even more confusingly, some schools and junior colleges also offer additional electives in drama, languages and the humanities.
Provision for Exceptionally Gifted Learners
Although there is no distinct programme for exceptionally gifted learners, the Ministry’s website provides extensive coverage of how the system responds to their needs.
The definition offered is imprecise:
‘An exceptionally gifted child is one whose intellectual ability is significantly advanced’
but is supported by an extended checklist of ‘common characteristics’.
Provision and support is governed by an interesting set of core principles:
- these children should be in the Singapore school system
- they should receive a well-rounded education. (Cognitive development should not be achieved at the expense of development in the moral, social, physical and aesthetic domains)
- the recommended interventions should be made within the constraints of existing resources.
The first may imply that the Government will not support home-educated pupils and/or that there is no necessity for them to be educated outside Singapore. The second is a fairly standard statement of opposition to ‘hothousing’.
The third’s reference to resource constraints is faintly ironic given the huge sums that Singapore must invest in gifted education more generally, but may be intended to lower parents’ expectations of what can be provided to meet individual needs. Since the text offers the estimate that perhaps three in every 100,000 children meet the criteria, such support is unlikely to break the bank!
However, the website lists a series of possible interventions for such learners including self-paced instruction, online courses, mentoring, subject acceleration, early admission to primary school, level skipping (up to a maximum of four levels) and dual enrolment.
‘Once a child is identified as exceptionally gifted, a team comprising the child, teacher(s), school leader(s), parents and officers in GE Branch is formed. The team draws up a Personalised Education Plan (PEP) for the child. Each PEP will take into account the child’s readiness for faster academic progression, as well as his/her social emotional development. The PEP is reviewed at the end of every semester.’
Interestingly, while it is clear that the Branch will intervene to support dual enrolment, they are somewhat less supportive of early entry to public examinations:
‘Students are discouraged from taking these exams earlier if the sole purpose is to reduce the number of subjects they would have to do at a later date.’
Presumably early entry is deemed more acceptable if new, additional subjects are substituted for those completed, so exceptionally gifted learners are expected to accumulate a wider than usual range of O levels and/or A levels
A secondary source comments:
‘Traditionally, gifted education in Singapore has been based on enrichment, not acceleration. However, there is increasing recognition that the enriched GEP curriculum is not able to meet the needs of the few exceptionally gifted children who are years ahead of the moderately gifted. Hence, a framework was developed to help these exceptional children. While adhering to the general policy of non-acceleration, exceptions are made for the exceptionally gifted who are assessed to need, and can benefit from acceleration. Each child had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), developed by a team comprising the child’s “significant others”: parent, teacher, counsellor and gifted education specialist. A handful of these children are also given opportunities to learn with like-minded peers, and where appropriate, mentored by university professors. Local universities are open to early admission of these children, where appropriate.’
The GEP has received significant criticism of its provision for exceptionally gifted learners. In an extended series of blog posts narrating his encounters with Gifted Education Branch, Valentine Cawley, father of Aidan, gives the impression of an institution that is insufficiently flexible to respond to the individual needs of gifted learners and negotiate appropriate support with their parents.
In 2010, Aidan Cawley moved to Malaysia to continue his education ‘because Singapore was not supporting his education adequately’. The blog continues, however.
In April 2009 a Parliamentary Question was asked about provision for exceptionally gifted students. The answer revealed that since 2000, fewer than 20 students had been identified as exceptionally gifted.
This question is almost certain to have been prompted by the case of Aidan Cawley since a follow-up question is about whether such students have gone overseas for their education.
There is surprisingly little information on the Ministry’s website about teacher development and support. The historical section contains a reference to the development of various courses for primary teachers, but there are few if any details provided.
A separate Gifted Education Branch presentation on the maths curriculum for primary GEP participants explains that teachers are still selected by the Branch on the basis of their qualifications, the quality of their classroom teaching – assessed through a lesson observation conducted by the Ministry’s Curriculum Officers – and an interview.
All GEP teachers complete a pre-entry foundation course in gifted education as well as modules on curriculum differentiation and affective education during their first two years within the Programme. All new teachers are mentored by curriculum specialists from Gifted Education Branch and during their first two years they are observed at least twice per year. All attend regular workshops on pedagogy, assessment and student motivation.
GEP teachers have relatively fewer teaching periods than their peers because they are expected to need more time for lesson preparation and pupil support.
Separate training is provided for teachers providing High Ability programmes.
Secondary schools recruit their own teaching staff for SBGE but the Branch provides an annual training programme on the theory and practice of gifted education, as well as subject-specific workshops for all IP teachers.
At least in 2004, there was also a degree of wider involvement as the Minister’s 20th anniversary speech reveals:
‘The GEP has also been actively involved in sharing its pedagogies with mainstream teachers. In particular, two programmes, the Enriched Curriculum for Bright Pupils and Strategies to Optimise Learning, were conducted from 1998 to 2002 to share strategies suitable for the highly able with over 900 primary and secondary teachers from 45 schools.’
An item in a 2007 World Council Newsletter mentions that Gifted Education Branch is working with Singapore’s National Institute of Education to introduce a range of professional development courses to equip teachers to undertake SBGE. It adds that the NIE introduced a Masters in Education (Med) degree with specialisation in gifted education in January 2007.
The NIE Website currently contains details of a Certificate in Teaching Pupils with High Ability, an Advanced Diploma and the MEd.
The Certificate is open to qualified teachers, whether or not they hold a degree. The course objective is to:
‘Equip in-service teachers (primary and secondary; in mainstream and in IP schools) with an understanding of the needs of High Ability learners and with practical knowledge of appropriate pedagogy and programming options that would meet these needs.’
It comprises four modules, each of which is equivalent to two Academic Units and involves 24 hours of study. It can be counted towards completion of the Advanced Diploma and specific modules of the MEd.
Candidates can claim exemption from modules within the Certificate if they have completed ‘courses in the teaching of high ability learners during their basic teacher education programme in the past 5 years’ or ‘the 3 foundational courses on gifted education conducted by Gifted Education Branch’.
The four modules together:
‘are designed to equip teachers with a good understanding of the needs of High Ability learners and a pedagogic repertoire for meeting those needs. The modules will aim to provide necessary theoretical and practical frameworks that will enable teachers, Heads of Departments and Subject Heads to make sound decisions for curricular and instructional differentiation in their classrooms and for enrichment programming in their schools.’
- Understanding and providing for learners with high ability – covering the historical and philosophical background of gifted education;
- Curriculum for highly able learners – enabling teachers to differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of highly able learners;
- Programming for talent development – providing guidance for designing talent development programmes;
- A practicum – involving the design and delivery of differentiated lessons or a school-based enrichment programme.
The Advanced Diploma is accessible to qualified teachers with a Diploma in Education or equivalent. Partial exemptions are available on the same basis as within the Certificate programme.
Course objectives are to:
- ‘Understand the major historical, philosophical and theoretical bases of gifted education.
- Understand the nature and needs of highly able learners.
- Develop a differentiated curriculum to meet the unique intellectual and social-emotional needs of highly able learners.
- Select, develop and evaluate teaching materials and methods to differentiate instruction for highly able learners.
- Conduct school-based action research in the area of educating the highly able.’
The course consists of five core courses (11 Academic Units) and a choice of elective courses equivalent to at least 9 Academic Units.
The courses include the four within the Certificate programme plus:
- School-based Action Research – research methods and planning and implementing a research study or school-based project;
- Language Arts and Social Studies for the Highly Able – curriculum development in these areas;
- Science and Mathematics for the Highly Able – ditto;
- Teaching Thinking Skills – including theories and research on cognition, metacognition and thinking process and development of associated teaching units;
- Creativity and Problem-Solving – the dimensions of creativity and development of associated teaching units;
The MEd entry requirements are a first degree, a teaching qualification and at least one year’s teaching experience or at least three years’ teaching experience or other relevant educational work experience.
The MEd consists of:
Two core courses: Educational Enquiry 1 and 2
Two compulsory specialisation courses: Differentiated Pedagogies for High Ability Learners and Understanding High Ability Learners
Three elective specialisation courses, selected from:
- Affective Needs and Moral Development of the Gifted;
- Identification of Potential and Interventions for Talent Development;
- Critical and Creative Thinking for High Ability Learners;
- Issues, Policies and Trends in Gifted Education;
- Administration and Evaluation of Programmes for High Ability Learners and Talent Development
One open elective course and either a dissertation or two further courses (Critical Enquiry and a second open elective). Open elective courses are generic modules offered for all Masters courses.
The website carries two editions of a Gifted Education Newsletter intended for staff in schools amongst others. One is dated May 2011, the other November 2011. Presumably this will continue to be published twice a year, so the third edition is imminent.
That marks the end of the second leg of this trilogy. Part 3 will concentrate on how gifted education is provided within selected primary GEP, secondary SBGE and independent Specialised Schools. It will conclude with an overall assessment of gifted education in Singapore, including evidence of its impact and how it has been received by Singaporeans.