11 October 2006

Tharman's Thinking

The Gifted Enrichment Programme is dead. I had missed this bit of news earlier. If you look at other recent changes to the education system, like this, this and this, you can pretty much get a sense of where Education Minister Tharman is headed.

He doesn't like streaming, and furthermore he wants a system where students have more options to pursue what they're really interested in and feel they have the natural ability for. To put it another way, he doesn't want students to be penalised for what they're bad at, but to be judged on what they're best at.

I tend to agree with Tharman's philosophy. Who knows, perhaps these sorts of changes will be more effective than PM Lee's baby bonuses in encouraging Singaporeans to have children. Many Singaporeans avoid having kids precisely because they don't want to make their kids suffer through our local school system.

Gifted kids to take 'integrated' path

TODAY Thursday • September 21, 2006

Loh Chee Kong

IN TWO years' time, the much-debated Gifted Education Programme (GEP) will quietly fade away from secondary schools.

In its place, the Ministry of Education (MOE) wants GEP students to join schools offering the six-year Integrated Programme (IP). This means that GEP students, who are identified in Primary 3, will no longer march to a different beat in secondary school. Instead, they will follow the same curriculum as other bright students who are picked for the IP when they are on the verge of leaving primary school.

In a circular issued on Monday, MOE informed the parents of GEP students in Primary 4 and 5 that it would no longer offer a centralised gifted programme at the secondary school level. The parents of the current batch of Pri 6 pupils were informed in April that they would be the last cohort to be offered the programme, MOE's deputy director of its Gifted Education Branch, Dr Tan Bee Geok, told Today.

There had been criticism that the 22-year-old GEP programme was "elitist". But Dr Tan stressed that the latest move was merely recognition of the fact that more secondary schools were now offering innovative programmes to develop talented students.

Dr Tan said: "We are just informing the parents in advance not to choose the O-level track. This group is so able that it doesn't need to take O levels. And most of the students which GEP schools would have taken in at the Sec 1 supplementary intake would now choose to enrol in the IP anyway."

Each year, some 500 students — or the top 1 per cent of each cohort — are selected in Primary Three to join the GEP. These students could go on to a centralised MOE programme in secondary schools.

But Dr Tan said that the landscape has changed since the IP – a six-year-programme that starts in Sec 1, with students skipping their O levels — was introduced in 2004. Then, four out of five "gifted" students picked this programme over the four-year GEP course, said the MOE. The number fell further this year, with only 13 students opting to stay in the GEP over the IP.

The IP, the new favourite, embraces some 2,000 students in 12 schools, including Raffles Institution, River Valley High, Dunman High and the National University of Singapore High School.

In contrast, only Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), Dunman High and Nanyang Girls' High now offer MOE's GEP.

Noting that most of its former GEP secondary schools are now IP schools, the ministry said in the circular: "With such a small enrolment, it is not possible for the MOE to continue to run the secondary school GEP."

GEP students who wish to take their O levels can still do so in "schools with school-based special programmes that nurture pupils who have special aptitudes and talents", the circular said. Examples of these schools include ACS (Independent), St Joseph Institution, Methodist Girls' School and Catholic High School, said Dr Tan.

And although the GEP students would follow the same curriculum as other "very bright students", they would continue to be developed at these secondary schools, which would increase in number as Singapore creates a diverse education landscape, said she added.

Dunman High School principal Sng Chern Wei told Today that his school was looking to implement enrichment programmes which would allow both GEP students and non-GEP students "who are talented in some subjects" to work together.

Said Mr Sng: "It makes sense for the gifted children to opt for the IP because they can be exempted from the O levels and benefit from a more seamless process.

"The approach is definitely moving toward one where the gifted education model is realigned to provide more opportunities that will allow talented students who fall outside the GEP to benefit, and which will also allow our GEP students to have more opportunities to interact with students who come from a non-GEP background."
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En and Hou said...

Gifted Education Programme, not Gifted Enrichment Programme.


Anonymous said...

If you want to connect to the youth of today, improving the education system to account for their needs, making education more "meaningful" and less stressful, and acting on decades-old complaints (such as streaming and Chinese language issues) is one HUGE positive step in the right direction.

Certainly better than hip-hop.

Tharman is on a roll! I always thought highly of him when he killed the sacred cow and reformed many aspects of the Chinese language programme.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Mr. Wang
I agree that Tharman has been consistently surprising us with innovative programmes that allows each child to better fulfil his own potential.
Too bad there aren't enough of people like him.


Anonymous said...

these changes were made to the education system are way overdue. in my opinion, they should, and could have been made much earlier.

too many kids have been through unnecessary stress, pressure, frustration and social stigma

Anonymous said...

I am happy to admit that I did not think the change would so far. I suppose I can cautiously look forward to more surprising changes :)

Anonymous said...

The GEP intake had already been expanding -- quite significantly (from 2 primary and 2 secondary schools to 9 and 7 respectively). And since most of the secondary schools in the programme are affiliated with a JC, GEP students could get 2 points off their 'O' level aggregate for relatively easy entry to top JCs.

I'm not familiar with the exact workings of the IP, but it does sound like it is merely further expansion of the GEP where bright kids are taught stuff beyond the usual syllabus for some subjects, and progress to the next academic level is virtually guaranteed. Not that widening such a scheme is a bad thing, but is too much being read into re-packaging?

Anonymous said...

The Integrated Programme is severely flawed in its style of intake; I'm still not very pleased.

. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with you that the changes in policies have something to do with the personality of the education minister (which you labeled "Tharman's thinking").

The pap's latest policy is to move away from mass-producing production workers for the MNC manufacturing sector, to producing well-educated workers for the value-added "intellectual" economy (such as life science etc).

To achieve this goal, they need to let more people receive higher education, rather than channel more people into ITE. They need to train vocal people with initiatives to become entrepreneur, rather than disciplined obedient engineers. Hence the various changes to the education system.

Even if Goh keng Swee (the guy who started streaming) is still in charge of MOE, these changes would still occur, once pap decide that the type of workers needed is different.

The sad truth is simple: Education in singapore has never been for education sake. It is always the means to an end -- to produce the right type of worker for the "right" type of economy.

Mr. Wang has given too much underserved credit to this Tharman.

Anonymous said...

"This group is so able that it doesn't need to take O levels"
Reality check: The bunch of IP students at a Dover Road school is taking "practice exams" while the GCE batch are preparing for their "real exams". Why? Six years is too long a period for a student to miss a major exam to check his progress in learning. Even a PhD candidate completes 4 years undergraduate training first, pass exams, maybe a 2 year masters, another exam, before he writes his thesis. Now they exam a 16 year old to cough up a paper for his IB submission. And lest we forget, Rear Admiral Chee said in parliament that the IP was supposed to save the time preparing for O Level exams, and use it for "enrichment" programmes. One thing's for sure, the $400 to $600 range fees for the IP will enrich some educators' wallets.

Anonymous said...

any one read Cardinal Newman's Idea of a University? here is a link: http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/

Anonymous said...

berry - I am not so sure what you are trying to say. Educators should not earn so much? Surprise: Educators already don't earn much compared to many other careers. Yet, their role in society is often understated, and underappreciated.

Anonymous said...


these changes may have been discussed to the death for a long time, but they have always been ignored. The standard party line from PAP is -- the system works so don't fix it (while pointing out how many international maths and science prizes our top students win each year).

It is always good to see changes -- especially the slaughter of sacred cows.

Changes are not easy. If you read the Chinese press, you would know that there is a lot of pressure for MoE to keep the Chinese language system the way it is. Actually, there is pressure to make it even TOUGHER...... you know...... to preserve our culture blah blah blah.

So when the changes to the Chinese language system is made, there is plenty of opposition from parties interested in promoting Chinese language in Singapore (along the line of -- "Oh, our chinese language and culture is doomed!"). The pressure is not insignificant.

If you look at the changes to the chinese language system and some other recent changes, you would note that the focus is to adapt the syllables to suit the ability of the students, rather than the students fighting to meet the requirements of the syllables.

No other Minister has dared to touch the Chinese language system to the extent that Tharman did. And not everyone is happy when he did. Give him some political points when it is due, lah!

And as for streaming, it is always easier to think: "hey, I need more PhDs in the next 5 years. So let's stream more people into the science course". Removing streaming does not actually increase your chance of getting PhDs for (non-existent) life sciences jobs. Actually, since removing streaming means loss of certain controls, this move is counter-intiutive from a beauracratic point of view.

But....... education being what it has been, old mindsets still need to change. There is still a tendency to offer more and better options and resources to the best students rather than to the worst students (this may change). We are still an exam orientated culture.

And students, parents and schools still need change their mindset that it is not just a paperchase.

When the changes to the Chinese language syllables are made, there is a lot of speculation from nay-sayers that schools, parents and students will choose the eaiser band in order to get A's and everyone will be happy (school ranking improve, easier to get into better school, etc etc etc). Whether this will happen or not will be interesting to see.

Anonymous said...

What! There's no use for the guillotines I ordered? Modeus must be sitting pretty.

Anonymous said...

Regarding Mr Wang's previous post, I could use a few Life Science grads. Ain't for washing test-tubes.

Anonymous said...

There's some truth in the cynic's view that education in Singapore is no longer about literacy and raising the standard of the thinking man. Instead, it's a revenue generation exercise to feed the greedy bureaucrats. Has any noble prize worthy come out of the local halls of learning? All we see are $2000 designer chairs for the dons, wireless repeaters across the campus, under utilised for-staff-use-only olympic size swimming pools, and who can ignore the monstrous bus stop outside Ngee Ann Poly? It's the same game as at NKF, big bucks justify fat salaries (the peanuts theory), never mind the poor students or their parents who have to shell out the fees.
BTW, it was Teo Chee Hean who introduced the IP which leads to the International Baccalaureate diploma, not this Indian Tharman who was charged to improve the teaching of Mandarin.

Anonymous said...

the top priority of our education system is to spot young "talent" early ... group them together... groom them to thinkalike..even playalike and eatalike... then give the better one scholarship to continue the legacy of PAP by hiding behind to contest GRC...

Anonymous said...

For those with time, interesting reading on the bigger picture on why such programmes were put in place to begin with.



Anonymous said...

The day the scholarship system stops in Singapore will be the day PAP's political hegemony ends.

Don't expect it to happen anytime soon.

Liquidfuel said...

That's one of the better steps forward from the govmt. Actually just a year back, I was asking my wife, who is a teacher, why didn't the education system stream kids according to areas where they are good at.

Just glad that the kids through this streaming will strive to be good at what they are doing.

Another one butt-kick policy is the 5-day work week. That's a major plus for many Singaporeans.

Anonymous said...

kaffein: "Another one butt-kick policy is the 5-day work week. That's a major plus for many Singaporeans."

Aiyah that is just for show only. In reality, many I know in IT have been demanded by bosses to return to work on Saturdays and Sundays, on top of OT during weekdays. No apologizes, no compensation. Simply if you don't do it, we can get FT replacements. I commented on this previously in another of Mr Wang's posting.

Well, I met other ex-govt civil servants. They aren't having a good time either because they are not the "scholars with iron rice bowl". 5-day work week is also a myth for them because they are told to come up with "projects" for the sake of looking good to higher-ups. Beyond that, they are seriously facing "outsourcing" and "resource sharing" issues too. OK, this paragraph I cannot verify because it is not personal experience, but from various sources both reliable and non-reliable.

Anonymous said...

It's not the school fees I mind so much as they use the old system to evaluate entry into the new system.

Expatriate children are preferred on the basis of race to Singaporeans who have actually been through a similar system.

Anonymous said...

Greeting Honoured Blogger,

Singapore Blogger Organisation wish to invite you to be part of our National Wide Indexing Page.

Please kindly refer to www.sgblogger.org for more informations.

Hope to hear from you sooner.



Anonymous said...

I don't think Mr. Wang needs to join this "organisation" - he would only hurt the credibility of this blog by doing so.

At first I thought it was the beginning of some attempt by MCA to register all bloggers, but a look at their webpage and it doesn't seem professional at all.

Liquidfuel said...

To ex-knowledge economy slave:
Sorry you got the wrong end of the abuse. I didn't. I used to work for a stepboard. Sat was just waiting for it to end. After the policy, I enjoyed my Saturdays with my family. A LOT.

Anyway, even though the 5-day work week policy came up, many of the bosses still have this 5.5-days work week mentality.

This one I think even govrnmt cannot help. Less a fine to those companies. Maybe we S'poreans only obey when there is a fine.

I'm not a supporter of the in-power party. I felt that the 5-day work week gave LHL a big PR boost. Afterall the only thing I good I remembered about him was this.

Gerald said...

I'm glad Mr Wang has chosen to highlight Tharman. IMHO, he is probably the most progressive minister in the Cabinet. Although streaming, GEP, etc won't have been ditched if not for PM Lee's approval, I think Tharman was still the prime mover of this initiative. His "teach less, learn more" vision is finally starting to bear some fruit. Mr Wang could also have highlighted Tharman's emphasis on the importance of sports in schools. I hope he will be able to see through all these changes before he eventually moves on from the Education Ministry (probably to a more economics/finance portfolio).

Anonymous said...

To kaffein: Good to hear that at least some1 got the good deal ;-) Enjoy it while you can.

kaffein: "I felt that the 5-day work week gave LHL a big PR boost".

I'm not pro-PAP either, but I do agree that LHL's move was in the right direction in essence, although in corresponding implementation in reality seems not forthcoming in general.

kaffein: "This one I think even govrnmt cannot help. Less a fine to those companies. Maybe we S'poreans only obey when there is a fine".

I am only speculating, but if strong (non-govt related) labour unions were allowed to develop independently, then the workers may have some real bite. E.g. The pilots union?

Problem is everything is too controlled here.

Anonymous said...

we still hv a long way to go in changing mindsets etc.

back in 98, there was a publicised ctte report on the education system saying that we are 'remarkably efficient in producing A grades'.

our ability to change depends on our flexibility or rather rigidity. our top down system n seniority-heavy management cum performance are burdensome. who pays the price? the young and younger, the junior and the more junior. we cannot around simply saying that we are too small a country n we have to do things our own way. there's no proof of otherwise anyway.

Anonymous said...

To Dr H or anyone who thinks that the dropping of the GEP and Streaming is Tharman's idea:

Is this the same Tharman who during election was aggressively defending the policy of having GEP and the streaming? See atricle here

Looks like making a career out of taking credit for opposition's ideas is part of being a minister.