Royal Jelly is what bees feed the bee babies that are destined to grow into Queen Bees. Larvae fed Royal Jelly grow into Queens. The same larvae fed honey grow into Worker Bees.
I received a series of WhatsApp messages last night from C ranting about Royal Jelly education in GEP and IP. The royal jelly in Singapore education is the set of Higher Order Thinking (HOT) skills that characterize the Gifted Education Program in primary school (that prepares one for the most difficult questions at the PSLE)... and the Integrated Program in secondary school (that prepares one for the most difficult questions at the A levels). The logic supporting the heavy focus on HOT skills GEP and IP experience is that these are smart kids who CAN handle HOT skills, whilst lesser children can't.
Now, I don't doubt that kids come with different intellectual capabilities, and different talents. I have taught enough kids to be well aware of this. What I doubt is how accurate the system is in streaming our children for differential feeding (based on the results of one IQ test at Primary 3 or one major exam at Primary 6).
The different feeding in turn leads to kids in GEP and IP being given maximum chances at (A) choice opportunities in top schools, (B) choice scholarships and (C) choice spots in Medicine and Law Faculties. The excerpt below is taken from an article by Sandra Davie in the Straits Times of 29th November 2012, entitled "Time to Redefine Academic Success"...
Like I said, I question the accuracy of the classification - GEP and mainstream. In 2011, the PSLE top scorer (Yasmin Ziqin Mohammad Yusof) was NOT from GEP even though the PSLE exam tests HOT skills that are extensively taught in GEP (and to a far lesser extent, in mainstream). Yasmin Ziqin Mohammad Yusof mentioned that her mother resigned from her job in Primary 6 to teach her the most difficult questions of the PSLE (aka, the HOT skills). Clearly, this girl had external school access to a Royal Jelly education via a highly educated mother. It also helped that her father could afford the fees at The Learning Lab. Was Yasmin misclassified as non-GEP? What if her Mom were uneducated and her father earned the equivalent salary of the PRC bus drivers who went on strike?
Where would Yasmin be today in mainstream education without an educated Mother and wealthy Father? No wonder I went through 2 years wondering why schools test what they don't teach! The PSLE tests GEP stuff that 99% of the cohort can only get to learn OUTSIDE school!!
In one particular year, in the not too distant past, the top scorer in Nanyang Primary School was a non-GEP child. Her mother explained to me (rather bitterly) that it was tuition that had helped her child because mainstream classes in Nanyang Primary do not get the same kind of teaching as GEP. I rather think that this gave Nanyang Primary School some food for thought and may have encouraged the school to spill GEP methods and materials over to more and more of their mainstream classes. There is nothing wrong with this. Any responsible school would do the same. I, the school, possess the methods and materials. Why withhold these from students who could benefit even though not labeled GEP?
Whatever GEP parents might say about PSLE drilling that helps non-GEP children do better at PSLE, some facts can be verified.
(1) Fact 1: GEP curriculum is heavy on HOT skills.
(2) Fact 2: PSLE's most difficult questions test HOT skills.
(3) Fact 3: Mainstream teaching hardly emphasizes HOT skills.
(4) Fact 4: I know for a fact the schools like Nanyang give their GEP kids loads of PSLE practice papers to do in P6... after building a good foundation in HOT skills.
These drilling practices PLUS the HOT skills training give the GEP a clear advantage at the PSLE. Now, if a GEP child cannot handle the PSLE as well as a mainstream child DESPITE having been fed all this Royal Jelly, then there is a good chance the GEP child was wrongly identified.
Based on a SINGLE IQ test, judgment is made about our children's ability to handle HOT skills? And then the 2 groups of children are fed different curriculum material as if the SINGLE IQ test is the last word in child capability (that can justify feeding some children more HOT skills and other children less)? And THEN both sets of children take a common exam that clearly puts one group (taught HOT extensively) at an advantage over the other (taught HOT sparingly).
What makes things worse is that the GEP children have a largely frictionless path into schools like RI, where it appears, that 42% of the cohort is GEP. Given that GEP is 1% of the whole country's cohort... 42% in a single school is a shocking over representation considering that there is ample evidence that the single IQ test DOES misclassify.
Next, the GEP has been around for 20+ years. One wonders how many movers and shakers today hail from GEP. If very few, then why is it that 42% of RI (the school that traditionally produces leaders of the country) is GEP? Should not RI have greater diversity in student population so that it can produce future leaders that understand the populace?
Some claim that despite the low economic returns of 20 years of GEP, the program is still worth funding because gifted children are special needs children, like those in Pathlight. Has RI become a GEP special needs school on par with Pathlight?
Why do we put so much faith in one IQ test to the extent that we would feed 2 groups of students vastly different intellectual input? IF the PSLE has evolved towards HOT skills, why is not EVERY mainstream school properly equipped with the wherewithal to teach HOT skills to those who CAN manage even if they're not labelled GEP?
The IP Royal Jelly
In my discussion with C on IP, I found myself on the other side of the divide. You see, The Daughter went to an IP school in the days when there were few IP schools. In my passionate exchange with C, I found myself saying the exact same things to defend IP that GEP parents say to defend GEP.
I said, "IP focuses a great deal on higher order thinking skills but the A levels are far more structured. IP students have difficulty adapting to the prescriptive (read: model answers) style of A level testing. IP doesn't drill the students. That was The Daughter's experience."
I can almost hear a GEP mom say "GEP focuses a great deal on higher order thinking skills but the PSLE requires drilling, and the kids have difficulty adapting to the prescriptive (read: model answers) style of PSLE testing. GEP doesn't drill students."
Then C wrote this on WhatsApp "If the A levels is HOT skills heavy, then it'll be an uphill battle for O level students exposed mostly to LOT (lower order thinking skills) to bridge the gap to HOT skills, in the run up to A levels. However, it is easier for those exposed to HOT skills in IP for 4 years, to dumb down slightly to the drilling required for A levels in the run-up to the exams."
And that is so true.
I had to concede that C had won a point in our discourse. The Daughter received a good IP education in HOT skills that formed a critical foundation for her to achieve excellence in A levels. Nearer the A levels, she was drilled. Dumbing down was not a problem at all. And mind you, based on PSLE t-score alone, there were plenty of students who scored far higher than The Daughter... but these students could not handle HOT skills well enough to do well at A levels. Some of these PSLE high scorers performed rather poorly despite getting a surfeit of HOT skills in the years of IP. Is this an instance of misclassification into IP using PSLE scores? Who/what to blame? That A levels requires drilling that IP doesn't provide?
That is not true you know, a fair bit of drilling does take place nearer to A levels.
The Illusory Promises of Streaming
It was not too long ago when MOE explained that streaming was to ensure that every child was taught to his/her ability. The PR line was "Develop each child to his/her highest potential".
Does streaming really do that? Let's look at some counter examples.
The PSLE aggregate determines access to HOT skills education. What about the child (without tuition) who scored a high A* in Science but A in the other 3 subjects? This child could well possess the innate talent for Science that predisposes him to HOT skills in the Sciences but too bad... this child will never be able to develop his innate potential in scientific inquiry to the fullest because he will be shunted to a non-IP school.
It seems to me that streaming makes teaching easier, so that Teachers have time to write reports and devise lesson plans that are only good for audit purposes because no one uses the lesson plans. Now that the School Excellence Awards have been done away with, perhaps the teaching service will now have time to REALLY be student-centric. Right now, Teachers are stream-centric or class-centric. Not in the least student-centric. The only ones who are student-centric are parents and private tutors.
Little Boy was a 90+ student in English, Math and Science in P4. He went into the 2nd best class because he was more than ordinarily poor in Chinese. In the 2nd best class, he was taught as if he were 80+ in every subject. He was taught above his ability in Chinese. He was taught below his ability in the other 3 subjects. The teaching was not at all student centric. It was class-centric, and it was class-centric in such a way that not a single child in there had his/her learning needs met. Every child in the 2nd best class had at least one REALLY strong subject and 3 above average subjects. They were all taught as if they were only slightly above average in all 4 subjects.
Within the GEP, children also have different abilities in the different subjects. The GEP crams every child with HOT skills in all 4 subjects. SUGGESTION: Would it not be better to identify children with giftedness in each subject and pull them out for specific niche classes, rather than put them together and cram them indiscriminately like geese for foie gras? Meanwhile, these gifted children can still benefit from fulfilling and learning-rich social interactions with kids in mainstream.
It has come to a point that even GEP/IP kids feel like losers because they fear they can't measure up in their subjects of ordinariness.
That streaming helps each child to his/her ability is an illusion. In truth, all it helps is make teaching lazier because Teachers can tell themselves that they are fulfilling the needs for a particular group of students when actually the coarse-grained streaming fulfills very few individuals' learning needs indeed.
Student-centric? How to be student-centric in classes of 40?
SUGGESTIONS FOR EVERY SCHOOL TO BE A GOOD SCHOOL
(1) Every primary school should be well-equipped to teach HOT skills (small classes and GEP materials) even if they are not GEP centers.
(2) Every secondary school has IP and O levels so that the permeability between the 2 streams is maximised allowing for misclassifications to be easily addressed.
(3) Do as Hri Kumar suggests. Remove GEP DSA into top schools. GEP kids (with their surfeit of HOT skills teaching in small classes of 25) should compete with mainstream (who get precious little HOT skills teaching) for places.