BY AMELIA TENG, Straits Times

THEIR children may be in the Gifted Education Programme (GEP), but more parents are forking out big bucks for their bright sparks to take extra classes at enrichment centres.

These sessions provide them with extra practice, giving them an edge over classmates, 10 GEP pupils told The Straits Times.

The GEP, which turns 30 this year, takes in the top 1 per cent of a cohort a year – about 500 students.

Its declared aim is to nurture “gifted individuals to their full potential for the fulfilment of self and the betterment of society”.

However, it has come under fire for being elitist, with critics saying that the majority of GEP pupils come from families who can afford to send them for supplementary classes.

Enrichment centre The Learning Lab has seen 35 per cent more GEP students enrolled with it since 2010. Last year, it had 390 Primary 4 to 6 GEP pupils, and this increased to 462 this year – about a third of the current GEPprimary school cohort.

It has separate classes for GEP pupils. Four classes for a subject cost about $300 a month.

A spokesman for the centre said more parents are attracted to its curriculum, designed to help develop critical thinking skills and broaden general knowledge.

Over at Mind Stretcher Learning Centre, about 450 GEP students attend classes designed for intellectually stronger students, which cost about $145 per month. This figure is 10 to 15 per cent higher than three years ago.

GEP alumnus Zhou Shicai, 30, who runs NickleBee Tutors, teaches about 30 students a year, 30 per cent of whom are in the GEP. He said: “No matter how intelligent the children are, many parents fear that if they stop moving, they’ll fall behind.”

Housewife Koh Siew Ming, 50, whose son is in GEP in Primary 5 and attends The Learning Lab’s classes, said: “The school’s GEP does a good job in stretching his potential, but he still needs practice to reinforce what he learns.”

Preparatory classes for GEP selection tests, which aim to familiarise children with test questions they may face, are also popular.

Mind Stretcher Learning Centre takes about 90 high-ability Primary 3 pupils a year for an accelerated programme in English and maths after they pass a test, and 70 per cent are later offered places in the GEP, said its co-founder, Mr Alvin Kuek, 42.

“We are very clear that not all kids are suitable for this. If a child is not an accelerated learner at this age, a parent should not add such unnecessary stress,” he said.

Ms Katherine Law, who set up enrichment centre Guru Kids Pro, said her critical thinking programme for high-ability pupils takes up to 20 a year.

“It’s a misconception that gifted children do not need help. The sessions expose them to problem-solving through challenging puzzles and tasks, and different ways of critical and flexible thinking,” she said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Education said children who enter the GEP through “intense coaching” may not be able to cope with its demands.

She said: “This may be detrimental to his or her self-confidence and long-term holistic development. Parents should consider carefully whether the GEP meets the needs and interests of their child.”

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