Every kiasu parent’s dream is for their child to be in the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). Literally. Just look at the KiasuParents forum for GEP.

Not even Hardware Zone can compare. Credit: KiasuParents

Not even Hardware Zone can compare. Credit: Screenshot from KiasuParents

According to MOE, the GEP selection tests identify pupils with high intellectual potential. Note that it’s not necessarily academic potential, but intellectual potential.

To get into the GEP back then (the early 90s), you had to pass two tests in Primary 3. I’m not sure what those tests were called then, but nowadays it’s called the GEP Screening Exercise and the GEP Selection Exercise (although, come on, we all know they are tests). You’d then be in GEP from Primary 4 to Secondary 4. We just took the test though, no preparation for it unlike nowadays.

So what’s it like being a GEP student? It’s not all mugging sessions and laughing at nerdy jokes (though admittedly, we have quite a few of those). I was a GEP student from Rosyth Primary School, then Raffles Institution from 1992 to 1998, and here’s my real-life account of what it was like. It might surprise you – or maybe it will bore you to death because we are all so nerdy.

1. I was called a nerd a grand total of once

Rosyth School. Credit: Liu PLeong Facebook Profile

Rosyth School. Credit: Liu PLeong Facebook Profile

In movies, you always see the smart students of the school being pushed around by jocks and called “geek” or “nerd”. So you might expect that GEP students have to put up with constantly being called “smarty pants” or “brainiac” on a daily basis, right?

Well, in my seven years as a GEP student, I was only called a nerd one time, in primary school. I was ambushed one day outside the toilet, when I was drinking from the water cooler after relieving myself (since water coolers are always located suspiciously close to toilets in schools) (leading to some really disgusting theories).

Two or three kids suddenly sprang upon me and yelled “NERD!” while I was hunched over the water spout. I was stunned, but finished quenching my thirst before looking up to see them running away. They had to have been lying in wait for a very long time in order to catch me coming out of the GEP class, stick around until I finished my business in the loo before jumping on me just to… call me a nerd?

It never happened again. Maybe because I wasn’t nerdy enough.

2. I didn’t realise that there were around 40 students in a regular class until much later in life

Polos in primary school. Credit: Robot Academy Facebook Page

Polos in primary school. Credit: Robot Academy Facebook Page

So if you’re in GEP, you’ll be in class sizes of 24 to 26 (I remember this because there were only ever 24 or 26 students in my class) (and there are 26 letters in the alphabet and 24 hours in a day) (okay, will stop being nerdy now) from Primary 4 to Secondary 4.

I thought it was like that for everyone, since upon going to JC you have small class sizes anyway. It made sense to my weird young mind at that time since the older you are, the smarter you’ll be, so the class size would naturally shrink after Primary 3, right? Clearly, I didn’t look very carefully at my school yearbooks and take note of other class photos.

It was only during my National Service days that I realised that normal class sizes were about 40. We were sitting around in camp and I thought my fellow conscripts were saying the wrong number (40) and they kept thinking I was saying the wrong number (24/26).

This means you get much more attention from your teachers from a young age. That’s not always a good thing, especially if you’re naughty.

3. I was ecstatic when I discovered the existence of English textbooks 

Remember this? Credit: Flickr

Remember this? Credit: Flickr

GEP students didn’t have English textbooks in class. Most of the time, we had specially designed handouts to teach us about stuff like mythology and English poetry instead. And I know I’m living up to the nerdy stereotype when I say I was elated the day that I discovered English textbooks existed.

I made friends at the playground outside my house, and one day one of them came right after school. He dropped his bag, and then his Basic Reader dropped out. Yes, that striped one. It was fascinating because it was a book full of stories in Singapore! Back then, it wasn’t that easy to find stories set in Singapore.

I spent the rest of the month borrowing all his Basic Readers one by one to read (I think there were two books each year) while sitting on one of those tyre swings. I know it sounds horribly cliched… but then being nerdy and reading textbooks is already somewhat of a cliche, isn’t it?

The textbook wasn’t as interesting as the Basic Reader because it had some questions and other activities besides a story, but it was just so fascinating to know that there was actually an English textbook the way there was a Chinese textbook.

4. Dealing with all those annoying students who claim they’re from GEP (but aren’t)

Raffles Institution. Credit: Raffles Institution Facebook Page

Raffles Institution. Credit: Raffles Institution Facebook Page

The nationwide GEP cohort is really small (I think there were only nine classes of 24-26 in my year), so you’ll pretty much have seen everyone before (or at least, you will have more than 50 mutual friends on Facebook), and they were either from Raffles Girls School, Anglo-Chinese School (Independent), or Raffles Institution.

You might put “GEP” down in your resume, but you’re not going to be bragging about it at social events. So it was really odd that on several occasions, I’d meet guys near my age shamelessly claiming that they were from GEP even though they were students from a certain premier institution which only became a GEP school in 1999.

Upon being busted, they’d keep quiet for the rest of the conversation and never bring it up again. It was infuriating because they were clearly trying to pull a fast one in an attempt to impress everyone else in a group since the odds were minuscule that they’d meet someone who was a bonafide GEP student. With their sort of luck, they should really go buy 4D or Toto.

Having been in GEP isn’t something I’d go around advertising. If you’re a billionaire’s son or something, you’re not going to tell everyone about it, are you?

5. Being utterly humiliated for not having a “perfect” school track record

She laughed like there were three people laughing. Credit: Unsplash

She laughed like there were three people laughing. Credit: Unsplash

Long story short, I did badly for my prelims in secondary school because I couldn’t cope with issues that happened at home. I bucked up for my O-Levels though.

So I went to Tampines Junior College in my first three months (back then, you’d go to a JC for three months based on your prelim results, then depending on your O-Level results, you could switch to another JC or remain in the same one) and Raffles Junior College after that. I made some pretty good friends from TPJC and even attended their weddings.

It’s not something I hide, but your alma maters don’t come up every often as an adult (unless you’re one of the aforementioned students in point #4). So one day, at a social gathering with some former university classmates, the subject came up.

And one of them, who was from RJC, cackled and mocked me nonstop for an entire hour. She probably had some secret beef against GEP itself (she wasn’t from GEP), and was absolutely delighted that I had, for three months, gone to what she deemed to be a subpar JC. Among some of the gems she yelled across the table at me were: “You should be the poster boy for GEP, so that parents who are thinking of sending their kids to GEP will think twice when they learnt you went to TPJC!”

It wasn’t so long ago, and we were already in our thirties, not like Wee Shu Min when she was 18 and told people to “get out of (her) elite uncaring face”.

So I learnt that some friends are not worth having. Unfortunately, she’s in the civil service, which makes me shudder a little when I realise that yes, someone this nasty is out there working for our government.

6. We are not as inaccessible as everyone thinks

You'd still eat the brown pea, right? Credit: Pixabay

You’d still eat the brown pea, right? Credit: Pixabay

None of my friends have become evil scientists building doomsday weapons (I think) so yes, I think we turned out all right. I wasn’t one of the better students since I am clearly not on track to be the next Prime Minister of Singapore, but I’m also not in jail.

We may have had different learning materials, but we also took the PSLE and O-Levels just like everyone else. We liked the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon, Ocean Pacific wallets, and Britney Spears like everyone else. Remember that we were also 10 to 16-year-olds who were going through puberty and fumbling through life like everyone else.

Plus, we also made the same mistakes (eating sodium chloride crystals during Chemistry just to see if it was salty, for example) (or maybe that’s just me) as everyone else.

I’ll always be grateful for my teachers (who put up with my nonsense) and my classmates (who were subject to my mailing list of fan fiction) (back when there wasn’t even such a term) in GEP.

Gifted. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Gifted. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

To see what life might be like for a GEP student, check out Gifted! It’s about how the life of young mathematics prodigy Mary (Mckenna Grace) is turned upside down when her grandmother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan) discovers her giftedness. After raising her all by himself for so many years, can Frank (Captain America Chris Evans) deal with what Evelyn has planned for Mary?

Would you want to be Gifted?

Credits: KiasuParents, Liu PLeong Facebook Profile, Flickr, Raffles Institution Facebook Page, Roboto Academy Facebook Page, Unsplash, Golden Village Cinemas