Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The best gift

All you observant folks out there may have realised, "Hey, Andre is in p3... wasn't the GEP tests a few weeks ago?"

The answer is yes, the GEP screening and selection tests are over, and no, he didn't get in, to those who might be wondering.

While I'm not losing any sleep over this result, I was rather concerned before the tests as Andre was showing signs of anxiety that he would not get into the programme. This came as a surprise to me as he had always seemed rather indifferent to GEP and we as parents have always been conscious not to compare him with Lesley-Anne. I kept reassuring him that it didn't matter whether he got into GEP or not, and trying to instil the message that everyone has different talents.

Despite this, he persisted in asking, "What if I don't get in?" until I said in consternation, "It really doesn't matter! I don't care if you don't get in! Why do you care so much?" Then the truth emerged - he wanted it because it was the best. Plus his sister was in it. It was about winning.

Have you ever seen pre-schoolers at play? When one child decides to play with a particular toy, all the other kids will clammer to play with that same toy and a fight will ensue. And when a child finally decides that another toy is preferable, all the other kids will instantly want that toy NOW. It doesn't matter if there are heaps of other equally interesting toys in the room.

It's the same with adults. Nothing is seen as more valuable than the item that is most coveted by others. In the Singapore education landscape, GEP falls under this category. The GEP is regarded as the most desirable "toy" and this mindset is cascaded down to the kids. I can keep spouting that GEP is designed and suitable only for intellectually gifted kids but that doesn't stop my hit rate from rocketing just before the GEP screening and selection tests, from parents searching "GEP coaching" to reach my blog. (Yes, I can actually verify this).

Being able to get into the GEP becomes a trophy of the highest level and this mindset has somehow seeped into Andre's psyche from school and his classmates. Although he only had a faint inkling of what GEP was, in his mind, it was the "best toy". Naturally then, when he heard the news that he didn't make the grade, he was terribly downcast.

I'm sure you're all familiar with the phrase: "When God closes a door, He opens a window." I'm rather ambivalent about this statement because it suggests that God sometimes gives us something that's second rate or as a consolation prize (afterall, it's so much easier to walk out the door than climb through the window!) I don't think that's true. I think God wants to give us the best all the time, just that what He knows is best for us (the operative words being "for us") is sometimes not what we may consider the best.

Andre experienced this first hand. Even as he was still smarting over not getting into GEP, God's "window" opened. Within the same week at his usual badminton coaching session, he was given a letter by the academy inviting him to join a special coaching class, where about ten kids from the academy are handpicked to be given extra attention and put under more intensive training. These are supposedly the kids with potential and in what I thought was a very generous gesture, the academy will even sponsor their apparel and equipment, including rackets, t-shirts, shorts and bags, among other things. Basically, these kids will be the poster children of the academy.

I just had to marvel at God's timing. It rammed home the message that God gives only what's best for you, something I'd tried explaining many times to Andre but he didn't quite grasp until that moment. It was quite clear to me that God closed the door to GEP for Andre because it doesn't play to his strengths. But the badminton special class does.

It's not about winning - it's about growing as a human being, it's about the journey of life and what makes us better people. We don't know yet where this will head, but right now, we're just accepting all gifts with open arms and with gratitude.

9 comments:

elan said...

Congratulations Andre for getting into the special badminton class - may you put Singapore on the badminton map!
When God closes a door, he opens another DOOR!
Dear Mon, you're always so sensible and level-headed, that's why I like reading your blog.

elan

Anonymous said...

Well said Mon! And I am truly unobservant and forgetful that GEP screening test has come and gone.... Congrats Andre...only the best gets such a handsome offer from God.

qx

Lilian said...

Love this post...not sure why but I found it rather moving. I really like it that he is such a go-getter, even in his not-so-strong areas. Gifted in sports, I very launuah leh LOL!

On the topic of GEP, it's really scary how much of a high-stakes game it's become compared to when Brian and L-A got in just 3 years ago. Parents have become more involved than ever before, kids are so clued in about the programme and what it could mean for them. I don't really know what to make of it...

Lilian said...

My friend's son who got through screening but wasn't selected said this, "It was really heartbreaking that I didn't get it".

:(

mariposa said...

My stepson, when he was 9 (in 1994 and in Singapore) declared heatedly to his parents that whether he got into the GEP or not was HIS decision, not theirs. He has an exceptional IQ of 145-150, and I think he deliberately flunked the GEP tests because of the extreme pressure he was already facing in the run-up to the test, and he feared that to actually be in the GEP would be many times worse. To this day he still complains that he felt like a 'performing animal' in a circus when he was a kid.

In retrospect however, I think he missed out on a good thing due to his negative perception. I think he had always been under-stimulated in the regular stream and slept through most of his classes. Most of his learning was probably done outside of the curriculum, in his own time, and he probably just put in the minimum amount of effort to get the grades that he wanted in order to get into the school that he wanted. Now that he is pursuing his real interests, he finds himself getting scholarships all the time, even winning a research grant by the NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada).

My stepdaughter is exceedingly gifted linguistically and aced a university-level English course when she was in high-school, but didn't get into the GEP I think because she had undiagnosed ADD traits which made her underperform especially when she was younger. Now that she is doing what she loves, she is acing her courses and even got a 97/100 recently for a Japanese subject.

Btw, the popular saying about God 'opening a window' is actually not biblical. God closes doors when He never intended for us to go through those doors in the first place. I find these verses extremely encouraging:

Isa 54:13 All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children.

Jer 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

As for the expectations our kids may have internalized, unbeknownst to us, let me share my own experience. When I was young I had been told that both my older brothers always got #1 in class. At the end of P1 before the results came out, I had reasons to fear that I might not be #1 in class and I still remember that the day before the results, I huddled in the balcony looking forlornly out, wondering what would happen to me if I didn't get #1 like my older brothers did. I don't recall my mom overtly telling me that I must get #1, but she did not specifically tell me about the acceptability of an alternative outcome either. And I suspect that in her own competitive heart, she didn't quite mind if I felt the pressure to be #1; in Chinese mentality, that would be a good and dutiful thing to do. (Check out this article, "Chinese kids break down barriers to foreign friends": http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-11/16/content_12470539.htm). So in my young mind, not getting #1 belonged to frightening unchartered territory as it had not happened in my family before. It does one good to be sensitive to the fears our kids may be laboring under, reasonably or unreasonably so.

YY.

monlim said...

Thanks for your good wishes, ladies!

Lilian: Yes, I think the competition is much fiercer these days, pretty frightening really. But from the snippets I heard about the selection papers, I believe the test is not easy to train for. I hope it stays that way so only the truly gifted will get in!

YY: love the Jer quote, very comforting. I totally understand the pressure to be #1, I went through it too with my parents. I think that's why I'm so against inflicting the same sort of stress on my kids. Hopefully through their own experiences, parents can be more enlightened about how their actions/words can affect their children.

Puzzled by Puzzles! said...

I am really happy to read abt this. Congrats to Andre!!! :D
When I first saw the video u posted of Andre playing badminton, I was so impressed and excited that I had to show it to my dh. If that is not talent, what is?! Next, it's time to get ready for more hard work. ;)
Sandy

monlim said...

Thanks Sandy, that's very encouraging! Yes, the hard work begins :)

Anonymous said...

Congratulations Andre! I'm so happy for you to be specially selected for this programme. I'm sure you will made us proud! Jia you!

Chris

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