The 10-year old GEP boy who wants to be a gangster
I spent some time yesterday afternoon speaking with a 10-year old boy. He’s in primary 4 and is in the Gifted Education Programme (GEP). He loves to read and could bury himself in the library for hours. And mind you, he reads stuff like World War 2 (his favourite topic), history, science, etc. He would ask me about politics, about the Gov’t, opposition parties, why things are like that, why they’re not like this, etc.
He is a very smart kid, indeed. His thought process is very logical and rational – except that he seems more prone to wanting to subjucate others under his control. A mean streak, sort of. This has led to some problems in school for him – he doesn’t wanna do homework, hates quite a few people around him, and wants to be a bully or, in his words, “a gangster”.
Speaking to him, for about an hour, one thing stood out for me in that whole conversation. This was when he said, “The pace is so fast. I have to do so many things suddenly. P3 was ok. But P4…” P4 was when he got into the GEP. That’s this year. And the sound of his voice made me feel sad for him. But at the same time, I told him this didn’t mean he could behave as he is doing. Still, the words that he said stayed with me throughout the day.
How he must be feeling, to be suddenly thrown into this speedboat of lessons, homework and expectations. He is, by virtue of being in the GEP, considered one of the top 1 per cent cohort of children his age. They are intelligent and are expected to accomplish more (at least academically) than most of their peers of that age.
But, as his case shows, sometimes kids just wanna be kids. He loves cycling, and being outdoors, along with Nerf guns and toys like that. But because he is deemed to be “top 1 per cent”, more is expected of him. He is a “future leader”.
I can empathise with him when he acts up whenever he is asked to do Chinese homework, or attend Chinese lessons – two of the things that he absolutely abhors. “Cane me lor… send me to boys home lor…,” he said when asked if he would do his Chinese homework without the drama of resistance. “Take me out of GEP and put me in a neighbourhood school lor.” His plan is simple: don’t give a shit about GEP, go to a neighbourhood school so he can be a “gangster”, and eventually, just kill himself by jumping off a building.
All this from a 10-year old.
It makes you shudder.
So, I am concerned, yes, although I do think – and in fact, I know – that there is more to this than homework and lessons and learning Chinese. The good thing is that, after the one-hour chat, and after showing him where he will end up if he carries on in the same trajectory, he thought about it and decided that he will stay in the GEP and give it another go.
That is all good and I am glad he has decided thus. But the GEP is not my concern. I don’t really give a hoot about that although I know he feels more challenged when he is in the programme.
What I am more concerned about in his well-being, in particular, his mental well-being. The kid is under a tremendous amount of stress. This is quite apparent. And the only ways he can express this is the way a kid knows how – through acting up, through thumping down others (he wanting to be a gangster), and basically demarcate a space for himself so he can live in his own world securely, far from the madding crowd and the great expectations of others.
I intend to follow-up with him regularly and do what I can to mentor him. I hope I have the knowledge and skills enough to do so. If you have any advice, do share them with me.
PS: Just wanna add that the dedication of the GEP teachers in his class are absolutely tremendous. They take time, even late at night, to keep the parents informed of his progress, of what transpired in class that day, and seek out ways to help him cope. So, I’d like to say a word of appreciation to these selfless teachers.