Beyond the intellectual gifts of people, Singapore News & Top Stories


More than three decades ago, I failed to win a place in the Gifted Education Program (GEP).

I was in one of the first cohorts to undergo special tests in English, mathematics, and the general ability to screen 1 percent of intellectually gifted children.

At that time, not being chosen for GEP was not a big problem because only a few people really knew what it was.

No longer.

Today, the GEP – which marks the 34th year of this year – has become a fixture in Singapore's educational landscape and dream destinations.


The Ministry of Education (MOE) feels it is appropriate to issue this advice to parents on its website: "Parents may not register their children in exam preparation activities for identification exercises (GEP)."

Such activities can increase student grades, said the MOE, and "students who are not prepared to handle intellectual rigor and demands from GEP will struggle to overcome the enriched curriculum and not get the full benefit of it". It also warns against excessive pressure on students and causes them to lose confidence.

Luckily for me, I have never been under pressure to appear more talented than I really am.

Recently, I received an unexpected invitation to speak at a symposium for teachers from the same GEP that I failed to qualify as a nine-year-old child.

This shocking event has made me think of talent, a concept that evokes strong feelings because it cuts to the heart of people's sense of self-worth.

People want to be told that they are talented because they make them feel good about themselves, and hate to hear that they are not talented.

I have seen this directly because my friends and I have taught a workshop on spiritual gifts for several years. Think of the Christian version of Gallup's Clifton Strengths assessment.

The typical response from people is fixation on gifts they believe they have or lack, and interests that are far lower in the call or duty to use their gifts to benefit others.

The message we are trying to convey is that it is equally important to understand where a person is not gifted to find out where someone is talented. The process helps everyone decide where to focus their energy and efforts.


Marginalized community members, who have been made to believe that they are not made extraordinary, have a special need to have their gifts confirmed.

That's why songs like Coldplay and Big Sean's Miracles (Someone Special) are very touching. The official video of the song makes it clear that it is a hymn for impossible heroes, intended to encourage refugees, migrants and minorities to pursue their dreams.

It starts with singing Chris Martin:

"My father said never gave up his son,

Just look at how well Cassius is,

Muhammad, Mahatma and Nelson,

Not afraid to be strong. "

Big Sean rapper then joins:

"What if they say I'm not good

What if they say get out of here, kid, you have no future. "

Martin's response:

"Now you can run and just say they're right,

No, I will never be anyone in my whole life.

Or you can turn around and say, not waiting for them to be wrong

And keep dancing throughout life …

"In you I see someone special,

You have fire in your eyes and when you realize

You will go further than we have ever done, just turn it on. "


But is the gift just a matter of desire, to light the gift someone is looking for?

Obviously not. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to swing like Martin or paint like Picasso.

What is important is the belief that each of us is gifted, each in our own way, and able to make a positive difference.

That's why it becomes a problem when talent is narrowly defined so that it excludes many or most people.

The GEP, for example, narrowly focuses on intellectual talent. And although the MOE states on its website that people are gifted in various ways, including in leadership, music and artistic abilities, there is a tendency among parents here for intellectual privileges.

But none of the heroes celebrated in the Coldplay song quoted above are remembered for their thinking skills.

In addition to the people mentioned in the first stanza, the song also highlights in the second stanza of four women:

"Just look at what Amelia and Joan did

Oh Rosa, Teresa's war they won

Not afraid to be strong. "


Four of these heroes stand out for their moral leadership (Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Park, Teresa from Calcutta). Of the other three, Muhammad Ali was an extraordinary boxer, Amelia Earhart was a flight pioneer and Joan of Arc was a patriot hero and war.

It just shows that there is no universal standard of gift, and that what the world needs is so that each person places his unique collection of gifts for the best use in the time and place where he finds himself.


Most people I know have difficulty believing they are talented.

Others heard me say that everyone had unique talents and turned their eyes to what they believed to be the ideals of my skyline.

Actually, there's nothing wrong with being an idealist, even at my age.

After all, a great psychiatrist, Holocaust victim and writer Viktor Frankl was 67 years old when he told the 1972 Toronto Youth Corp meeting: "You won't believe, but gray and my age, I started taking flight lessons recently. You know what my flight instructor said? "

Focusing on gifts also brings to the fore the qualities that we may ignore in our busy life to carve out successful careers and accumulate wealth, qualities such as patience, generosity, courage and mercy.
T affirms life and is far more beneficial than finding fault.

He then goes on to describe how a pilot flies to a cross of the wind must use a maneuver called "crabbing", with which he intentionally heads north towards his destination so that he lands on the airfield he was heading from the beginning.

"This also applies to humans, I would say," said Dr. Frankl. "If we take humans as they are, we make them worse. But if we exaggerate themselves, if we look idealistic and exaggerate, overestimate humans, and look at them that high, you know what happened?

"We promote him for what he really can.

"So we must be idealistic in a way, because then we end up as true realists.

"And do you know who has said this? If we take humans as they really are, we make them worse, but if we take humans as we should, we make them capable of being what they can … this is Goethe," he said, referring to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, considered the greatest German literary figure of the modern era.

I have found that anticipating and looking for other people's gifts is a great way to help them be whatever they can.

Parents and teachers are in a privileged position to do this for their children and students.

Focusing on gifts also brings to the fore the qualities that we may ignore in our busy life to carve out successful careers and accumulate wealth, qualities such as patience, generosity, courage and mercy.

This is life-affirming and far more beneficial than finding fault.


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