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Not All Children Are Born Equal

Not All Children Are Born Equal

The title of this article isn't meant to be a click-bait but it sure is as controversial as it sounds. There's a rising push for equality and acceptance all round with even MOE jumping on the bandwagon to abolish ranking in schools in the hopes that the public would view every child and education institute as equal. 

Do people really think that way? Are all kids born equal?

Opinions differ with most of the conversations on stereotypes taking place outside of digital public spaces. Is a child born to a low-income family doomed to be at the bottom of the social pyramid? I imagine that such a conversation would take place in an evening soiree over the clicking of champagne glasses.

Studies indicate that low socioeconomic households tend to develop academic skills more slowly compared to children from well-to-do families[1], and with seven in ten households [2] sending their children to tuition, families who cannot afford to keep up with the Joneses are perceived to be at a disadvantaged [3]. However, I do not believe that tuition alone holds that much sway over a child's academic success. 

The difference in socioeconomic status is not just about the dollars and cents. It takes into account parents' education level, occupation, and social standing. Someone on a lower socioeconomic level have different priorities in life; basic survival being one of them. Affluent parents have a go-getter attitude and they instill a sense of belief in their children that greatness is achievable. Parents who are casualties of the education system may take a laissez faire approach to their children's education believing that it's pointless to push their children too hard. Though there are always exceptions to the rule, the old adage that the apple doesn't fall too far from the tree is true in most cases. When children grow up in an environment that they perceive as limiting, their brain undermines any desire to excel.

The way I see it, it's about mindset.

Fortunately, a child's environment is made up of two other factors - peers and school. Unfortunately, most families on the lower end of the socioeconomic scale don't get into the branded schools or have the opportunity to hang around students from more affluent household outside of school life. Instead of offering them a short cut to academic excellence by way of free tuition or subsidized education, perhaps the state could consider putting our children through courses on mindset empowerment and critical thinking skills. 

I recalled a brief exchange I had with a student many years ago: She was a fourteen-year-old girl writing a story about her future. She wanted to be a waitress when she grew older because she wanted to serve people and make their day. Her story moved me, so I approached her to have a chat. I learned that her mum was working as a waitress to earn just about enough to raise the family of two, single handedly. When asked if she had other aspirations, she drew a blank. She couldn't see the possibility beyond the life that she's been given because no one talked to her about it. If she could wave a magic wand in the air and make any wish come true, she said she would want to travel around the world but she didn't think that was possible. She didn't even own a passport. So we spent some time fantasizing about the "what-ifs" and the "what-coulds", and by the end of that conversation she learned that perhaps she could combine her love for service and traveling together; and in that moment of make-believe, she found a dream to hold on to. 

Two months ago, a young woman came up to me at the airport. She was pulling on a luggage and had all the trappings of a stewardess though she wasn't in her uniform. We exchanged pleasantries; I pretended like I recognized her, and we chatted for a bit. It wasn't until we parted ways that I recalled who this girl was. 

Not all children are born equal, but that doesn't mean it's the end of the road for those who come from lower socioeconomic standing. Both the rich and the poor face their own unique set of challenges. I believe that the key to helping children develop their intrinsic motivation to unlocking their fullest potential is to refocus some of our efforts from academic pursuits towards building a resilient mindset for our children, and instill in them the courage to dream. 

Instead of trying to force a change in the way the public views schools and social standing, perhaps it would be more meaningful to first introduce a change in the way our children are being streamed when they are in Primary School.

Written by Eugene Tay, founder of Brain & Butter and Monsters Under the Bed.

When Eugene was a young boy, he wanted to be an astronaut. When that didn't take off, he decided that he was going to be like Indiana Jones and explore the world as an archaeologist. Eventually, he figured out how he can do both. That's when he became a writer.



[1] Morgan, P. L., Farkas, G., Hillemeier, M. M., & Maczuga, S. (2009). Risk factors for learning-related behavior problems at 24 months of age: Population-based estimates. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 37, 401-413.

[2] Straits Times

[3] NVPC.  

[4] Sanders, Field & Deigo, 2001

[5] Siti Hajar Esa (2012) School Dropout Phenomenon Within The Malay/Muslim Community In Singapore: Presumptions, Prescriptions And Disjunctions. 92, 117 - 118.

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