Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ability and opportunity.

Baby Mario Kart

A few weeks ago, I played Mario Kart on a Nintendo Gamecube, for the first time. Both for Mario Kart and the Gamecube (yes, don't judge me!). I played with another friend, C, who had also never played hand-held video games before. What was interesting was how the Dutchman, who witnessed our feeble attempts at racing Mario around the different tracks, remarked that I played better than C.

It would be easy to pin it down to ability, but opportunity should also be taken into account. For example, I had access to computers and all kinds of technological gizmos since I was five, while C only encountered and started regularly using a computer in her workplace, at the age of 23 or so.

The level of hand-eye coordination or whatever other psychomotor skills I have must be in part due to having been exposed to years of computers, online games, Tamagotchis, and electronic diaries, calendars, dictionaries, etc. I had the opportunity of being able to use all these things. I also had the opportunity to take computer lessons in school at the age of 10, where we experimented with typing games.

Take oil painting and sports for example. In high school I had a friend who was really good at oil painting. But that was because his parents were both artists and so he had the opportunity to experiment and gain experience in using oils, which is an expensive painting medium!

In the ISS, the students play sports every Sunday. For soccer especially, more women get the opportunity to play in an all-women's team, and so they get better. It would be fallacious to say that girls can't play soccer well when they may have never had the opportunity to play, train, and develop skills before.

Likewise, during my short stint as a sports assistant in Boccia, it was clear how good equipment was particularly crucial to the success of the training and performance of athletes in the BC3 category. Even in the Olympics, where athletes try to shave off milliseconds from their time, a special streamlined outfit that costs thousands of dollars can help.

Therefore, opportunity comes with money, and what we often mistake as ability can often be the result of life chances that are linked to one's class.


orange streaks said...

My colleague sends 3 out of 4 of her children to a private childcare and kindergarden (may or may not be Montessori, I can't remember) and at least 1 of them to Julia Gabriel's speech and drama classes for 2 to 3 year-olds. When I remarked that it comes down to money, that not everyone (specifically in our community) can afford such high-quality early education for their children, she played it down or dismissed it as 'actually we can teach them using such methods ourselves, it's just that we don't have the time to'. Now that I think of it, her argument is problematic. Firstly, parents who are working professionals can afford such education for their own children to make up for the time lost; working-class parents are just struggling to make ends meet and may just skip any kind of formal pre school education for their children altogether. Secondly, if a working mother quits her job to regain time to teach her children, her husband must be earning a certain (high) amount of money for the family to live comfortably in Singapore. Thirdly, for a mother to be aware in the first place of such methods of educating young children, she must have first been exposed to such ideas, which is more likely to happen if she herself completed tertiary education or came from a family of educated background or who prioritised education. I'm not sure why my colleague dismissed my remark; was she uncomfortable at having her privileged position pointed out? Was she externalising the 'Singapore is a meritocratic society' messages that have been pounded into our heads? Was she in denial about the causes behind our community's lagging behind other communities with regards to education? I certainly was not convinced by her argument the moment I heard it but I wasn't about to go into a debate as my own ideas / counter arguments had not crystallised yet. I am reminded of what one lecturer of mine, whom I considered outstanding as he really made me start questioning things around me rather than merely accepting them, said. He said, 'it's a working class issue, regardless of race'. Perhaps in our community, there's just a higher percentage who are of the working class.

Sya said...

Thanks for your insightful comments! I always appreciate your perspectives.

You summarised the implications of your colleague's dismissal aptly, that:
1) Early childhood education requires either your time or money, and the rich can outsource their money for someone else's time,
2) Life chances for children are related to their parents' income, and
3) Professional early childhood education is not universally regarded as required.

Just curious, is your colleague from a minority ethnic group or not? And would you consider her middle class?

I find that it's difficult to view social problems of other ethnic groups/classes if one is not from that social position.

Of course, the effort is then to understand, emphathise and work to regain equality.

"Perhaps in our community, there's just a higher percentage who are of the working class."

It's no secret (:

orange streaks said...

She's from our community. The ones who supposedly have 'trouble' integrating.

I need to clarify with you what middle class is, because I'm not exactly sure what the definition is. The impression I get from that same lecturer's explanation is of a people who have extra source of funds or capital such that they can start a business on whim. I believe he comes from a sociology background, whereas in that class we were discussing literature. (On a side note, I love literature for the fact that it brings in so many perspectives.) So, by that definition, not many of us are middle class as we have to take loans for just about everything. My colleague's father is a retired teacher and her mother is a housewife. That is definetely NOT working class, right? (My definition of working class is people who do blue-collar work.)

Anyway, my point for that last bit is that in Singapore, the discourse surrounding education and progress is deliberately centred on race / ethnic groups, which unfairly puts our community in the spotlight when it comes to social problems, when actually it's more of a working class issue. This I believe has implications on the way society (government, organisations, etc) attempts to solve such problems.

Sya said...

It's a broad definition and depends on each country, but I think your lecturer's definition is food enough to understand your situation. I would say in SG, teacher + housewife for our parents' generation would be enough to be considered middle class.

I agree with your last point. But many people still believe that meritocracy reigns supreme in Singapore (admittedly, often said by those who have already 'made it'). Guess all that Social Studies brainwashing really worked!


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