Social Mobility

Much has been said about social mobility in Singapore. In my generation and my parents’ generation, social mobility was very real. In any case the average standard of living has been on the rise as the country is developing so everyone feels generally that their lives are improving, save where unforeseen circumstances like illness or accidents occur. However, today, where the country is developed and therefore the average wage, average standard of living has not as much room upwards to grow, it starts becoming more obvious that social mobility is not as strong. I start this post with saying that I still feel that Singapore does it as well as possible but I am just lamenting the reality of a fallen world.

Before I had children, I never thought I would be the kind to even try to send my daughter to popular schools. I would be the first to say I went to a neighbourhood primary school where my classmates smoked and hung out with the boys in gangs in the equally neighbourhood secondary school next door, but I still had “equal” opportunity to get into law school. After all, every school a good school, right? Yet when I am a parent, I cannot help but hope that my children do well, and cannot help but try to give them that little edge. I moved near to Nanyang in order to get in. Slightly ashamed to admit it, but true.

What sparked today’s thoughts was attending my daughter’s prize presentation ceremony at Nanyang Primary School. Among a group of about 290 prize recipients (mostly for academic achievement but a minority for character awards), I met 2 law school classmates, one neighbour cum husband’s ex-colleague, a family friend and my personal trainer. Present at the same event was even a person my husband met just the night before at an industry drinks event. Bumping into one friend or two is “small world”, bumping into 6 people in the same circle just shows there is something statistically significant at play here. One can’t help but think of Lee Kuan Yew’s very famous quote:

“So when the graduate man does not want to marry a graduate woman, I tell him he’s a fool, stupid. You marry a non-graduate, you’re going to have problems, some children bright, some not bright. You’ll be tearing your hair out. you can’t miss. It’s like two dice. One is Jack, Queen, King, Ace, other also Jack, Queen, King, Ace. You throw a Jack, Queen, King, Ace against dice two, three, four, five, six, what do you get? You can’t get high pairs, let alone a full flush.”

It is genetics at play? Or is it that privileged parents are able to afford to send their children for enrichment classes? Or perhaps simply that the peaceful family environment is simply more conducive to child development? I’m not sure, all I know is it does seem like there is some hardening of social stratification going on here. I’m not sure how to fix it. As I admitted myself, I fell prey to the kiasu syndrome. Its human nature to. If we have the ability, we would give our children more. No matter how much the society gives the disadvantaged, it is not the same as what parents can give. I suppose we each do our part to help uplift the disadvantaged, and pray for a better world.


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