The Cost of Inequality: Rich Smart Kids Vs Poor Smart Kids

Written by: Leo ,

December 08, 2018

“Poor Smart Kids are less likely to graduate from universities now than rich dumb kids. And it’s not because of the school, it’s because of all the advantages and resources that are available to rich kids”  Leo

“Leo, you’ll never be who you are today, without the connections and resources that your parents have laid out for you. You are, and will always be, only a shadow of them.”

It’s the ritual old passing comment that I have been hearing, since adolescence. Somehow, there’s truth to the above statement. However, it also embodies an undertone of jealousy. We cannot choose where we come from, but we certainly can choose the paths we walk in life.

The cost of living in Singapore is constantly increasing. Raising a family in  Singapore can be a daunting task. Estimates of raising a child in Singapore range from S$360,000 at the modest end, to an astronomical sum of S$1 million at the high end. That is assuming if the child smoothly transits from infant (0 Yrs) to adult (21 Yrs) or when he or she is able to financially support themselves.

Kids from wealthy families are more likely to have parents that send them to learning centers, enrichment classes and private tuition at a very young age. Some of them as young as 6 months old. This environment promotes a chance for these kids to have a head start in life. Those kids from lower income family may not have access to these enrichment activities due to the lack of financial resources. I have two nephews, age 4 and 1, respectively. Due to the accumulated wealth of their parents combined income, as well as the wealth from previous generation (grandparents), both my nephews are able to leverage on the surplus resources that are readily available to them. They attend infant learning centers and have dedicated attention from the teachers. Their physical, emotional and social well-being are at its optimum level.

The conventional education route for most Singaporean kids, is to spend 3 Years in preschool (nursery, kindergarten 1 & kindergarten 2), 6 Years in primary (elementary) school, 4 years in secondary school (junior high) and 2 years in junior college or 3 years in a local polytechnic (diploma). Some may choose to further their education in a local university or head abroad to study. Others may choose to enter the workforce and kick start their career. I fall in the former category. I went on to pursue a degree in Psychology, abroad, at the University of New South Wales. I had the financial luxury for an overseas education that is fully sponsored by my mum. A tertiary education abroad can chalk up to over S$400,000, taking into account the accommodation, food and transport, tuition fees and textbooks. Also, the cost varies from the different fields of study (arts, science, commerce, engineering, medicine).

I know of a guy, K, in secondary school who often tops the class in most subjects. He fared exceptionally well in his General Certificate of Education: Ordinary Level (GCE-O Level), scoring 6 points, 7 A1s (a perfect grade for every subject). He earned the privilege to go to any Junior College (JC, GCE-A Level) or Polytechnic (Poly, Diploma) of his choice. K chose to pursue a diploma in computing science at a local polytechnic. He could have easily gain acceptance into one of the top JC with his flawless transcript. K comes from a background of hardship. Unlike most kids, K’s father died when he was 2, his mother took on multiple jobs to provide for the family (K and his younger sister). K assisted in contributing financially to the family by working part-time throughout his teenage years. Most unfortunately, K’s mother was diagnosed with late stage cancer and not long after, passed away. K dropped out of his diploma course to get a full-time job so that he can support his younger sister. I have not heard from K since.

It got me thinking what if K is born to a wealthy family? Or a family with two healthy working parents? What difference will it make, with his intellect and the resources from an affluent family? Hypothetically, he will be able to reach his fullest potential, given the right environment with the right guidance. I have seen many kids who perform exceptionally well academically, as well as in their extra curriculum activities. Most of them come from a humble background, with at least, one working adult to bring home the bacon. There are also kids who come from affluent families where the wealth is inherited from previous generation. We cannot refute the fact that wealth within the family has positive correlation to the success of its future generation. Take for instance, the affluent kids are substantially more likely to enter the workforce with little to no student debt. For less affluent graduates, they may have the burden of student loans and debt that eliminates any chance of wealth accumulation. Be it successful in monetary or social wealth, kids from higher disposable income family will have more networking opportunities than kids from lower disposable income family.

“We can’t change the cards that we are dealt with, just how we play the hand.”

I was dealt with the cards of privilege. I’m aware that there are people around me, from less privileged background. I choose to educate and inspire the individuals I come across. My conviction to micro-narrowing the gap of society’s inequality lies in education and humility. The future is looking bright!

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