Sunday, October 09, 2005

Truancy, poverty and food

The title to this section of Letters to The Times is 'Poor kids can't have their cake and eat it'.

One letter-writer pointed out that the 'humiliation of poverty is a reason for truancy' as poor families 'are unable to respond to the peer pressure in the playground that results from brand targeting by advertisers'.

When in my first year of school in Singapore I was asked to bring in twenty cents to buy a plastic cover for a workbook. My mum could not find those twenty cents. Instead my eldest sister sacrificed an old plastic cover from one of her old books.

A wealthier girl at school laughed at me. I was so embarrassed I went home and cried my heart out. The following week, Mum squeezed twenty cents from the housekeeping money and I had my new plastic cover like everyone else in class.

So I understand where this letter-writer is coming from in terms of peer pressure. But he goes on to note that the same single mother of four children on unemployment benefits could not afford a computer for the child to surf the net and complete her homework. As a result, the child decided not to attend school.

Many public libraries now offer subsidized or cheap Internet services. So that is not a fully valid excuse. In any case, teachers could be told of the child’s predicament, and surely some suitable arrangements could be worked out.

The difference between myself and this kid is that I had parents who pounded the importance of a good education into my head. There were six of us kids and no unemployment benefits.

We had no luxuries, no new clothes, no family holidays. No TV, no fridge, no nice furniture, until hand-me-downs from richer relations became available. My clothes came out of a trunk that Mum kept under the bed. In it were dresses that belonged to my cousins. I had one pink dress which I wore on the first day of Chinese New Year every year for about five years. (The dress was very big when I first wore it, and very small when I wore it last.)

Mum would collect old textbooks from relatives so that we had books to read. My parents always made sure we had both English and Chinese newspapers to encourage us to read. I was taught to use the public library from a very young age.

Dad worked as a butcher every day of the year bar three rest days at Chinese New Year for years. At one point he had to borrow money from loan sharks to pay for uniforms and textbooks.

If you want to talk about poverty, come talk to me.

Other letter-writers to this section commented on junk food being sold in and around schools. Ironically, because we were so poor we could not afford junk food.

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