Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Saturday November 30th 2019

Reminiscence of a Singaporean growing up in underpriviledged condition

He’s not wrong in some ways. My family was on the lower income side (around $2.5-2.8k I think, for a family of 4 – actually, five as I have a half brother) and aside from frequently missing excursions because we couldn’t afford it, my mum had trouble paying for my secondary school fees too. I told her about FAS but she vehemently refused to apply even though I pleaded with her, and I know it was because she was too ashamed of it. I only knew about FAS because my form teacher told me about it, as the school knew how much my parents were making. She angrily said we ‘could afford it’ even though we struggled with purchasing school uniforms, PE attire, school books and supplies.

I never realised how underprivileged we were until I compared pocket money with my peers – in the 2000s I only got $2 a day for recess and lunch, whereas my peers received more than double the amount. In poly I had $3 for spending money and $3 for transport because I lived across the causeway. And food in poly was NOT cheap. Often all I could afford was a $1 sandwich and $1 drink (thanks RP cafe auntie for the cheap food). And I even had the cheek to be angry I got so little, lol. How foolish I was.

It was impossible to save. She tried to work hard, though she couldn’t hold down a full time job so she taught part time late into the night. My dad’s education was only up to Pri 6, so he slaved for most of his life for low salaries, exploited hard by unethical companies, despite being a great mechanic. I hardly saw her or my dad around. But she still worked hard to pay for my and my brother’s school fees and expenditures.

Today, I live by the mantra: don’t have kids if you can’t afford it. And I’m fairly privileged now and empathise with the underprivileged and try where I can to provide opportunities for them. Growing up in my strata of society, having degrees were considered ‘atas’. Getting a diploma became a standard, not a degree.

And btw trying to teach underprivileged people ‘financial literacy’ is for the most part a bullshit concept because you literally can’t save if you DON’T have enough to begin with. What works for helping underprivileged people are education and opportunities, so they can achieve some form of social mobility. But even education is rigged, favouring the more fortunate of our lot.

Poorer people can’t afford tuition, or sometimes even buy ten year series assessment books (and for the love of dogs, teachers should NOT FORCE STUDENTS TO BUY TYS, some of them can’t afford it!!!). I suggest people read ‘This is what inequality looks like’, a collection of essays by Prof Teo Youyenn.

Many Singaporeans are very comfortably privileged that they don’t see the hardships a smaller segment of the society goes through, and wave off their struggles as ‘lack of discipline’, ‘laziness’, or ‘poor judgement’. Hopefully as more people read it, they can empathise with the struggles of those at the fringes of the working class, understand the cycle of poverty/poorness and stop being judgemental pricks.

Jamilah Lim

Editor’s note: This post is extracted from a comment posted on TOC’s article: Gilbert Goh calls for a more compassionate approach by MOE in dealing with struggling families

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