Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Read: Outliers

Malcolm Gladwell
Outliers: The Story of Success
Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

ISBN: 978-0-6-03669-6

Many thanks to JY for her gift of an interesting read of Gladwell's Outliers. In a nutshell, Gladwell argues in this book that "if we want to understand how and why some people thrive, we should look around them - at things like their family, their birthdate, even their birth date."

I have read Gladwell's Blink and The Tipping Point. Outliers is comparatively a more engaging read than the two other titles. This could be because Outliers is much more focused on writing about people and their stories.

I am rather struck by how people in certain context could have access to greater amount of opportunities than others. It is revealing in some ways to read about how one's culture, community, family and generation could in some ways help one to have an edge to make great achievements in life. Success is, as best as I understand from this book, in many ways an accumulated efforts of groups of people influenced by key events and cultural legacy.

There are a number of key ideas discussed in this book. For example, how one's cultural legacy has an influence on one's likelihood to succeed and how having sufficient long hours of practice do make a difference in the mastery of a skill.

Drawing upon my learning points from reading this book, I came up with some unpolished ideas that may in some ways help children from low-income families in Singapore move up the social mobility ladder.

Some of the children from low-income families whom I get to know in the course of my work have lots of potential to succeed in life. Yet, many may struggle to pass English because they do not have the opportunity to communicate in English until their pre-school years (usually at five-year-old) since English isn't their mother-tongue. In Singapore, English remains as the main language medium in which most subjects are being taught. Others struggle to pass Mathematics, which is quite an important subject to master because without a pass in Mathematics, a student in Singapore is likely to have very limited choices when they wish to take up post-secondary education.

Applying the "10000 hour rule", would it mean that there may be a need to dedicate appropriate level of resources and to make concerted efforts to enable children and their parents from Non-English speaking low-income families to get easy (and perhaps free) access to community resources that enable these children and their parents to communicate in English when the children are of a very young age? This is so that by the time when the children are of Primary-school-going age, they have sufficient practice of communicating in the English language.

I have also observed that many young children tends to be kinesthetic learners, who learn best through hands-on methods. Perhaps our libraries could allow the loan of educational games and toys. From time-to-time, there could be library volunteers who could give demonstration on how to use these games and toys effectively. Understandably, these items are usually much difficult to maintain than books. Nevertheless, they may be the tools that could help build a supportive community to educate the brilliant young minds from the low-income, less-privileged families.

In the meantime, I wonder what it would take to build a supportive community (in Singapore) whereby people would be able to have sufficient opportunities to realise more of their potential. I also secretly wonder whether I have the suitable context to be successful in my own terms, and what would it be? Have I reached the 10000 hour of good solid practice on the double bass? Have I reached the 10000 hour of good practice on writing? Living seems like a constant practice.


pinkie said...

While the less privileged families do not speak English at home and result in the kids not able to fare better in English, the English educated parents have kids who do not do well in Chinese. Life is such an irony.

tuti said...

pinkie wrote something serious. but i laughed. it is true. the irony.

in all, life is about your luck too. if you're born with better spoons, you will have more in life. the others will just have to deal with their hard luck.
of course there will be cases where hard work plays a part, but note the word 'hard work'. sorry i am being realistic.

tuti said...

i think your birthday is near or already here. happy birthday py. i wish you good health and all that you desire. may you find your true calling in life soon.

oceanskies79 said...

Pinkie: Life is a complexity.

Tuti: Thank you for your wishes. Yes, it was sometime ago in early May. Thanks for remembering. I was away from blogosphere for a while and only read your message today. Thanks again.