There are reasons why children who grow up in poverty underachieve in education, says King Edward VI student Lois Driscoll, age 16
Danny Dyer – love him or hate him – has recently been rather more conspicuous than I’d prefer. It is not his Brexit comments, or apparent Royal connections, or even his National Television Award for his role in EastEnders that concern me, though, it is what he said in his award acceptance speech which bothered me.
Dyer said: “To all you young kids living out there in poverty, who don’t think you have the right to dream or believe, do not let where you’ve come from define where you’re going to be in life. You can be whoever you want to be.”
An inspirational message on the face of it. But is it true? Can young people really be whoever they want to be? Or is this meritocratic dream a mere myth?
We hear it enough. Put in the hard work and you will reap the rewards. The job you dream of, the wealth, climbing the social ladder.
Dyer’s speech might have lit a spark of hope for kids in front of their TVs. But what if they had returned to school the next day having decided that this day would not be the same as the last? All fine, until their teacher said: “We’re studying Romeo and Juliet.” And everyone else pulled out their personal copies, which their parents had been emailed about buying, along with the shiny new revision guides to match…
There are reasons why children who grow up in poverty underachieve in education. These are deeply embedded in our society. The kids who do better are those with the revision guides, whose parents can afford the school trips, the desk and computer, waiting at home after their balanced home-cooked meal.
Some people do not have a computer. The topics for the test are covered in the study guide which they do not have – and more importantly, they are running on an empty stomach because this month’s income did not stretch to breakfast.
The problem with the notion that we live in a meritocracy is that it papers over the real social barriers to advancement. When we feed people this notion of meritocracy, we fail those who face these barriers. Instead of constantly telling people they can overcome their situation, we should get serious about changing their situation.
If our government really wants a change, it would put an end to the ideology of meritocracy and admit people in poverty can’t simply work hard and become a politician or lawyer. The chances are, they are working as hard as they can, looking after children, juggling two jobs, just to pay the bills.
If we recognised the reality of the situation that those from lower class backgrounds face, there would not be exceptions such as Alan Sugar and Danny Dyer. They would be the norm.
We might then have a world in which intelligence and talent count for everything, rather than the house you grew up in, who your parents were, or the school they could afford.