Friday, April 11, 2008

When I first moved to Glasgow, I was shocked by the destitute poverty in some parts of the city. Much of the poverty and social housing schemes affected by such poverty, however, are often located on the outskirts of Glasgow. Interestingly, I have rarely seen homeless people sleep on the street - a sight that is all too common in Toronto unfortunately.

I didn't understand how such poverty could exist in a Western society; by many standards, people living within social housing schemes had the basics: shelter, electricity, food, access to free education and health care. However, the poverty I have seen in Glasgow is a lot different to the poverty I knew back in Canada.

When I lived in Canada, I used to think that if you were born a white male, you had everything going for you in this world; I would not accept that growing up poor was a hindrance for a white dude to not be successful in life.

Let me explain.

Although I grew up in a nice middle-class suburb of Canada, I went to the local primary school - an excellent primary school - that was attended by kids from all walks of life. Poor kids, middle-class kids, wealthy kids, handicap kids and so on. As such, children from various income brackets had access to the same education that I had. Towards the end of high school, some of these childhood friends did not seek post-secondary education which, in this era is almost a standard, and I didn't understand why that was. To me, education was like quenching an essential thirst and despite not having *any* money towards university, I was desperate to go. I mean, who doesn't want to sit in a dark theatre hall and watch Orson Welles films or learn about Baroque art? Maybe I was just a nerd.

Right. So my understanding of poverty was, perhaps, quite limited and sheltered when I moved to Glasgow. I did not understand why the cycles of poverty continued from one generation to the next over year.

However, the more I have lived here, the more I realise that discrimination against the poor is systemic. I have found that all too often, poor children are marginalised in Glasgow and in fact, do not have the same access to a decent education as that of his/her middle-class counterparts.

It is well documented that clever children from poor families face being overtaken by less bright children from affluent homes. In addition, new evidence shows that faith schools are siphoning off middle-class pupils and are failing to take children from the poorest backgrounds nationwide. Even when they are situated in deprived inner-city areas, religious schools have fewer poor children than local authority secondary schools.

Since living in Glasgow, I have found that one of the main differences between Canada and the UK is social mobility. That is, I think it's easier for people in Canada to move in between classes and have access to the same educational system despite their financial backgrounds.

I wish I knew the answers - besides the obvious that schools in poorer areas need more funding and better teachers - but I don't. I want to believe that it will get better; it must get better.

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