“All Are Not Equal”: Cultural Capital and Cultural Difference in Singapore Families

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This paper presents some data from a study which explored the lived literacy learning of Malay and Chinese families in Singapore. The research strategy was one of multiple case studies. The research approach was ethnographic and the data set includes those collected from the field of four of the sites. Data analysis show that participant parents, regardless of their socio-economic and cultural background, value their children’s educational success, want their children to do well in school, and correspondingly see themselves as supporting their children in one way or another. The evidence, however, demonstrates a variation in familial perspectives and needs and a considerable distinction in how families of different background define literacy and which literacy they consider worth transmitting to the children. These in turn affect the way they foster their children’s acquisition of literacy. The focal children from the four families thus come to school with particular cultural resources and repertoires of literacy practices that position them in particular ways with respect to the curriculum to which they have to adapt. These conclusions draw on Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital which explains how individual’s access to certain cultural signals (such as attitudes, preferences, tastes, and styles) either enables or limits their entry into high status social groups, organizations, or institutions such as schools. These views present an alternative to the cultural deficit thinking that blame students, their families, and their culture for their academic failure.


Keywords: Literacy Learning, Cultural Capital, Cultural Difference
Stream: Literacy, Language, Multiliteracies; Languages Education and Second Language Learning
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Cultural Capital and Cultural Difference and their Impact on Children’s Acquisition of Literacy


Dr. Mukhlis Abu Bakar

Assistant Professor, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Singapore, Singapore, Singapore

Mukhlis Abu Bakar is Assistant Professor at the Asian Languages and Cultures Academic Group, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He teaches courses on language, literacy and culture and his research interest is in the area of bilingualism and childhood literacy and Islamic religious education. He has recently completed a 3-year funded project on the lived literacy experiences of Malay and Chinese children in Singapore.

Ref: L09P1157