- Topic: How the Arts are perceived in your society.
- Controversy: When is something “relevant” to your daily life? Note that relevance is not the same as whether something is good or bad. It may be relevant because…
- It’s a problem that plagues you no matter where you turn
- It’s directly applicable to whatever you’re doing
- It’s a hot talking point
- Context: Your society. Interestingly, the question already sets some guidelines. You are to consider “the majority of people” in your society. Hence, any assessment of extent that uses only the “majority/minority” critical thinking tool won’t get you too far.
You are expected to…
Answer the question in a way that goes beyond the majority/minority distinction. If you’ve been practising for questions on the Arts, this question should evoke a sense of déjà vu. To stand out in a sea of regurgitated scripts, let’s examine the idea of a majority.
The majority isn’t a faceless blob of humanity. It has back stories and explanations. So instead of taking the easy way out and writing in broad assertions, recognise this complexity.
Statistics are a useful entry point for complexity. Don’t content yourself with dishing out number after number. Explain a little more. What is the source of that statistic? Is it reliable? We know that 99% agreement in polls is a high percentage, but what is your base sample? Is it biased? Unleash your inner sceptic.
Maybe an example will help. This extract is from an opinion piece published in The Straits Times. It analyses the results of a public transport satisfaction survey conducted by Singapore’s Land Transport Authority. (Read the full article here.)
Yet, the public transport satisfaction survey which the Land Transport Authority commissions yearly seems to suggest a high level of satisfaction (over 90 per cent).
Last year, the poll found that satisfaction with rail improved by about four percentage points – reversing a four-year decline.
A couple of things to note about the survey. First, it was done in October, the least eventful quarter for disruptions last year. It was also just before the spate of incidents in the first quarter of this year.
Second, a score of above six (out of 10) qualifies as “satisfied”. Attributes like safety garnered relatively high scores, but others such as waiting time, reliability and travel time garnered less than seven points.
So, satisfaction is not an absolute measure. Nor is it static. But the poll is nonetheless a useful tool in gauging whether sentiment has improved or not year to year.
The parts in bold introduce complexity. Instead of a too-neat figure of 90%, we have a nuanced analysis of why that figure might have come about. Whatever your stand, this can work to your advantage. If you argue that people are largely discontented with public transport, these points would show how present measures of satisfaction are poor representations of the actual view from the ground. If you argue that people are largely satisfied by public transport standards, pointing out some limitations (“Granted, the survey was done during a relatively disruption-free period.”) shows that you are fair-minded. And that makes your script all the more believable.
Back to the question on the Arts. Credible statistics on the Singapore arts scene can be gleaned from surveys like the National Arts Council’s National Population Survey on the Arts. Publications like this offer rich pickings for both detractors and advocates. While attendance figures might be rosy, “A Chingay attendee does not an artsgoer make“. On the other hand, low absolute participation numbers in arts-related activities might not be so depressing if you consider the progress made over the years (see pages 56-57 in particular).