” Why must summers be so penitential?”

graduates 2This is the last line of Michael Tan’s column today in Philippine Daily Inquirer. It is not just a question but a plaintive plea coming from an educator, a chancellor of a prestigious  state university. His column today tackles an all too familiar situation – the  financial burden of acquiring a college degree in a third world country like the Philippines.

It is a common story replicated thousands of times among the poor. Parents sell their land and farm animals to raise enough money to send their children to college. For them, a college diploma  means to unshackle the curse of poverty. It is also mostly for this reason that ten million Filipinos are now working abroad as medical professionals, teachers, engineers, seamen, hotel employees, laborers, maids, and entertainers. They persevere through homesickness, cold temperatures, discrimination and even abuse to send their children, siblings and other relatives through school. A college education is given prime importance in our society, woven  tightly into the fabric of the Filipino psyche, that it gave birth to ” Anong natapos mo?” ( an abridged question meaning ” What college course did you finish’?)

The hardship of sending children to school is evident during the summer months of April and May. Michael Tan writes, ” This is the time of the year when after paying income taxes families have to scrounge for funds to pay off end-of-school-year debts, so students can be promoted to the next year’s level, or even to graduate. Others are  now finding ways to get funds together as private schools starts enrollment in May.”

It strikes close to home.  The hubby recently raised the funds for our son’s tuition fee just in time for enrollment next week. Our seven-year old studies in a Jesuit run private school with an excellent reputation and a beautiful, sprawling campus. But we have to pay very high tuition fees for Joshua to be educated well. I worry if we will be able to afford the tuition fee and its annual increases every year. Friends who have successfully put their children through college assured me that we will be able to survive  by God’s grace.

My son, at this moment, is blissfully playing his video games, unaware of my worries. I look at him and I  tell  myself how lucky he is to be studying in a good school. Last year when he was being obstinate about his studies, I told him in a fit of frustration how his Daddy is working very hard so that he can study in Xavier. He defiantly answered, “I did not ask to study in Xavier. You and Daddy want me to study there!”  His words stung me and I should not have made him feel guilty. But what does he know?  He is only seven. And what do I know?  I  am 54 and yet only in my seventh year as a parent.

Times flies fast. Soon he will grow up and, hopefully, appreciate the summers of opportunities that have been laid out for him. I am keeping my fingers crossed.