” 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.



HOT Mama

My plan was simple. My Mom taught me my lessons. I was going to do the same for my son Joshua as he entered the big school last June. How hard can grade 1 be? We breezed through pre-school together. I  overlooked the fact that I am 54 and my son is 7.  When I was in grade 1 the Beatles was the hottest thing on earth.  Today, Paul McCartney is probably as old as Justin Bieber’s  grandfather.

The school curriculum is based on the principles of Higher Order of Thinking (H.O.T.) as explained by the class adviser. The what? There is less emphasis on facts and lessons are geared towards critical thinking or the application of  what the child is learning in class.  Darn! I wanted to teach Joshua how to memorize dates, names, and places. I was good at that in school.  Does it mean he will never learn when Filipino hero Lapu Lapu killed Ferdinand Magellan who circumnavigated the  world?

Gone too is the thrill of memorizing multiplication tables. My math teacher used to  hold a contest on who can recite it without losing your breath. That is considered Lower Order of Thinking ( L.O.T). In my son’s school, grade school students are now taught Singapore Math. I had to attend a seminar together with other clueless parents to learn that 5 plus 5 is not just equals to 10. You have to  break the equation into different combinations called  number bonds to arrive at 10.  Whew! Totally alien territory for me but who am I to disagree. The Singaporeans top Math aptitude tests worldwide even beating the Americans.

ni_hao 2Then there is Mandarin.  The hubby and I thought that it would be cool for our son to learn a second foreign language. It would look good in his future CV and help him land a nice, cushy job. However, during his first month in school Joshua declared he hates Mandarin and wants to transfer to another school. My daydream of our son running a Ferrari  plant in China went poof!

In another parents workshop, I learned that Mandarin is a tonal language with four tones making it difficult for a neophyte like me to distinguish each of them. The only Chinese words that I know are xie xie and ni hao.  Thanks to a Nickelodeon cartoon.Teaching the Chinese strokes to Joshua is something else!  During study time,  I  have to be creative, sometimes forming shapes with my hands and feet, in describing certain strokes so my son can remember them.

Lastly there is the dreaded subject called Filipino, the Waterloo of many students. It’s an embarrassing  fact but  a majority of them would rather be proficient in English than their own language. Is it any wonder that the Philippines is second to India as the world’s favorite BPO site?

I don’t relish the subject either but do I have a  choice? I have to rewire my brain to absorb words I last heard 40 years ago like  pangngalan ( noun), pandiwa ( verb), patinig ( vowel), katinig ( consonant) etc . . My son complains how hard Filipino is but I threaten him  that if he flunk  the subject he can say goodbye to the gym. He loves to play at the gym after class. He can narrate in detail  his adventures with his classmates. But if you ask him what he learn in class today the stock answer is ” I forgot.”

After locking horns with the grade 1 curriculum for seven months, I am still standing and relieved that my son does not have a  failing grade. (I just wish he has better grades, whispers my OC self.) And surprise, surprise Joshua now finds Mandarin easy peasy. In two months time, he will be finish with grade 1.A friend, who listens patiently as I whine about teaching my seven-year old kid, suggested recently that I hire a tutor. Is she kidding? I am up to the challenge of being a H.O.T Mama next school year. Bring it on, grade 2!