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For a brighter future

Sailosi Batiratu
Friday, January 25, 2013

DURING a trip to Suva as a Fiji Sugar Corporation apprentice to study at the then Fiji Institute of Technology, Derek Mar who was from FSC Labasa, invited me for a few bowls of yaqona at his cousin's place at Votua Rd in Samabula North.

As the evening progressed, one of the participants at that yaqona-drinking session told us of two young brothers. For the purpose of this story, the older of the two shall be Jerry and the younger John.

Jerry had just started school and according to the storyteller had been very excited about the whole thing and all that went with it, the shopping, the choices to make for this and that and what not.

He had risen early for his first day of school and had come back enthusiasm undiminished.

So they were somewhat surprised when he did not rise as early for his second day at school.

When awoken, he said he did not want to go to school as he had already gone yesterday. That day he said was John's turn to go in his stead.

Without a doubt, almost all of us will have some funny or even hilarious story connected to our days as a student; at primary, secondary and even tertiary level. And there would have been days when it seemed it wasn't worth looking forward to tomorrow.

With the passing of the years, some of those not-so-good moments would have through the lens of time lost some of the jagged edges and acquired some laughable aspects.

But no matter how far ago one sat behind a desk, it is safe to say you were sent there by a parent or guardian so you could have a brighter future. It was an investment.

Having mentioned investment, it brings back a story of some cousins from Cakaudrove in Vanua Levu who were all in university at the same time. And for some reason or the other, they were taking longer than usual to finish their respective programs.

During one of their gatherings, another cousin an engineer who was at that time based in Labasa, made his views of their lethargic progress known to them. He said to the slow-motion undergraduates that if they were to be treated strictly as investments, then they would have been insolvent and declared bankrupt. The commercial analogy may not entirely be that accurate, but the message was clear enough.

To their credit, they are now graduates. I believe one is in New Zealand. Another is back at university after having completed some postgraduate studies. So for at least one of them the investment in classroom education had continued.

If it's true that education is a life-long process, then we're all still supposed to be actively engaged in it.

The question may not so much on who is footing the bill but what we are losing out on if we're disinterested in the people, conversations, observations, opportunities and the multitude of other things which constitute life.

And given that all of us are part of a community or grouping, then by our being indifferent and consequently losing out by not deriving the lessons and experiences that could have enriched our existence, those with whom we constantly interact do too.

Among friends the topic that has this week been a part of, if not dominated, discussions has been the cost of equipping children for school.

A friend was talking about him meeting a mutual friend in town, who was out shopping with his daughter who is in Form Five this year. The dad, indicating a top that is part of daughter's uniform, said with some degree of disbelief that one cost $23. The other friend didn't ask how much a skirt cost.

Earlier in the day I had met father and daughter who said they were going to buy her bag. After enquiring, I told the dad I had in the previous week seen some bags in the supermarket they were going to and those cost $60.

Throw in a pair of decent sandals, the top and skirt plus a few other things and that's a $100 or more gone right there. A lot of money or not, it has to be paid.

If you think sending our children to school properly outfitted is expensive, than what about those who send their children to schools which charge $US14,000 ($F24,600) a year. There's another which is not so expensive and charges only half of that.

The schools are not in Fiji but far away in Mongolia. And they cater not only for the children of expatriates. In Fiji or Mongolia, someone has to pick up that tab.

Throughout last year, depending on who was in the newsroom kitchen, talk would sometimes revolve around the cost of children working on their various projects. In addition to the monetary cost, effort and time were also required to produce something that would be awarded a good grade or marks.

Parents and guardians of children, especially those in secondary school, who will this year take part in extra-curricular activities. In the first term there is athletics, track and field. In the second there will be netball, hockey, rugby and soccer.

Whichever sport the child, or children, as some families will more than one playing some sort of organised sport, the proper gear will have to be bought. They will have to be transported to the various destinations not forgetting the extra cost of travelling home after training in the afternoons.

So when children sometimes decide they need a break, apart from the ones authorised, or that someone else can attend in their place, they need to be reminded of the investment.

In part it's for the parents but in the main it's for the students' own good for when they reap the returns of that investment, they will not be only one of the beneficiaries. The others are you, me and some segment or even the whole of Fiji.