Published: 06th March 2021
Women's Day: Thankamma may be 84 years old with poor eyesight but that doesn't mean she's too old to finish school
The Kollam resident reentered the classroom thanks to the Navachetana programme for Scheduled Castes. Here's how she was inspired to do it
There is a small revolution brewing in colonies and quiet towns across Kerala. In 2018, when 92-year-old Karthiyani Amma became the oldest student in Kerala, it reignited the hope for literacy in other men and women across the state who watched her achieve what had seemed impossible. 84-year-old Thankamma from Kollam completed her 4th standard exam in 2019 and has now freshly registered for the 7th standard equivalency exam.
When Thankamma was growing up, education was a distant dream for women like her. With a house full of siblings, they needed the extra pair of hands to do the cleaning, cooking and to take care of the younger children. When she enrolled for the programme, she revealed to her prerak (teacher and supporter) that coming from a ‘pattikajathi’ or low caste household in the time she was growing up meant just enough money to buy resources for the house and, if possible, to educate the older children.
She says, “In 2017, I enrolled myself in the state government’s Navachetana programme (a literacy programme introduced specifically for members of the SC community) around the time this government came back to power. This is how I got in touch with the people from the literacy mission and realised that I can take care of my education. I enjoy studying a lot. And I got first rank in the programme!”
A large portion of the success of Kerala’s literacy programmes are owed to the preraks who form dedicated, long-lasting relationships with their students. Thankamma’s prerak, Sheeja C recently won the national award for Best Prerak in Kerala. She says, “The relationship between a prerak and student is an absolutely divine connection. Although these students may not have much knowledge about reading and writing, they have a PhD’s worth of knowledge about life. We learn so much from them!”
Thankamma’s eyesight and hearing had begun to fail over the past few years. Thanks to a medical camp sponsored by the government, she was given a sponsored set of glasses with which she went through her course books. Recently, with COVID cases on the rise in her neighbourhood, she has been working extra hard to make time for her studies despite many challenges. Over time, she has been honoured by the education minister, the State Institute of Rural Development and various others for her sheer hard work.
Sheeja who has been working to educate people over the past 22 years, sings praises of Thankamma’s conviction. She says, “We have met so many people and helped them in the name of knowledge. There are so many women who may never have had the chance to open a textbook who have gotten through 4th, 7th, 10th and now even their 11th and 12th standard exams. It is amazing to see what education can do.”