Indian woman learns to read at age 104, fulfills lifelong dream

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Kuttiyamma had a dream — and it only took 104 years to make it come true.

The Kerala, India woman, born into a low-caste family in the village of Thiruvanchoor, always wanted to learn to read but, with no education available, could never learn how.

But now, in addition to her daily chores, which include cooking for her family, Kuttiyama waits for the paperboy to deliver the local newspaper so she can devour the news.

“I hailed from Kerala’s backward Ezhava community and was born in the midst of poverty, education for women family members was unthinkable at that time,” Kuttiyama told The Guardian. “Even boys discontinued their studies at nine. My parents were landless agricultural laborers.”

During her childhood she cooked, washed dresses and kept the hut for her 11 siblings.

She married at 16, and had five children. The family had a small shop, where they sold herbal medicine. And she continued to spend her days cooking and doing housework. Kuttiyama said she was happy enough at home, but something always bothered her.

Kuttiyamma said that she "always wanted to write my name and address” but was never able to as she spent her life caring for siblings and then her own family.
Kuttiyamma said that she “always wanted to write my name and address” but was never able to as she spent her life caring for siblings and then her own family.
BBC News-India

She wanted to learn to read so she could keep up with the world — or at least write her own name and address.

“I was always curious about what was happening around the world,” she said. “On many occasions I regretted my inability to read newspapers and I used to plead with the younger generations at home to read out newspapers to me. I always wanted to write my name and address.”

Just one year ago, a neighbor noticed how much attention Kuttiyama gave to her grandchildren’s education.

It just so happens the neighbor, Rehana John, is a literacy trainer.

Kuttiyamma's neighbor Rehana John, who happens to be a literacy teacher, gave her lessons.
Kuttiyamma’s neighbor Rehana John — who happens to be a literacy teacher — gave her lessons.
BBC News-India

The 34-year-old gave Kuttiyama some books, and they began meeting nightly, reviewing the material together.

“Except for very little vision and hearing problems, she was a perfect and sometimes naughty student who made my teaching feel meaningful,” John told The Guardian. “She always has her textbook, notebooks and pens ready before I reach her home. In addition, she will keep extra of the delicacies she has cooked at home to give me.”

John’s only other student even close to Kuttiyama’s age was just 84, she said.

“She is my mother now. We are sharing a rare kind of camaraderie and relationship.”

Kuttiyama studied for months in the evenings and finally took the Kerala state primary literacy exam last month, the oldest woman ever to take it. Her scores were sky high: 89 percent in literacy and 100 percent in mathematics.

Kuttiayama was the oldest person to ever pass the Kerala state primary literacy exam last month.
Kuttiayama was the oldest person to ever pass the Kerala state primary literacy exam last month.
BBC News-India

“Age is no barrier for knowledge. With utmost respect and love, I wish Kuttiyamma and all other new learners the best,” the state education minister tweeted about her results.

But Kuttiyama isn’t finished.

Her plans include acing the fourth standard exam, which Indian students normally pass at age nine. This means she will have to write papers in Malayalam and English and study the environment and more mathematics.

“I don’t think English is alien and a hard nut to crack,” said Kuttiyamma. “I will try to achieve 100 percent marks in the equivalency examination for all papers.’’

Her teacher said that Kuttiyamma still takes lessons from her every day and refuses to let other family members take over her household chores.

“Her passion and commitment are exceptional,” John said.

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