Never too old: Literacy exam topper, 96, wins hearts

Never too old: Literacy exam topper, 96, wins hearts

Karthyayani Amma, the oldest candidate who appeared for the "Aksharalaksham" programme of the state-run Kerala State Literacy Mission Authority, scored 98 marks out of 100. (Photo courtesy: @KiranKS)

Karthyayani Amma doesn’t mind the attention. The 96-year-old from Alappuzha has just topped a literacy examination conducted by the Kerala State Literacy Mission, with 98%.

As she enters the Chief Minister’s Office at the State Secretariat here, reporters ask her about her feat. People gather around, amused and selfie-ready. “I just want to keep studying, till class 10; till God lets me study,” she says. By clearing the examination, she has qualified to appear for the equivalent of a fourth standard examination.

“I couldn’t go to school when I was young. But when I saw little children study, I wanted to do it too,” she says. Hers is a story that inspires. She has already emerged as an icon for Aksharalaksham, the state’s ambitious project which targets total literacy.

On social media, the likes of Shashi Tharoor have congratulated her. The Kerala unit of CPM has posted her image on its Facebook page, celebrating her as the face of new Kerala. The message attached to the image also came with political context – “Kerala is walking forward, not backward. Our hope is in people, not in statues.”

But Karthyayani is keeping it simple. And she won’t bother responding to those who wonder what she, at this age, would do with education – “Six more years to finish school,” she says. Karthyayani lives in Alappuzha with her daughter and grandchildren.

On Thursday, she received a merit certificate from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. As more cameras zoomed in, Karthyayani told the Chief Minister random things, even how she likes her tea. She also recited a few lines of poetry, as iconic poet-activist Sugathakumari cheered her on.

Karthyayani scored 98 out of 100 marks in the examination which covered Mathematics, reading and writing. Of the 43,330 candidates who appeared for the examination in August Karthyayani – no surprises there – was the oldest. Her plans don’t quite end with school. What after class 10? “I want to learn computers”, she says.

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