Kozhikode: Unquenchable curiosity is not a childhood trait. Ayishabi K, one of the instructors trained by Kerala State Literacy Mission for its coastal literacy programme 'Akshara Sagaram', is overwhelmed by the excitement of elderly women for learning. As if to doubly compensate for their inability to study during childhood, and unmindful of their nagging old-age worries, nearly 15 of them gather regularly at the veranda of any of their houses to learn numbers and alphabets. Idle gossip can wait.
“They are not hesitant to follow the lessons and are quick to grasp. The only problem is their health, as many of them are aged above 50. Not all of them can sit for hours, and would need frequent breaks, some others are having issues with eyesight. Still, all of them are eager to learn and qualify the examination,” says Ayishabi, who takes classes in and around houses in South Beach. These women, like children absorbed in picking up exotic shells on the sea shore, enthusiastically strain to collect as much nuggets of wisdom as they can in the sunset of their life.
As for 'students' confined to their houses, Ayishabi meets them at their houses and impart lessons. Ayishabi is supported by another trainer, Nasriya CK, in the same area. “One man has been bedridden for the past eight years and another is mentally retarded. Both of them cannot walk to classes, so we visit their houses at their convenience,” Ayishabi said. 73-year-old Ayishumma is Ayishabi's eldest student, and she attends class regularly. People aged 15 to 75 can write the examination. Those who qualify would be eligible to attend the 'class four' course of the State Literacy Mission.
3004 people are writing the literacy-equivalency examination on November 25 under the second phase of 'Akshara Sagaram'. Of this, 2638 (88%) are women. While 1209 people are writing the examination from Kozhikode, 1152 are writing from Kollam and 643 from Ernakulam.
The first phase of the examination was held in Thiruvananthapuram, Malappuram and Kasaragod in August 2017. The programme is being carried out in 234 wards in the second phase. A total of 204 instructors, also picked from the coastal areas, are part of this project.
The objective of the State Literacy Mission is to empower people from coastal areas who were unable to attend school due to many adversities during childhood. The project will bring within its fold dropouts, and also neo-literates who had acquired the ability to only write their name and address in Malayalam. Apart from imparting basic education, the project will offer classes on coastal security, conservation of marine resources. Career guidance, too, will be offered.
The syllabus is prepared in such a way that the textbooks connect the coastal people with their daily life, including careers connected to coastal area. The literacy test for 100 marks include reading, writing and arithmetic. Total marks needed to qualify is 30 – nine out of 30 in reading, 12 out of 40 in writing and nine out of 30 in arithmetic.
“According to the 2011 census, 18 lakh people in the state are illiterate, most of them belong to coastal areas. So, the literacy mission decided to improve the situation, concentrating on the coastal region,” says mission director Dr PS Sreekala.