A remarkable literacy journey began for 92-year-old Salima Khan from Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh, when she decided to step into a classroom for the first time. Born around 1931, Khan married at 14, two years before India gained independence from British rule. While her youth had no schools to offer, her determination to read and write never waned.
Recently, a video showcasing Khan’s new ability to count from one to 100 captured the internet’s attention. Khan laughingly recounted to the Times of India how her illiteracy once made her an easy target for mischievous grandchildren. “They would trick me to get extra money since I couldn’t identify the currency notes. Not anymore,” she proudly stated.
The charming nonagenarian’s daily trip to school sees her accompanied by her grandson’s wife, as she engages in lessons with classmates almost 80 years younger.
Lakshmi Pandey, a local education officer, emphasized the universality of Khan’s story, saying it “underscores that age isn’t a barrier to seeking knowledge.” Volunteers from a government literacy program initially spotted the spirited great-grandmother’s potential and persuaded her to join the school.
Pratibha Sharma, the school’s headmistress, admitted to initial reservations about teaching someone of Khan’s age. However, Khan’s enthusiasm for learning was undeniable. “Her enthusiasm was infectious. We just couldn’t turn her away,” said Sharma.
Khan’s educational journey has ignited a spark in her village. Following her lead, 25 local women, including two of Khan’s daughters-in-law, have enrolled in literacy classes.
Interestingly, the Guinness World Records mentions Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge from Kenya as the oldest primary school graduate. He enrolled at the age of 84 in 2004. Inspired by a desire to read the Bible and manage money, Maruge’s later years in school saw him take on the role of “senior head-boy”.