It's never too late to learn, says a 68-year-old 10th grader

Nepal's oldest 10th-grader shows that education and lifelong learning can continue at any age.

Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters
Durga Kami, 68, who is studying in tenth grade at Shree Kala Bhairab Higher Secondary School, answers a question from his teacher as he attends a class in Syangja, Nepal, June 5, 2016. REUTERS/

Going back to school can be a daunting proposition, but Nepal's oldest 10th grader is inspiring his young classmates with his consistent resolve.

Durga Kami, 68, attends Shree Kala Bhairab Higher Secondary School six days a week. Mr. Kami said he became lonely after his wife died, and with his six children grown, he saw a long-awaited opportunity to finish his schooling, Reuters reported. In his younger years, he had aspired to teach school but could not afford the fees. 

The newly returned student first learned to read and write among 7- and 8-year-olds. He has now reached high school, where his classmates invite him to join volleyball games at recess and call him "Baa," meaning father, in Nepalese.

Although his motivation for returning to formal schooling is personal, his presence has both rewarded him and inspired his young classmates.

"If they see an old person with a white beard like me studying in school they might get motivated as well," he told Reuters.

Many Americans also find reasons – either personal or professional – to return to school much later in life than the traditional paradigm dictates. One-fourth of America's college students are "nontraditional," meaning they advance in higher education after age 30, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

For Evelyn Dimbat of Arizona, who returned to school at age 60, it is part of adapting to the changing world.

"Sometimes when you're young, you don't know what direction you're going, but the world changes and you have to change with it," Ms. Dimbat said in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor. "I've done a lot of things and thought, 'Well that was good,' but I needed something more."

Seeing a friend obtain a bachelors degree later in life convinced her to obtain certification as a medical assistant, which qualified her for a job that did not even exist when she graduated high school. After moving through various jobs, each requiring a slightly different type of education, she has become a proponent of continuous learning.

"You learn a little bit more about yourself, so there's nothing lost," Dimbat says. "If nothing else, this increases my knowledge and [different types of schooling] can relate to each other."

Returning to or entering a college classroom later in life can be a juggling act, as family and job considerations can weigh heavier on older students than they do on the young. Sherie Baldridge grew up in a family of 13, so she always knew her motivation for education had to come from within. She decided to return to school in 1982 so she could better help her six children finance their own college degrees, and she completed her master's degree in library science in three separate stages so she could keep working while she studied.

Mentors can often work with the individual time challenges of returning students. Ms. Baldridge found a valuable mentor in the director of her program, who remained supportive even though she studied at times in two-month spurts.

"He was always in my corner rooting for me, and that helped," she tells the Monitor. 

Baldridge still keeps in touch with the program director and describes her degree in library science as "one of the best things I ever did." She can list off the degrees and vocations of her children and grandchildren with pride, saying her own education showed them the priority she gives to education.

"I think the parents' attitude towards education decides whether their children will progress and go on to get their degrees," Baldridge says.

Returning to school requires individual commitment and careful attention to goals, says Estelle Ryan Clavelli, who directs a program for literacy, English, and career readiness for immigrants with Catholic Charities in Boston. She described one student who practiced as a medical doctor in Haiti, but is on-track to improve his English and rejoin his profession in the United States in two years. 

"He's highly motivated, has personal drive," Dr. Clavelli says. "He's already in the past participated in great service to humanity ... so he's looking for opportunities here." 

Dimbat's drive is what sent her back for further education at age 60.

"We can keep learning, I don't care what age," she says. "We sometimes don't understand what we can do well."

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