In 2009, when Kalyan Singh and his wife Jamuna Devi enrolled their eldest daughter Priyanka Singh in the Government High School in Koickal, in Kerala’s Kollam district, they had a modest hope: that she would learn to read and write.
Ten years later, when the results were declared on May 6 for the Class 10 examination conducted by the state board, they found to their delight that Priyanka Singh had scored an A+ grade in all the subjects . In Kerala, an A+ grade is awarded to students who score above 90%.
“I am an illiterate, but I am happy to know my daughter is a bright student,” said Devi. “I never thought that she would pass Class 10 with flying colours.”
Priyanka Singh was just four years old in 2008, when her parents travelled nearly 3,000 km, from Uttarakhand to Kerala, in search of employment. Kalyan Singh found work at a bakery while Devi has been doing part-time jobs, cleaning houses and baby-sitting.
Priyanka Singh wasn’t the only migrant student to do so well in the exams. Her schoolmate Sunil Bista, whose parents Lal Bahadur Bista and Manu Devi Bista hail from Nepal, also got an A+ grade.
Singh and Bista are among eight students out of 68 in their school who got A+ in all subjects, including Malayalam.
Several other children of migrants have performed well in this year’s Class 10 and Class 12 examinations in Kerala, overcoming the barrier of language.
They include Class 10 students Muhammed Dilshad and Pawan Dwivedi, and Class 12 student Pooja Dwivedi, who is Pawan Dwivedi’s sister. They live in Ernakulam district.
While Dilshad studied at the Government High School, Binanipuram, Pawan Dwivedi was at Little Flower High School, Panayikkulam. Pooja Dwivedi studied in St Francis Higher Secondary School in Aluva.
Dilshad’s parents are originally from Bihar, the Dwivedis are from Madhya Pradesh.
Of the 10 papers the students took, two were in Malayalam. Many of them attributed their success, especially in the Malayalam papers, to help from teachers and friends.
Apart from studies, Sunil Bista and Priyanka Singh have proved their mettle in hockey too.
Bista was a member of the state team that participated in the National School Hockey Championships in 2018, while Singh represented Kollam district for the state hockey championships that year.
Coach Ravivarma, who spotted their talent, said both of them have a bright future. “Sunil [Bista] will play for the national team one day,” he said. “I am sure his excellent dribbling and playmaking skills will catch the eye of selectors.”
Bista said hockey helped him forget about his family’s poverty.
His parents and two siblings live in a small rented home in Kollam district. “I was lucky to get admission in the district sports hostel as it took care of my food and accommodation,” he said.
Bista said he found time to study after completing his daily training at the academy – from 6.30 am to 8.30 am and 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm. “I go to my room tired every day after the training, but I never missed my studies,” he said. “My aim was to score high marks.”
Bista said he owed his A+ grade to his schoolmates and teachers. “My friends helped me study Malayalam,” he said. “Teachers prodded me to study all subjects.”
He said his ultimate aim is to become a national hockey player and he will strive hard to achieve his dream. “But I will give equal importance to education too,” he said.
Singh said she wanted to concentrate both on studies and sports. “But my first preference is studies as I want to get a government job and tide over our poverty,” she said.
She added that she could get a good education only because she lived in Kerala. “Education is the key here,” she said. “I have not seen a child who does not go to school. I am lucky that I am living here.”
With a literacy rate of 93.9%, Kerala is India’s most literate state.
Praising Bista and Singh, their school’s headmistress Ceita Miranda said both of them deserved to be toppers. “I am sure they will scale new heights in sports and studies,” said Miranda.
Dilshad lives in Thandikkal Colony in Binanipuram industrial area on the fringes of Kochi in Ernakulam district. His father, Bhutto Sajid, works in a shoe manufacturing unit, while his mother Abida is a homemaker.
“I dedicate my victory to my teachers,” said Dilshad, emotionally. “I owe this to them.”
He said his teachers considered him as their own son and advised him whenever he became complacent in his studies. “I cannot imagine securing A+ grade without their support,” he said.
Teachers said Dilshad’s mother closely followed his progress in school and was in regular touch with his teachers.
“She is a strong woman and never wanted family issues to distract his studies,” said PT Sudhi, Dilshad’s class teacher. “She was diagnosed with uterine cancer a few days before his examination, but she wanted to hide it from him until his examination got over.”
Dilshad said his aim is to become an engineer. “It is not easy target,” he said. “But I will strive hard to achieve it. I want to support my father, mother and siblings.”
“Though they are not from Kerala, they are gems of Malayalam,” read a banner outside the home of Pawan and Pooja Dwivedi in Panayikkulam.
Their father, Balakrishna Dwivedi, works at a cattle feed manufacturing company in Ernakulam. Their older brother Pankaj is a topper too, passing his Class 10 (2016) and Class 12 (2018) exams with an A+ grade.
Pawan Dwivedi said he was reluctant to go to school when he was in the lower classes. “I was not fluent in Malayalam and it prevented me from mingling with students,” he said. “But my friends helped me pick up the language.”
Dilshad’s class teacher Sudhi, who teaches mathematics, said the Roshni project launched by the Ernakulam administration in 2016 particularly helped migrant children in the district overcome the language barrier.
The project was launched in schools that had a huge concentration of students whose families were not originally from Kerala. They were given two hours of extra coaching in Malayalam each day. “It helped many of my students become proficient in Malayalam,” said Sudhi.
The Kerala government’s initiative of setting up smart classrooms also helped the children learn well, said Sudhi.
Under the smart classroom project, each classroom is equipped with a digital projector, a screen, laptop and internet connectivity. “It helps teachers provide information outside textbooks, and students understand tough topics so easily,” said Sudhi. “Teachers too played a key role in helping the students score big wins. We must applaud their efforts.”