Never too old to learn | Bangkok Post: learning

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Never too old to learn

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Here is a story that may bring tears to your eyes even though it is a happy one – about a 28-year old first-grader who is fulfilling her dream to learn to read. Includes video. 

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Never too old to learn

Arusa Pisuthipan
Video by Arusa Pisuthupan and Chumporn Sangvilert.

Just like her six-year-old classmates, Boonruang Pohdaeng's typical weekday starts in the school playground when she and her friends line up for the national anthem at 8am before proceeding to their morning classes and one-hour lunchbreak. At 1.30pm, their afternoon classes start and their school day ends at 4.

The only difference is that Boonruang is 28 years old.

"I only wish I could read and write," said Boonruang while sitting in her classroom at Nongkatat School in Saraburi's Nong Saeng district. Her desk, which fits the size of first graders, is way too small for Boonruang's height, forcing her to bend her knees as much as she can in order to manage her proper sitting posture.

In her desk drawer, there is a neat stack of elementary school textbooks whose worn-out covers suggest that they have been frequently read.

"Life is difficult if I am illiterate. I cannot go anywhere without someone accompanying me. I cannot read signs. Neither can I count money."

On weekends, Boonruang's schedule is completely different from that of her peers. While her young friends enjoy themselves with fun activities at home or are taken out by parents, Boonruang has to stick around at home, take care of her sick mother and do household chores.

Extremely timid and introverted, Boonruang usually had a long pause before giving an answer during the interview. Especially when asked about her mother, she appeared as if she did not want to utter a word.

But when the subject of discussion was shifted to her education, she seemed to open up a bit. A tiny smile was spotted on her face when asked what her favourite subject was.

"I like mathematics," noted Boonruang, counting her fingers while trying to figure out the sum of three plus two. In Thai-language class, she was asked to practice writing simple Thai words. But she refused to colour her exercise book when her homeroom teacher asked her to, as if all the joy in her life had long vanished.

Born and brought up in Saraburi by once loving parents, Boonruang grew up and had a life just like other kids her age. When she was four, the young girl enrolled in a kindergarten class at Nongkatat School where she is currently studying. Not long after that, unfortunately, Boonruang's mother – extremely disappointed with her failed marriage – became mentally ill. The situation forced Boonruang out of school in order to look after her mother.

But the idea of going back to class did not totally disappear from the woman's head. Many times she asked her mother whether she could return to school but the answer would be exactly the same every time she begged.

"Mum usually said that I could not study, that I am a slow learner and that I would not be able to catch up with friends at school," recalled Boonruang, currently living with her mother, her uncle and her aunt. The family earns their living through rice farming.

Boonruang’s best friend, six-year-old Lah, teaches her how to read some simple Thai words.

In May this year, Boonruang's aunt decided to take her back to school.

After Somporn Pakkapork, the school's director, was informed of Boonruang's request to study, he decided to give her a chance to start her elementary education regardless of her age.

"It was the first day of the semester when she came to our school and asked for my permission to study," said Somporn, adding Boonruang showed signs of slight developmental delay which might perhaps be a result of the lack of socialisation since young. "She dressed in her worn-out clothes and hardly spoke to people. She only said she wanted to be able to read and write. So I told her I would have to put her in first grade and she agreed."

Being placed with other first graders, Boonruang not only learns the fundamentals of several subjects such as Thai and mathematics, but she also gets an opportunity to socialise – a thing she has not done for more than 20 years. Now it has been almost three months since Boonruang began her education and according to Kingkaew Boonnithisom, her homeroom teacher, she shows good signs of development.

"The fact that Boonruang is a lot older than her classmates really helps her with her learning skills," said Kingkaew.

"I explained things to her and she quickly understood everything. She does not care whether or not she will receive any academic certificate. She only wishes that she will become literate and that she will be able to read things such as news tickers or karaoke subtitles."

Although Boonruang does not speak much to her classmates during school time, she has no difficulties getting along with her much younger friends.

Two of her best friends, six-year-old Dream and Lah, are always there to assist her especially when she cannot catch up with the lessons. They play together during lunch-break. Simply put, Boonruang is loved by both students and teachers alike.

You can read the full story here:

national anthem – the official national song of a country เพลงชาติ
proceed – to move or travel in a particular direction  เดินทางไปยัง
bend – to cause something to curve ทำให้โค้ง
posture – position of the body, e.g., sitting, standing, walking, etc. ท่าทาง เช่น ท่านั่ง ท่ายืน
drawer – a part of a piece of furniture such as a desk, used for keeping things in. It is shaped like a box and has a handle on the front for pulling it out ลิ้นชัก
neat – tidy and in order; carefully done or arranged   เรียบร้อย, เข้าที่เข้าทาง, เป็นระเบียบ
stack – a pile of something, usually neatly arranged กองที่ซ้อนกัน, กองสิ่งของที่ซ้อนกันอยู่
worn-out – damaged by continuous use, rubbing or movement  ซึ่งใช้จนเก่า, ซึ่งใช้จนเสื่อม
illiterate – unable to read and write อ่านไม่ออกเขียนไม่ได้
accompany – to go with someone ไปกับ,ไปด้วยกัน,ไปเป็นเพื่อน
peers – people who are the same age or have the same social position or the same abilities as other people in a group เพื่อน
stick around – to stay in or near a particular place อยู่ในที่เดียวกัน,
household chores – jobs which are often boring or unpleasant but need to be done regularly งานบ้าน
timid – shy and nervous; not brave ขี้ขลาด, ตาขาว
introverted – a little shy and tending to concentrate on your own thoughts and feelings; more interested in your own thoughts and feelings than in spending time with other people เก็บตัว, หันเข้าข้างใน
pause – a period of time during which somebody stops talking or stops what they are doing การหยุดระหว่างพูด, การหยุดชั่วขณะ
interview – a meeting at which a journalist asks somebody questions in order to find out their opinions, experiences, etc. การสัมภาษณ์
appear – to seem ดูเหมือนจะ, ดูเหมือนว่า
utter – to make a sound with your voice; to say something  พูด
shift – to change เปลี่ยน
spot – to see or notice สังเกตเห็น
sum – the number you get when you add two or more numbers together ผลบวก
refuse – to say you will not do something that someone has asked you to do ปฏิเสธ
vanish – to disappear  หายไป
bring up – to take care of children while they are growing up; to raise  เลี้ยงดู
enrol – to put yourself onto the official list of members of a course or college ลงทะเบียน
kindergarten – a school for children, usually between the ages of two and five โรงเรียนอนุบาล
currently – at this time; now ในปัจจุบัน
unfortunately – making you sad or disappointed, or getting you into a difficult position เป็นที่น่าเสียดาย
disappointed – unhappy because someone or something was not as good as you hoped or expected, or because something did not happen ผิดหวัง
mentally ill – suffering from an illness that affects your mind โรคทางจิตใจที่มีความผิดปรกติของความรู้สึก ความคิด อารมณ์ หรือพฤติกรรมอย่างแรงถึงขนาดคุมสติไม่อยู่
situation – all the circumstances and things that are happening at a particular time and in a particular place  สถานการณ์
disappear – to no longer exist หายไป, สูญหาย
recall – to remember จำได้ นึกทบทวน
uncle – the brother of your mother or father; the husband of your aunt ลุง, อาผู้ชาย, น้าผู้ชาย
aunt – the sister of your father or mother; the wife of your uncle ป้า,น้าผู้หญิง,อาผู้หญิง
inform – to tell somebody about something, especially in an official way แจ้งให้ทราบ
request – an act of asking for something in a formal or polite way การขอร้อง
regardless – despite; not being affected by something
semester – one of the two periods that a school year is divided into in some countries ภาคการศึกษา
permission – allowing someone to do something การอนุญาต,การอนุมัติ,การยินยอม
slight – small in size or amount เล็กน้อย
developmental – connected with the development of somebody/something in order to become more advanced, stronger, etc.  เกี่ยวกัการพัฒนาการ,   เกี่ยวกัการเจริญเติบโต
delay – happening at a later time than expected ช้ากว่าปกติ
socialisation – the process by which somebody, especially a child, learns to behave in a way that is acceptable in their society การขัดเกลาทางสังคม
fundamental – a basic rule or principle; an essential part รากฐาน, หลักเบื้องต้น, พื้นฐาน
academic – relating to education เชิงวิชาการ
certificate – an official document or record stating that particular facts are true  ประกาศนียบัตร เกียรติบัตร
literate – able to read and write สามารถอ่านและเขียนหนังสือได้
news ticker – a line of text containing news which passes across the screen of a computer or television
subtitle – a translation or written description of what people are saying in a film or video, that appears at the bottom of the screen คำบรรยายที่เขียนไว้ข้างล่างในภาพยนตร์
simply put – explained in a short, easy-to-understand way

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