A year into his ninth decade, Abdel-Qader Abu Ajameyah is studying hard and hoping for the best as he sits exams for his high school diploma. The 81-year-old, a retired food salesman from Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, took the national test for the first time last year but failed. So he’s having another go. A father of 14 children, he has been studying five hours a day and doing his best to concentrate despite the attempts of some of his 36 grandchildren to get him to play.
“I like education,” he said with pride, wearing a formal suit and tie. “There is no limit for someone to study, it does not stop at a certain age. “I want to set an example to generations – never stop learning.” Abu Ajameyah is taking the exams in a room set aside for him at a local school. A recent stroke has restricted his hand movement, making it difficult to write, so he dictates the answers to a woman aide who fills in the papers.
Figures from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics show illiteracy among Palestinians aged 15 and above stands at just 3.3 percent, one of the lowest rates in the Arab world. Abu Ajameyah gets support from his family, especially his wife, who is constantly trying to keep the grandchildren distracted while he studies.
“My mother takes care of all my father’s needs as if he was an 18-year-old high school student,” said 43-year-old Zakaria, one of Abu Ajameyah’s sons. “We all encourage him and we are all very proud of him.” Zakaria said his father began school in a village near Ramla, in what is now Israel, before Israel’s creation in 1948. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Abu Ajameyah’s family was forced to flee, becoming refugees in the West Bank.
Abu Ajameyah soon gave up school to work selling food, and only started thinking about studying again once he retired decades later. He said his aim now is to be on a par with his children and grandchildren. The exam results are due in mid-July. The family is getting ready for a celebration if he passes, but his son says he doesn’t plan to go on to university.