90-Year-Old Elementary School Pupil Inspires A Generation in Kenya

Priscilla Sitienei_header

“I want to say to the children of the world, especially girls, that education will be your wealth.”

A 90-year-old Kenyan woman who goes to class with six of her great-grandchildren is believed to be the oldest primary school pupil in the world. Priscilla Sitienei, grew up in Kenya under colonial rule, couldn’t get an education. “I could not go to school even if I wanted,” she says. “In my time, educating a woman was considered a waste of time and money.”

Affectionately known as “Gogo”, which means grandmother in the local Kalenjin language, Gogo joined Leaders Vision Preparatory School five years ago as a kindergartner and is in fourth grade today. She has served her village of Ndalat in the Rift Valley as a midwife for the last 65 years. In fact, she has helped deliver some of her own classmates, who are aged between 10 and 14.

Sitting at the front of class four in her school uniform, Gogo listens intently while she writes the English names of animals in her notebook.
Sitting at the front of class in her school uniform, Priscilla Sitienei listens intently while she writes the English names of animals in her notebook.

Gogo explains why she wanted to return to school. “I’d like to be able to read the Bible; I also want to inspire children to get an education. I had grandchildren and great-grandchildren who shunned school. That made me mad. I decided I have to show them that education is important.”

At first the school turned her away but soon understood how committed she was to learning. Now a prefect, Gogo takes part in all of the classes – Maths, English, PE, dance, drama and singing. David Kinyanjui, the principal of Leaders Vision Preparatory School, describes her as a model pupil. “Gogo has been a blessing to this school, she has been a motivator to all the pupils. she’s such a good storyteller. She is loved by every pupil, they all want to learn and play with her.”

An 11-year-old girl says she is Gogo’s best friend “because she tells us stories and we go to PE together”. A 10-year-old schoolboy says the grandmother also likes to keep them in order. “We love Gogo because when we make noise she tells us to keep quiet,” he says.

Priscilla Sitienei wants to pass on local customs and her knowledge of herbal medicine.
Priscilla Sitienei wants to pass on local customs and her knowledge of herbal medicine.

Last year, Sitienei was the leading student in third grade. “Her great-grandchildren, who are also her classmates, could not believe she did better than them. That really motivated them; one of them even cried,” the principal says, “Now they work even harder to catch up with her.”

Gogo says she confronts children who are not in school and asks them why.
“They tell me they are too old,” she says, “I tell them, ‘Well I am at school and so should you.'” “With education you can be whatever you want, a doctor, lawyer or a pilot.”

“It is never too late to learn.”

Sign outside Priscilla Sitienei's dormitory reading "Education has no age limit".
Sign outside Priscilla Sitienei’s dormitory reading “Education has no age limit”.

(Courtesy of Faith Karimi: http://edition.cnn.com/2015/03/02/africa/kenya-oldest-student)
(Ed Thomas: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-30935874)

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