A 90-year-old Kenyan midwife may be the oldest person in primary school. Priscilla Sitienei took up classes at a village school – where she is a boarder – for two reasons: to motivate her grandchildren to stay in school and to learn to read her Bible.
Priscilla Sitienei (90) is determined to learn to read and write to inspire her grand- and great-grandchildren, and to read her Bible for herself (Image: BBC,via The Telegraph.)
Compiled by Melissa Javan
It made her angry when her grandchildren and great-grandchildren started dropping out of school, said Priscilla Sitienei, so five years ago she decided to show everyone that you were never too old to learn and to make a success of your life.
The 90-year-old Kenyan great-grandmother is known as Gogo to her teachers and classmates in class four at Leaders Vision Preparatory School. In an insert on BBC News, Sitienei said she saw children living hopelessly. “They seem lost. I want to them to see me in school. I want to inspire them,” she explained. “Too many older children are not in school. They even have children themselves.”
When she confronted them about dropping out of school, they would reply that they were too old to return to classes. Now she told them: “Well, I am at school and so should you [be].”
“Gogo” means grandmother in the local Kalenjin language, as well as in other African languages. Sitienei said that at 90 years old she was finally learning to read and write – an opportunity she never had as a child.
Like the other pupils, Sitienei takes part in singing and dancing. She also plays outside with her classmates, who are between 10 and 14 years old – six of them are her grandchildren. “We love Gogo. When we make a noise, she tells us to keep quiet,” said one.
Another said Gogo told them stories at school. Sitienei is often asked by a teacher to share her tribal and traditional knowledge with the class. This helps to pass down information to younger generations.
Priscilla Sitienei in her classroom:
Sitienei is the best in her class in mathematics, a fellow pupil told Kenya Citizen TV. “Sometimes she helps us when we fail.” But Sitienei is not the only learner passing down knowledge: a fellow learner in a higher grade teaches the older woman the alphabet in her spare time.
Headmaster David Kinyanjui said Sitienei, who boards at the village school, was an example to the rest of her class. “I’m very proud of her. Gogo has been a blessing to this school; she has been a motivator to all the pupils… She is loved by every pupil, they all want to learn and play with her.”
Sitienei, who has been a midwife for over 60 years, said she was also inspired to further her education because she wanted to read her Bible on her own. “My pastor has read the scriptures for us for the past few years,” she explained.
Education is your wealth, she believes: “Don’t look back. It’s never too late to learn.”
Though she does not have a birth certificate, Sitienei said she was born around 1923. If confirmed by the Guinness World Records, she will be the oldest pupil in a primary school. The last such honour by the Guinness World Records went to another Kenyan, Kimani Maruge, who was named the oldest person to begin primary school, in 2004. Five years later, he died at the age of 90.
Watch Gogo playing outside just like her fellow classmates: