Priscilla Sitienei is currently the most recent inductee in the record books after becoming the world’s oldest primary school pupil. The record was previously held by Kimani Maruge who went to school at age 84. When news of Sitienei’s age broke out citing her commitment to education, the Kenyan woman became a global symbol for girls’ education.
Priscilla Sitienei was born in Kenya and grew up during the colonial era. She witnessed the country’s rule under the British hands. When the Kenyan government decided to subsidize primary education costs in 2003, a significant crop of the aged population – who never had the chance to attain early education – decided to do so. Therefore, Sitienei enrolled in Leaders Vision Preparatory School in 2010. At first the school turned her away but soon understood how committed she was to learning.
Sitienei told the BBC in 2015 that she was going to school to learn how to read and write – an opportunity she missed growing up. Given that she served her village of Ndalat in the Rift Valley as a midwife for more than 65 years, she sat in the same class with pupils she delivered.
Priscilla was known as “Gogo”, which means grandmother in the local Kalenjin language. She often confronted children who were not in school and asked them why. “They tell me they are too old,” Priscilla said. “I tell them: Well I am at school and so should you. I see children who are lost, children who are without fathers, just going round and round, hopeless. I want to inspire them to go to school,” she added.
Priscilla Sitienei’s story inspired a film and praise from the UN’s culture and education agency, UNESCO. She told UNESCO last year that she wanted to motivate young mothers tp return to school.
The French film titled Gogo created an opportunity for her to visit France and meet first lady Brigitte Macron.
Priscilla Sitienei died due to health complications on November 18th. She and her 12-year-old classmates had been preparing for final exams set to start next week.
“I wanted to show an example not only to them but to other girls around the world who are not in school, without education, there will be no difference between you and a chicken,” she said.