Priscilla Sitienei, a 99-year-old Kenyan woman who is believed to be the oldest primary school pupil, has died aged 99. The news of her death was revealed by her grandson, who told the Press that Grandma Sitienei died peacefully at her home in Kenya.
The 99-year-old primary pupil, who was preparing for her final exams beginning next week alongside her 12-year-old classmates, reportedly complained of ill health after classes on Wednesday this week.
Grandma Sitienei, as she is fondly called, is somewhat of a superstar after her decision to return to primary school in her 90s gained international headlines. She even inspired an international movie production and got recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Ms. Sitienei was born in Kenya and is one of the fortunate few to have lived through the country’s history and struggle. She revealed that her decision to go back to school at old age was to motivate mothers to get an education – no matter their age and status.
Speaking to UNESCO in one of her high-profile documentaries, she said, “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.”
A renowned gender and educational advocate in her own right, Grandma Sitienei served her small village of Ndalat in the Rift Valley of Kenya for more than 65 years. She joined the Leaders Vision Preparatory School in 2010.
She was the midwife responsible for the delivery for some of her classmates in her school – who are currently between the ages of 10 and 14. As a result, her classmates and teachers affectionately refer to her as “Gogo,” which means grandmother in the local Kalenjin language.
In a viral interview she granted the BBC in 2015, a proud Grandma Sitienei noted that she was finally learning to read and write – an opportunity she never had as a child. She added that she confronted children who were not in school and urged other adults to consider enrolling in school.
“They tell me they are too old,” she 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. [So] I want to inspire them to go to school,” she added.
According to reports, Mrs. Priscilla Sitienei was turned away by the school’s administration when she first approached them to be enrolled, but she remained committed to learning and didn’t relent.
Her story was told in a French film titled Gogo, which opened an opportunity for her to visit France and meet first lady Brigitte Macron.
The co-writer of the film, Patrick Pessis, reacted to the news of her death through a post on Twitter, saying, “Her message about girls’ education lives on.”
Following her death, many have continued to call for an update that will see Grandma Sitienei named the world’s oldest primary school pupil in the Guinness Book of Records. The record, as documented in the record books, is held by another Kenyan, Kimani Maruge.
The late Kimani Maruge went to school at 84 in 2004 and died five years later. BBC reported that they had contacted the Guinness Book of Records publishers to effect the update.