/ 23 September 2015

Never too old to learn the three Rs

One struggle: Education and social transformation are inextricably linked.
One struggle: Education and social transformation are inextricably linked.

He sat in a classroom next to children who could have been his great-grandchildren, living proof that it is never too late to learn.

Mohammud Modibbo, thought to be the oldest school pupil in Nigeria, died earlier this month. His family say he was 94.

Modibbo did not attend school as a boy because his work as a petty trader required regular movement around the country. But he signed up for primary school in his mid-80s, passed the common entrance exam and had recently joined a secondary school in the northern city of Kano.

His teacher, Abdulkarim Ibrahim, described Modibbo as “easy-going and jovial” and said he had dreamed of going to university.

He said: “During classes, he was very attentive and asked questions when he didn’t understand – either asking the teacher or a student sitting beside him.”

Modibbo is not alone: this year it was reported that Priscilla Sitienei, a great-great-grandmother and former midwife in Kenya, had enrolled in primary school at the age of 90.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists fellow Kenyan Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge as the oldest person ever to have begun primary school. He was 84 and died five years later.

Maruge was a Mau Mau fighter in the war of independence against the British. When the Kenyan government announced free primary education for all in 2002, he went to his local school in Eldoret and demanded to be taught to read. His story was turned into a film, The First Grader. – © Guardian News & Media 2015