The film “The First Grader” wonderfully presents the life of Kimani Maruge, who at the age of 84 became the world’s oldest primary school student in 2004.
The film ends in 2005 with Kimani receiving an invitation to New York to campaign with ActionAid and the Global Campaign for Education at a United Nations summit on the Millennium Development Goals.
This short film shows what happened next as he travelled across New York to the UN Millennium Goals summit.
Despite helping Kenya achieve its independence, Kimani was unable to benefit from the most basic of rights: the right to an education. Even though access to primary education expanded after independence, those living in poverty were still denied their right. It did not take long for the World Bank and the IMF to convince the new government of Kenya that they could not afford to educate all their citizens – and that “cost-sharing” policies were the only option – basically charging children to go to even the most basic primary school.
It was only after the new millennium that ActionAid and other education campaigners in Kenya, united under the “Elimu Yetu Coalition”, managed to build formidable pressure for the abolition of these “user fees”. We targeted the national election campaign of 2002, calling on all parties to place free education on their manifesto – and it was clearly a vote winner! The opposition, led by Kibaki, defeated the long incumbent President Moi and the new government’s first act was to abolish primary school fees. Within a year over a million children enrolled in school for the first time. And along with the children, Kimani also enrolled, able to enjoy free education for the first time in his life.