Taken for Granted

Those of us lucky to have been born and raised in first world countries accept that education is a given.  But imagine what it is like in some other countries where people are not offered education in any form and where some have to fight to obtain even the most basic education.

Yesterday I went to the Wellington premier of the movie The First Grader.  as a fund raiser for my favourite charity The Mary Potter Hospice.

The movie tells the story of a Kikuyu man who had been a soldier during the Mau Mau Uprising against British Rule in Kenya.  This was a bloody period between 1952 and 1960.   The movie showed flash backs to the time when he was captured and tortured by the British.

The story centres around this old man – 84-year-old Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge.  The Kenyan Government announced free education for all in 2003 and this old man decided to take up the offer.  But hundreds of children were jostling for a few places in the school nearest to his  village and his application was rejected.  He was desperate to learn to read at this late stage in his life and  felt he must have the chance at the education so long denied to him and his generation—even if it means sitting in a classroom alongside six-year-old children.   As he said he fought for freedom and now he feels entitled.

Moved by his pleas (he attended and tried to apply several times after walking from  his even more remote village) the Head Teacher takes on the establishment and the parents of some of the children to allow him to attend the school.  Maruge is eventually enrolled and proved to be an apt pupil, so much so that in 2005 he became Head Boy of the school.

Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge made headlines in media around the world and still holds the Guinness Book of Records record  as the world’s oldest primary school pupil. He said he thought that he was born in 1920 but of course, there were no records kept.

In 2006 he was invited to attend and address the United Nations on the importance of free primary education for all.

This is an inspiring movie, but also a challenging and thought provoking one.  I remember as a teenager and a young wife and mother, hearing about the Mau Mau uprising but of course, only from the British point of view.  In this movie we see that the British were not strangers to the use of  torture to gain their way.  I need to do some more research on this period to gain a better understanding of what actually went on.

But back to education.  Our young people, and I speak particularly of the young in New Zealand here, take the fact that the education is there,  free and available to everybody.  Many leave school with only a very rudimentary knowledge of even the basic reading and writing skills. Some people do go back to complete their studies as adult pupils, taking advantage of evening classes and there are a few schools that offer adult education where adults learn alongside the other pupils.  But not many.

How shaming then is it, that this elderly man wanted so much to be educated even just enough to read, that he was prepared to sit in class with babies?

When Maruge died in 2009 there were many tributes paid to him.  Click here for one from another wordpress blogger.

PM John Key and children

PM John Key and children

Here in New Zealand (and I think in the US too), September was National Literacy month.  This picture shows a meeting in the Beehive*  between our Prime Minister and a group of young school children.

In an interview at the time, he said:

“I am simply not prepared to tolerate up to one in five New Zealand children leaving our schools without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed”  Rt Hon John Key, Prime Minister of New Zealand.

* Note – The Beehive is the name we use for the Executive Wing of the New Zealand Parliament Buildings.  It does rather resemble a beehive doesn’t it?

The Beehive

Via Wikipedia

So what do we have to do to get this desire to learn ingrained into our young people.  Oh I know that many learn and do well.  My grandchildren are lucky in that they live in homes surrounded by books; hear adult conversation about things other than what’s on TV today and are generally encouraged to do well.  But what of the others?  These are the children and young people we should be concentrating on.  It’s no longer enough to say they must go to school every day.  In some areas the classes are large (some 30 or 35 children) and so undoubtedly some will fall off the edge.  I feel that there should be more help for the learning challenged kids.  Education of our young should/must be a bigger priority than it has been up to now.

read write think

“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think – rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men.”
Bill Beattie
, American manager and coach

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22 responses to “Taken for Granted

  1. Life long learning is so critical. One of my children did some volunteer work in Papua New Guinea and witnessed the passion and application the children and teenagers had for schoolwork. It is their one chance to improve their lives and they know the value of it.

    We need to put a lot more money into education at all levels in NZ. No more funding yacht races and rugby world cups!!!

  2. Here in Miami, 70% of my 11th grade students came to me 2-5 years behind grade level in reading. Few had ever read an entire book cover to cover !

  3. This post has no borders, Judith. I am sharing it, and I hope others share it. The message is timeless and important. Thank you.

  4. Judith, I would like to mention this post of yours in a future post of my own if that’s alright with you.

    I think you bring up such an important topic. Right now, in China, parents are going wild over the education of their children because unfortunately, the system here is not at all fair–if you have connections and $$, then you’re set. If you don’t…well, you’re probably one of the children who fall of the edge like you said. I know of parents who have sold their homes in order to pay for their children’s education. It has become a commodity rather than a basic human right.

    That’s actually one thing I admire about the United States is that education is open to all (in most cases), and there are so many programs where adults at any age can go back to school (of course, again, money and circumstances come into the picture, but it’s a possibility). In China, if you didn’t receive an education to begin with, then you’re out of luck.

    Enough rambling from me! I better find a way to watch that film!

    • Thank you for liking this post so much that you wish to share it.
      I do know that the question of education is something that concerns many of us wherever we live in the world. Here in NZ it is open and available to all but so many do not take advantage of the opportunity to learn. That is the really sad thing. Particularly as you say, when there are so many to whom it is not available.
      I hope you do watch the film and are as moved by it as I was. 🙂

  5. Needless to say that is an inspiring story. It says so much for the man that he persevered with his dream. I am British and reading about how we gained and controlled our empire is a source of embarrasment to me. There are many horror stories there, as well as some good ones.

    • Hello Peter. Yes I too am British and was once again embarrassed e controlled our empire when I saw how this man and his compatriots were treated in the movie. As I said, at the time I only heard how barbaric the Mau Mau were, not comment of how equally barbaric our side was. 🙂

  6. Kimani Ng’ang’a Maruge is an inspiration! So Shine-worthy. You’re never too old to learn, never too old to make a difference.

    As far as educating young people, it seems that Finland is doing something right according to this article I read last month.
    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/Why-Are-Finlands-Schools-Successful.html

    • Thanks Jackie and thanks too for the link. What a great story that is and how well Fins are doing with their education programmes.
      Are you going to put something about Maruge into Shine? I do hope so!

  7. If children learned NOTHING else in school but a love of LEARNING and READING and THINKING . . . the world would be a better place. 😀

  8. Thanks for this thought-provoking post on an important subject, and one which as a parent, I often am faced with. My boy does take the reasonably good French education system he’s offered for granted, for something obligatory and sometimes boring, as opposed to the fabulous opportunity at least half the children on this planet do not get. And I feel powerless to get him to appreciate what he’s got, to know how to motivate him to learn because it is one of the greatest things he can do. It is hard when the rest of society seems to hold consuming as the greatest value, and everything is apparently due to you, fast and easy to get.

    • Yes, unfortunately consumerism is alive and well all around the globe. I think many parents struggle with this problem and are at a loss to know how to impart the desire to learn to their children, particularly when their peers in many instances, don’t care to learn. It makes me very sad to see opportunities wasted in this way.
      Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  9. Christine in Los Angeles

    Judith, I remember that in 1952 or 1953 (?) Sylvia and I went to a conference, for teens in school, on the “MauMau problem”. I remember there were two young black men, that we were told were MauMau, wearing legirons and hand-chains. Very degrading! but we accepted the explanation that they were dangerous men.
    So, why were they in a meeting hall, with hundreds of 16 and 17year olds?
    We returned to school, after a two-day conference, to make a report to the other students.
    I want to think torture was only on the other side – Brits were the good guys. I know that’s not the case, but I’m an idealist.
    Love you lots.
    God bless, Christine

    • If you get the opportunity to see this film, like me you will (suddenly) realise that the British were as bad if not worse. We were fed the story that the Mau Mau were terrorists and had to be put down. Torture through the ages has been a tool used by the British. How else could they subdue whole continents in their desire to rule the world. Rule Britannia indeed!

      I too an an idealist – Pollyanna is alive and well and living in Wellington NZ. Love you too. 🙂

  10. It definitely is a shame how we can take for granted the right to education that most of us have.

    • It’s a disgrace that so many don’t accept the access to a new way of life that is offered to them through learning. Thanks for the comment. 🙂

  11. Amazing story, Judith! I wonder if that movie is available here? I’ll have to check into it.

  12. H i Susan – it’s worth seeing. It’s a National Geographic movie and so should be available – it is available on DVD through the NG website for $19.95. I have ordered one for each of my children. 🙂

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