For some 19 elderly women in a little-known Upanda village in Siaya county the maxim “age is just a number” is not a cliché, but a life motto.
The women, well in their 50s, 60s and 70s, are swept up in the euphoria of good performance in the just-released KCPE exam results.
And no, it’s not results of their grandchildren, but their own. The women defied all odds, particularly age, to sit the exam alongside over a million other candidates who qualify to be their grandchildren by age.
Their good performance have left villagers in Alego Usonga, Siaya county in awe.
Perhaps the oldest candidate at Upanda Primary School, 70-year-old Wilfrida Okello, scored an impressive 239 marks out of the possible 500.
She and 18 others had registered for adult education classes sponsored by Pendeza Africa, a local non-governmental organisation.
Wilfrida, popularly known as “Principal”, looks forward to joining Form One next year. She scored 64 marks in English, 35 in Kiswahili, 55 in maths, 38 in social studies and 47 in science.
“I am eager to join Form One and continue with my dream of studying to the highest level,” says the mother of five and grandmother of 12.
Wilfrida aspires to be a teacher.
“If God gives me good health, then I will work hard and make sure I become a teacher,” she says.
Her classmate Adhiambo Odhiambo, 61, scored 302 marks, just 19 shy of the top-scorer in the institution.
“I never had the opportunity to go to school when I was young but I was hopeful one day I would get a chance to learn to read and write” she told this writer.
Other elderly women who sat the exam at the centre are Emily Achieng Otiato, 65, (239 marks), Felister Ondiege, 67, (183 marks), and Nyawire Otieno, 51, (207 marks).
Jane Adhiambo, 53, attained 181 marks, and Julia Were, 50, had 241 marks.
Agatha Juma Jwayi, and Rosa Awino scored 174 and 176 marks, respectively.
For Otiato, her performance shook her.
“I never expected such marks because we only come to school twice a week. I am proud that I have done well and I still intend to continue with my education,” she says.
Most of the elderly learners have been taking care of their grandchildren orphaned by HIV/ Aids.
Juggling between school and other responsibilities, therefore, involved a lot of sacrifice and delicate balancing.
“It is not easy because you have to balance between attending to your grandchildren and being in class. But we got used to it at some point,” says Agatha.
Pendeza Africa co-coordinator Joanne Kepher said the adult education initiative is aimed at tackling illiteracy.
“Ever since we started this programme, over a hundred grandmothers have been able to learn how to read and write and they can in turn monitor the progress of their grandchildren,” she said.
Kepher says the grannies were first taught basic reading and writing before joining formal classes.
“ We realised there was language barrier and they could not even monitor the progress of the grandchildren under their care. So we started from scratch before enrolling them to classes,” she adds.
KCPE exam results were released last week by Education Cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed, with an improvement in performance and minimal malpractices countrywide.
The grannies’ quest to pursue secondary education will be fulfilled after the government announced that all KCPE candidates will transition to Form One irrespective of performance.