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Age is just a number when it comes to education

February 4, 2015

Traditionally, people attend school between the ages of 5 and 18 and sometimes into their 20s if they choose to attend a college or university. It's become more common for people to put a renewed focus on education during adulthood, whether they're taking delayed steps toward their dream career or trying to find a new calling in life.

There's also been a shift in how long people work before retirement. Increased average life expectancies and developments in the medical industry have led adults to remain in the workforce longer than ever before.

Two women have taken these cultural changes to the extreme to prove that you're never too old to achieve your educational and professional dreams. 

"She wants everyone to know that education equals wealth, in that it's what can lead you to a lucrative career."

The world's oldest pupil
It can be difficult to understand the desire to learn that burns in the hearts of those who weren't afforded such opportunities. Priscilla Sitienei, a 90-year-old woman from Kenya, decided that she would seize the chance to attend school despite the decades of life experience she has over her classmates.

The BBC reported how Sitienei started at the Leaders Vision Preparatory School in the village of Ndalat about five years ago. Before joining her great-great-granddaughter at school, Sitienei was a midwife for 65 years. The source explained that she even delivered some of the students in her class.

The school originally turned her away as a pupil because of her age, but she was determined to start learning. When the school's headmaster David Kinyanjui was interviewed by the BBC, he talked about the difference Sitienei has made at Leaders Vision Preparatory School. The students, who fall between the ages of 10 and 14, love their older classmate and look to her for motivation. They call her Gogo, a term for grandmother in Kalenjin, the local language. She dorms at the school, wears the same uniform as her peers and tells stories about local customs to kids on the playground in the afternoons.

What motivated Sitienei to pursue an education at such an untraditional age? She wanted to learn how to read and write so that she could enjoy the Bible on her own and record her midwifery skills, as well as her recipes for herbal medicine. In addition to learning English, Gogo has classes for math, physical education, dance, drama and singing. Gogo also wanted to inspire kids to chase an education, regardless of how old they are. In fact, she asks children why they aren't in school and uses herself as an example that anyone can learn. She wants everyone to know that education equals wealth, in that it's what can lead you to a lucrative career.

Seniors continue impacting classrooms around the world, regardless of societal norms.

America's oldest teacher
On the other side of the coin, this woman didn't let her age interfere with her desire to educate children. Agnes Zhelesnik celebrated her 100th birthday last January, which spawned a collection of news stories about her work. She started teaching home economics - cooking and sewing - in North Plainfield, New Jersey when she was 81 years old. Although her role was originally part-time, it wasn't long before Zhelesnik was there with the kids every day.

The teacher told news sources that her husband wanted her to raise their children and grandchildren rather than work. Once they were grown, she felt much younger than the age on her birth certificate, so she joined the workforce. With three kids, four grandkids and four great-grandkids of her own, spending time with children is Zhelesnik's passion.