Friday, 16 December 2011

the first grader

i went to see a wonderful film tonight called "the first grader". it's a kenyan story, directed by a british man, and funded partly by the BBC. it's based on a true story, and i certainly left knowing a lot more about the history of that country. i was thinking that really, so many of the blockbusters we tend to see focus on stories centred in the west, and there are so many strong and wonderful stories from other parts of the world that need to be shared.

the main focus of the film is on education:

Above all, THE FIRST GRADER pays tribute to Maruge, a man Litondo believes is “inspirational” to his nation. “He’s an inspiration to both young and old Kenyans, who value education. Since Maruge’s story came out, I’ve read other stories of older people going to school,” he adds. Harris concurs. “I love the fact as well that it’s an 84-year-old man wanting to learn. Your life is never over. It’s never too late to learn and to be open to learning as well. I think those are really great messages.

maruge is able to gain his education when the kenyan government announces a policy of free education to all. it makes me think sadly of the policies of this last government, which cut funding to adult education and restricted access to student loans to people over a certain age. the notion of lifelong learning has disappeared from policy. the notion of education as a public good has disappeared. education is now an economic pursuit, a means to an end, that end being the churning out of good, productive workers who can earn lots of money.

there is little value now given to the dignity that education gives. little value given to the notion that education reduces oppression, empowers individuals and strengthens society. in the film, there are people who object to maruge's education on the basis that it's wasted on an old man, especially when resources are scarce and children are deemed to have a greater need. the whole film is a response to that complaint, as well as being so much more.

it's also a tribute to the dignity of old age, and a history of kenya. another quote from the previous link:

What I really liked about it - and it tallied with what I was feeling at the time - is that if you see an old person, you make a thousand assumptions about them. But, that person has a huge life behind them and Maruge has this whole huge life.

i'm going to admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that i have been guilty of this myself particularly in regards older people. perhaps being more dismissive than i should, sometimes not respecting or even thinking about the whole lifetime of experiences that make this person who they are today. sometimes we're impatient, intolerant or just too self-absorbed. if this films teaches us anything, it's that we should value each individual, value their dreams and aspirations, regardless of what stage of life they are at.

the other thing i love about the film is that is has a strong female character, maruge's teacher jane obinchu. it's as much her story as it is his, and she shows so much strength and courage in standing up for masuge's right to an education. it's a powerful performance from naomie harris, probably best known as calypso in "the pirates of the carribean" films.

if you get a chance to see it, i'd really recommend you watch this film.

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