Global perspectives on Adult Learning: Analyzing the film “The First Grader”

Maruge learning to write along with children.


In the movie The First Grade, you are taken along a journey with Kimani Maruge that most of us in the United States did not need to travel, and is very uncommon in our country at this time and age. Seeing this extreme example of what adult learning looks like in different part of the world helped to put education as a whole into prospective for me, and shows proof that no matter ones age a need for education for all is needed.

I will lay out why critical theory would be appropriate in the case of Maruge and how it could have benefited his learning experiences. In the second portion I will rethink the learning experience for Maruge and his journey to become literate, and how it could have helped him with the process. At the end I will focus on adult learning and what I feel is missing from this course.

Critical Theory

At the age of 84 Maruge decides to go to school to learn how to read and write when it was made free by the government of Kenya. This was an amazing advancement for Kenya and would lead to a better educated population. One needs not be told that knowledge equals power across the world. “Adult literacy was seen as key to national development, while an illiterate nation was seen as an underdeveloped society…” (Semali, 2009, 37). To reach his goal and gain the ability to read and write Maruge joins a school.

Maruge fending off the locals.

The school that he intends to join is overcrowded with children, and is told that the school is only for children and must find schooling elsewhere. Through persistence and a strong will to gain an education Jane Obinchu, the main teacher at the school, allows Maruge to join the already crowed school desks. Maruge’s will and persistence were tested throughout his time at the school by the locals that did not want him attending the school and using resources that should be used for the surrounding villages children. Maruge’s education journey is also affected by the tribe that he is from as well as the war that occurred in Kenya. He faced racism being from the Kikuyu tribe that was still looked down upon by some that had power in the government.

Critical theory is an important factor to consider when looking at the struggle that Maruge went through in his schooling. In this film you can see that he “seeks social emancipation and the elimination of oppression” (Merriam & Bierema, 2014, 215). Maruge makes himself a part of those that were trying to overthrow the ideas that have persisted over the years and to make sure that the younger generation would not have to face them or continue the negative mindset.

Creating a new experience for Maruge

Learning to read and write is not an easy or quick process. Maruge is learning alongside children many times younger than himself, but is not intimidated by the children’s ages or backgrounds. He makes the best of all the circumstances he had to face and the minimal resources that the school had to offer to achieve his goal. Through this process Maruge was even able to pass some of experience on to the children that he was learning with, and they with him.

If Maruge was provided the perfect learning environment there would have been more access to resources. The class size would have been smaller as well as having more materials to be able to practice with besides just a small notepad and pencil. Another factor that would have improved his experience would have been to have a more supportive environment. Being within a negative learning environment makes it close to impossible to gain new skill. This environment would need to be able to understand his background and the difficulties of his past and culture. Jane provided the perfect setting that Maruge needed to learn. She was patient with him and provide the time that was necessary to build his skills. She was able to overlook his age and background unlike most everyone else that he had interacted with.

Thoughts on this course

This course has provided an overview of adult education and the current state of it. With all classes there is a limit on the amount of material that can be realistically covered over the course of the semester. For me I believe that all the main ideas of adult learning have been touched but for my own view on adult education, these ideas need to be deepened and I need to learn more of the what and how. Education is not going anywhere so I believe to better understand it I need to deepen my knowledge of the history of the worlds education to grow my confidence in the role that I will end up in after completing my program at MSU.

Continue learning

With my background in art history knowing the factors that produce a thought or an idea is important to my understanding of it. The history of education is long and varies dramatically from culture to culture. Being able to further one’s understating will not happen quickly, and will be gained through further classes as well as research. A couple of topics that I believe could have been more in-depth would be learning and technology as well as learning within different cultures and what we could learn from it.


Maruge was able to overcome many obstacles to obtain an education and to finally be able to read the letter that he was delivered. In the end he decided that the letter was too difficult to read and allowed it to be read to him. Kenya had to go through many changes to allow someone like Maruge to gain and education. Many obstacles needed to be overcome for all that were involved but have led to a stronger people. One can learn from Maruge that no situation will be perfect so you must make do with what you have and have a strong will to gain what you are looking for.


Chadwick, J. (Director). (2011). The First Grader. National Geographic Entertainment.

Continue learning image. Retrieved from

Merriam, S.B. & Bierema, L.L. (2014). Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Maruge fending off the locals image. Retrieved from

Maruge learning to write along with children image. Retrieved from

Semali, L. (2009). Cultural perspectives in African adult education: Indigenous ways of knowing in lifelong learning. In A. A. Abdi & D. Kapoor (Eds.), Global Perspectives on Adult Education (pp. 35–51). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Svitak. A. (February 2010). What adults can learn from kids. Retrieved from