Pregnancies among teenage learners threaten their health and social welfare and that of the children born to them. Pregnancies often cause learners to prematurely terminate their schooling, leaving them with very few options to establish a good life for themselves and their offspring.
The government of Namibia deserves to be commended for implementing a policy that allows girls to remain in school even when they become pregnant. The government should also be applauded for ensuring that schools now have trained Life Skills teachers to ensure that our learners have sufficient knowledge regarding sexual education, in the hope of preventing a further increase in teenage pregnancies in our schools.
However, the teenage pregnancy rate in our schools seems to increase every year, even after the implementation of the said policy.
This article seeks to look critically at the policy on pregnant learners, with reference to the reality in schools and to provoke policy makers in education to review the policy because it seems to promote pregnancy amongst learners.
In the education sector policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy, a lot has been considered in respect of the learner who is a mother to be. Looking at the prevention of learner pregnancy, there are a number of strategies in place. However, one wonders if these strategies are not being fully implemented in schools, or if they are just ineffective.
One of the strategies to prevent teenage pregnancy in schools is to involve learners in more leisure activities. However, the education sector fails to make provision for facilities in schools to ensure that learners have a variety of activities to keep them busy. Adequate sport facilities in schools could serve as a motivation for learners to get involved in different activities.
Many cultures also do not talk openly about sex, especially with the young ones. If parents were also actively involved in educating their children on the topic of sexuality, the rates of learner pregnancies could likely drop. Parental involvement in this respect appears to be minimal. The policy has failed to ensure we put up strategies to involve parents in the prevention of learner pregnancies.
While the policy protects the interests of pregnant learners, other parties affected by such pregnancies have been ignored. Teachers are given an extra burden to deal with. Some pregnant learners become less active in class and can also experience tiredness and sleep too much, especially towards the last trimester of their pregnancies.
The policy also failed to provide training and workshops for all teachers on how to deal with expecting learners in their classes. In addition, the policy could have considered strategies to ensure learners do not to get comfortable with the idea of becoming pregnant while at school, although there is provision for the right to remain in school.
Furthermore, while the policy considers keeping pregnant girls in school, it apparently does not pay much attention to the academic results of these learners, as most pregnant learners tend to perform poorly due to many factors.
These students have to cope with school and the big responsibilities that come with pregnancy and preparation for parenthood. Bullying and social discomfort in the school environment can also contribute to failure, which may cause them to repeat the grade or fail totally. It will be very hard to catch two birds at the same time.
A critical look at some of the subsections of the policy on the management of learner pregnancy strongly suggests that these factors can contribute to the failure of learners. It may have been better if she had been allowed to go on leave for the whole year and return in the next academic year.
The policy clearly states that the girl may choose to continue with her education at school until four weeks before her expected due date, as certified by a healthcare provider, or may take a leave of absence from an earlier date if it is advised by the caregiver on medical grounds. She may also leave if she feels unable or unwilling to continue at school during any stage of her pregnancy.
But to the average learner, four weeks is a lot of time to be away from school and it may be hard for such learners to catch up with the schoolwork. It would be better if these learners are allowed to concentrate on their pregnancies and babies for a year and then come back to school, rather than staying at school and failing.
Many studies have shown that prenuptial pregnancy hinders educational attainment. Adolescent pregnancy and subsequent parenting can create major obstacles to any student’s achievement in school.
However, for young women already experiencing academic failure, or low levels of achievement, it can be devastating. The policy should have considered the effects that pregnancies can have on the academic performance of learners.