Friday, October 01, 2010

(TALKZIMBABWE) Rethink policy on teenage mothers in schools

Rethink policy on teenage mothers in schools
By: Nancy Nyamhunga
Posted: Friday, October 1, 2010 5:20 am

WHILST the government’s efforts of finally recognizing the discriminatory nature of the education system which only punishes the girl child for falling pregnant whilst remaining silent on the boy child must be applauded, the prescribed solution on how to make things right, is in my humble opinion, wrong.

From what I gather, policy-makers intend to afford the pregnant teenagers maternity leave, and thereafter re-admit them back into the mainstream secondary education system to continue with their learning.

Whilst I hold no beef for nursing students to benefit from this proposed arrangement (they are adults anyway), the old policy of expelling teenagers who fall pregnant whilst in secondary is not only just, but progressive and as such must be maintained.

There are various concerns about this proposed policy.

There is lack of appreciation by our policy-makers on the subject of bullying which inevitably these teenage mothers will be subjected to.

There is a silent message encoded in the policy – that it is alright to break rules, and that you face no consequences for it. By allowing them to remain in an environment that makes them think and behave like girls, but not mothers, policy makers will give these teenagers a false identity.

We ought to be very careful that we do not bow to populist policies that will end up equipping our children with ideas that work against them, instead of working for them.

I agree that these teenage mothers must be afforded another chance to continue with their education after this temporary setback.

I’m also aware that contrary to popular stereotypical beliefs, particularly amongst our very conservative Zimbabwean community, which takes a view that teenagers who fall pregnant whilst in secondary school are a “bit loose”, most of these teenage mothers end up being in this situation due to various reasons.

Mostly, they do so because they feel insecure due to problems at home like parents divorcing, illness or bereavement within the family, acute financial problems, domestic violence, or other forms of abuse that may be happening within the home.

Having said this, teenagers need to be made aware that sleeping with the opposite sex is not the solution to their problem, but in fact it worsens an already bad situation.

Perhaps a social studies subject could be made as a core subject in the curriculum or maybe the family planning services can undertake outreach programmes educating teenagers in high school about ways of avoiding getting pregnant.

Otherwise, the policy of expelling those teenagers who fall pregnant from mainstream secondary school is fair and just, to themselves and their peers.

It acts as a deterrent to others and also protects the same teenagers from psychological and emotional harm which is inevitable due to extreme bullying they will face from their peers.

The traditional uniformed secondary school is not just about learning academic material; it is much more than that.

It teaches our children about national values, discipline and generally as a nation, we have certain moral value expectations from those institutions. The school uniform is not just an identity; it symbolizes discipline and conformity to offices of authority.

By wearing the uniform prescribed by school authorities, our children are showing compliance with rules within those settings, and by and large, they are being prepared to obey laws and rules in their later lives.

Therefore a teenager, who breaks the school’s code of conduct by choosing to make babies instead of learning, must equally be punished.

That is how the adult life we are preparing them for is like.

We must not attempt to give them a false identity, mislead them into believing that after falling pregnant; they can revert back to their old identity and get back into the mainstream education system. Their social status, responsibilities automatically change, they are no longer girls in any sense, they are now mothers.

They are now “mature” students, because their individual circumstances demand that they grow up quickly.

They now have a child that needs love and attention. What they will need is an enabling learning environment that will accept them for who they are and not who they should be.

Professional emotional support to help them through this transitional period will go a long way in helping these teenagers.

Adult colleges that offer secondary education will be the ideal learning environment for these teenage mothers as this gives them an opportunity to interact with other people who may have experienced setbacks in their personal lives, and how those people coped with those adverse situations.

Admittedly, resources are limited at the moment, but it is possible to find room within existing institutions of higher learning for the provision of these services.

It is generally acknowledged that children learn best when they experience a coherent approach between home and educational institutions.

Therefore by allowing these teenage mothers some form of independence, where they are able to express themselves freely without the need to assume a false identity in order to fit in, as they would do in a traditional secondary school setting, they will be able to learn and develop social skills that will help them manage their situations effectively.

By interacting with adults, these teenagers will more likely feel secure and accepted, and therefore be in a position to achieve their full potential.

The message to these teenage mothers should be that making mistakes is part of life and that the ability to rise from those personal setbacks is what makes people successful.

It is also a challenge for budding social entrepreneurs, the responsibility of giving additional support to these young mothers cannot be left to government alone, there is a gap that needs to be filled in by charitable organizations.

With the right approach, desire and commitment, our corporate world can be roped in to finance such social enterprises. They will love to be known as major donors of charitable organizations.

Nancy Nyamhunga writes from Leicester, United Kingdom



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