By CHRISTINE MWAABA -
ALTHOUGH pregnancies of schoolgirls do not end the education of those affected in Zambia due to the re-entry policy, the situation introduces new circumstances that influence future decisions related to the girls’ education.
And even with the re-entry policy which makes it possible for the girls to be allowed back in school, psychosocial and social challenges associated with pregnancy may perhaps reduce opportunities for affected girls to complete their education.
Pregnancy has a profound impact on girls by limiting their educational achievements especially if they are not supported.
Schoolgirls who fall pregnant may struggle to complete their education if they are not taught how to deal with challenges relating to
Some young girls are faced with the challenge of balancing between commitments of motherhood and the demands of getting an education.
This might undermine the ability of such girls to cope with their condition.
The girl might be faced with the agony of writing exams at a time when they could be preparing to give birth.
This is why some of the schoolgirls who have given birth may opt to drop out of school and in some instances, they could be forced into
This might completely deprive them of the education they require to take advantage of economic opportunities.
Receiving adequate support which includes psycho social counselling can improve the well being of young mothers who are still in school, help them complete their education so that they can have a professional career.
Sixteen-year-old Martha Mwale (not real name) is in the final stages of her pregnancy at a time when she is expecting to take the Grade Nine
Martha is expecting her first child and morning sickness makes it difficult for her to get to school.
Besides that, regular doctor visits result in her being frequently absent from school. This means she has to find time to catch up on every lesson she misses.
As if that is not challenging enough, Martha has to deal with fatigue, physical and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy.
Speaking with this author, Martha admitted that initially, she was hesitant to continue with her education due to her pregnancy.
It was not until her guidance teacher explained that she had the right to education just like any other school girl in spite of her pregnancy.
Her guidance teacher helped her develop higher expectations in life and accept her situation.
“I have accepted this situation; becoming a mother doesn’t mean it’s the end of my education, and that is what I have learnt.
“I hope others can be given the same support that has been given to me by my teacher and my parents”, she said.
The moral support from her teacher and family is what motivated her to continue with her education although it was not an easy task.
Martha said she would continue with her education to prove that teenage pregnancies cannot deter someone from being educated.
Violet Hachitema, a teacher at Chilanga Primary School, felt that if a school girl falls pregnant this inevitably leads to her dropping out of school.
This means pregnant school girls should be ready to lead a life remarkably different from girls that are not pregnant.
Ms Hachitema said pregnancy works against girls’ success in education.
She said many young girls who fall pregnant while at school face several challenges as a result of the psycho-social and social factors.
The challenges affect the learner’s school attendance and performance.
Ms Hachitemba said when comparing a learner’s performance before and after pregnancy, there is a decrease in academic performance.
“Pregnancy in schoolgirls is one of the major hindrances to the educational success of women, not just schoolgirls,” Ms Hachitema said.
She said this setback can break the girl’s social connectedness which is a critical component of resilience in acquiring a rich psycho-social
wellbeing that can eliminate the urge for a girl to drop out of school and the prevalence of early marriage.
She said education is important for schoolgirls who fall pregnant because it can help them break the poverty cycle in which most of them
It is for this reason that teachers and education authorities provide adequate assistance to pregnant learners so that they too can perform well in their schoolwork.
Ms Hachitema noted that teachers have to go beyond teaching and attend to the social and emotional needs of learners, like pregnant girls who
might openly be discriminated against by their peers at school.
According to Repssi Monitoring and Evaluation Officer Sibongani Kayola, teachers and lecturers need formal training in psycho social care, support and protection to competently deal with the psycho social challenges of young schoolgirls who fall pregnant.
Ms Kayola said enhancing social and emotional wellbeing of the learners will empower teachers in particular and educators in general
to provide quality education and contribute to sustainable development.
“If educators can make these young girls understand the realities they live in, their capacities and their challenges, it will help the learners” she said.
She was of the view that the girls needed intensive attention and support from their parents and the educators so that they strengthen the gaps to help the girls who will in turn, contribute to sustainable development and equal participation in development.
She said even though the path is difficult, making sure that schoolgirls who fall pregnant continue their education by providing
them with psychosocial counselling, would keep the girls in school.
Reppsi is a non-governmental organisation that is mainstreaming Psycho social support in the education system.
The organisation works hand in hand with the ministry of Education to train teachers in a course in psychosocial care, support and
protection to transform schools into centres of effective teaching and learning through care and support.
That said, is imperative for policy makers, educators, parents, learners and the entire community to address the effect of pregnancy on the education of schoolgirl.
All stakeholders must work out how best they can help the learners psycho-social wellbeing.
Developing interventions that focus on improving and creating opportunities for second chance education through psycho-social support programmes, will help young mothers who venture back into school after giving birth.