Pregnant students get lifeline

Synodia (19) fell pregnant when she was still in Form Three at a Harare school two years ago.

That turn of events set in motion after an affair with a high school student at the same school scuttled her well laid-out plans for the future.

Following her subsequent expulsion from school – in line with the Education, Sport, Art and Culture ministry’s policy – she was forced by circumstances to re-order her priorities in life.

“My father was very angry with me,” she recalls.
“He chased me away from home, and I had to live with my aunt for a year.”

Synodia, an intelligent student full of promise, had dreamt of becoming a lawyer.

And if her school reports, which she has filed away, are a true record of her performance, then this was a dream well within her reach, save for what she now describes as “one regrettable moment of youthful foolishness”.

Now a mere teller at a supermarket chain in Harare, the mother of one is a bitter woman.
“I made a mistake, yes,” she admits, “but I’m only human.”

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She believes the education system was too cruel and harsh because it failed to acknowledge human error.

If only she had been given a second chance, then, she says, she would have made amends and pursued her career path.

Her father only accepted her back after three years.

A civil servant earning a paltry monthly salary of $160 that cannot stretch from the beginning to the end of each month, he, however, made it clear that he would not have another mouth to feed, forcing Synodia to find a job to provide for her child.

The young man responsible for the pregnancy, having denied paternity, however, went on to complete his schooling and pursued his career path while Synodia faces a bleak future.

Synodia is just one of the many students who have watched their dreams go down the drain simply because the education system was intolerant.

Another incident involved Nolisiwe Moyo of Chitungwiza, who fell pregnant while training to be a nurse, after which she was expelled for violating a cardinal rule of the course.

But a recent government decision to soften its stance on the matter has been welcomed by many students and stakeholders.

Nolisiwe, however, said it was a little too late, at least for her, but it was good for those still on training, some of whom are married.

“I think it’s a fair decision. Some of us have been unfairly punished for getting pregnant while on training,” she said. “But I think it’s good for those still at nursing school.”

However, some parents are of the view that the new policy promotes adolescent promiscuity and moral decadence.

According to an Education, Sport, Art and Culture ministry circular (P35), which deals with disciplinary actions against pupils, students who fall pregnant during the course of their studies will no longer face expulsion but will get three months’ leave after which they will resume their studies.

An educationist, Lazarus Kundeni, describes the development, especially as it relates to school pupils, as “progressive”.

“I think punishment has to be corrective, but when a child is totally expelled from school, in my view, that becomes punitive,” he says.

In a career spanning over two decades in education, Kundeni says he has seen many bright students with a promising future sent home even while they still had a chance of making restitution for their errors and successfully continue their studies.

The Zimbabwe Education Act (Chapter 25: 04) and its subsequent revised versions, have been accused of being gender blind, placing all children into a single category.

According to Chipo Chirimuuta, a lecturer of African Languages and Culture at the Midlands State University who did research on the subject in 2006, female pupils had unique needs that had to be streamlined.

“They have their own needs that must be accommodated, which, if not acknowledged at policy formulation level, might not be addressed at policy implementation level,” she says.

She also noted that re-entry of such students back into their courses needs to be dealt with sensitively as teenage pregnancy is far much deeper than a question of discipline.

“Teenage pregnancy is not a disciplinary issue; it is part and parcel of the challenges that accompany maturation…

“This is the time in the human cycle of life when hormonal changes are taking place, and with very limited support systems to guide youths through the challenges,” she said.

She added that while teenage pregnancy is usually stigmatised, it was vital to establish structures to help the young girls overcome the traumatic experience attendant to teenage pregnancy.

It is important for institutions to go beyond lip service regarding sex education because sexual decisions are hormone-driven.

While government has taken this welcome decision, the critical steps lie ahead.

“So degrading, torturing, frustrating, and demotivating is such a girl’s experience, expecting young mother students are bound to fail to perform well in their examinations,” said Chirimuuta.

Young girls who find themselves in this situation are often ostracised by other students and society at large.

School heads, however, have been urged to assist affected students and ensure they have a smooth transition back into the formal school system.

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