Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Reporter
THE Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education has raised a red flag over the increasing number of girls who drop out of school after falling pregnant before writing their O and A-Level examinations.
The trend is more prevalent among pupils sitting for O and A-Level examinations in both rural and urban schools throughout the country.
Last year, more than 400 girls from four districts in Manicaland dropped out of school due to pregnancy, marriage, financial challenges and illness.
However, statistics from other provinces regarding dropouts are not yet available. Last year, Government amended the Education Act to allow pregnant pupils and students to attend classes in all schools, which would ordinarily mean most of these children are allowed to go back to class.
Presenting the report in Parliament on Thursday last week, the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education Ms Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said it is estimated that the number of pregnancies has more than doubled without giving exact figures including the previous year’s statistics.
“School heads and teachers raised concern over the increasing number of learners falling pregnant especially those sitting for O and A-Level. It was estimated that the cases had more than doubled and follow ups on these cases had not yielded positive results as parents felt that once a child is pregnant, they have no educational future,” she said.
“This is prevalent in both rural and urban school settings. At Magwegwe High (Bulawayo), almost every child that the committee interacted with knew of a colleague that was pregnant. Teachers indicated that although, they make follow ups and encourage the girls to come to school and write the examinations, a number were reluctant.”
Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said at Bondamakara High School in Mutoko, about 10 girls got married.
“At Bosbury Primary School in Chegutu, two Grade Seven pupils got pregnant and dropped out of school.
“However, some school authorities have been working tirelessly with non-governmental organisations to ensure that the girls return to school, for example, at Mukore High School, Masvingo,” she said.
Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga said her committee was disturbed by the number of girls dropping out of school due to pregnancy.
She, however, said the committee commended some school heads who were committed to supporting such girls to continue with their education.
“The committee applauded the commitment by the Government to support menstrual hygiene management in all schools, particularly targeting the vulnerable rural school girls. However, the committee observed with concern the lack of coordination of the programme by the Ministry,” said Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
She said the committee established that the programme for sanitary wear distribution to rural schools was available in some schools while in other schools it was not.
“However, the Committee found out that some of the sanitary pads supplied by the Government were of poor quality and could not meet menstrual hygiene standards. In addition, the sanitary pads were not in sufficient quantities to meet demand,” said Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
“In Masvingo, at Mukore High School, it was revealed that the school had received panty liners instead of pads while in Chegutu, at Bosbury High School, the pads received were of poor quality, all from the provincial offices. In certain instances, the kids were not even aware that there were sanitary pads available within the school.”
The committee noted Government’s commitment to providing face masks to both teachers and learners during the third term, when schools re-opened.
“However, there was no equity in distribution of PPE, as schools in southern region received few compared to those in the northern region. The committee also observed that teachers deserved both face shields and face masks given the nature of their job,” said Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
“The committee members felt that there was need for teachers, especially those teaching infant school and learners with disability to get face shields which they can use during lessons, since facial expressions are part of the learning techniques used by teachers.”
According to the report, most schools are facing a critical shortage of classrooms with no proper learning having taken place when schools opened on September 28 last year as the teachers were on strike.
“Thus, the committee was greatly concerned by the decision to proceed with examinations under such circumstances.
“The committee observed that proceeding with examinations presented unfair competition for poor and vulnerable learners in rural areas given that the majority of them did not participate in any online learning,” said Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga.
“Committee members felt that due to resource constraints as well as connectivity issues, some learners had challenges in learning during the period schools were closed.
“The committee further observed that most teachers were also incapacitated to conduct online lessons during the period schools were closed.”
The committee also noted with concern inadequate staff accommodation at most rural schools, thereby compromising the welfare of the teachers. At Fudu Primary in Nkayi, Matabeleland North, the committee observed that seven teachers were sharing a two-bedroomed house.
“The committee members observed that Covid-19 has further exacerbated the disparities between the rich and the poor. It was observed that the majority of learners, especially in rural remote areas had challenges participating in radio and television lessons due to connectivity issues as well as lack of the requisite gadgets,” said Ms Misihairabwi-Mushonga. — @mashnets