The problem of teenage pregnancy among school girls is a major concern in most African countries. Teenage pregnancy has been cited as a serious constraint in the elimination of gender disparities in education. Children born to educated mothers have a higher chance of enrolling and completing school, while children of less educated mothers are unlikely to complete school. Thus, the concern about improving the educational rights of girls who become pregnant is based in part on the knowledge that this will affect the fate of their children and future generations.
Development of a new policy on learner pregnancy
In early 2008, GR&AP was approached by the Ministry of Education to assist with the development of a new policy on learner pregnancy. Official statistics on pregnancy-related school drop-outs for 2007 showed that a total of 1465 learners dropped out for this reason – with 96% of them being girls – indicating that this was a critical project to undertake. Problems with the guidelines on learner pregnancy in force at that stage were that they were punitive in nature and often inconsistently implemented between schools. To develop the policy, GR&AP undertook extensive background research and a comparative review, and facilitated regional and national consultations.
The background research was presented in a 140-page document entitled School policy on learner pregnancy – background to reform, which presents and discusses the national and international framework, summarises relevant research in Namibia and other countries, assesses current policies in other countries, and reports the results of preliminary consultations with learners and other stakeholders. The key points of the discussion were highlighted in a shorter summary document to ensure accessibility. The information gathered through this research was used to guide the preparation of an initial draft policy which was used as a springboard for discussion.
The new policy was built around two themes: (1) prevention – strategies to prevent pregnancy amongst learners and (2) management – strategies for responding to learner pregnancies in a manner which is in the best interests of both the young parents and the new-born child, with provision for various forms of practical and emotional support.
The draft policy was revised after each regional consultation to incorporate suggestions and to respond to concerns raised. A national workshop for key stakeholders was then held in Windhoek in September 2008., and the draft policy was revised again to respond to the workshop input.
The final policy, the “Education Sector Policy for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy”, was approved by the Ministry of Education’s Ministerial Planning and Coordinating Committee in April 2009, and approved by Cabinet in October 2009. However, meaningful roll-out began only in 2013.
The policy takes a flexible approach which allows learners and their parents to choose an option that is suitable for their situation. It emphasises prevention and respects the constitutional right to education by supporting and encouraging learner-mothers (and learner-fathers) to complete their education, as well as providing measures to encourage them to be responsible parents.
The Policy allows pregnant learners to remain in school until four weeks before their due date if there is no medical contra-indication, but also allows them to leave earlier in the pregnancy if they wish. It allows the mother to return to school at any time after the birth, provided that the school is satisfied that both she and the baby are in good health and that she has an acceptable plan for the baby’s care. The learner-mother may also take a leave of absence for up to one year without losing her place in school. The Policy places a responsibility on pregnant learners and learner-parents to keep up with their schoolwork during their absence, but encourages the school to support this effort.
The Policy’s provision for returning to school encourages openness about learner pregnancy, which ultimately contributes to the health of the child by encouraging antenatal care, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV and access to information on foetal alcohol syndrome. Pregnant leaners will be provided with an information booklet covering topics ranging from how to breastfeed to securing maintenance from absent fathers.
The new approach to learner pregnancy is a momentous step forward for the lives of girls in Namibia.
For short summaries of the policy, see:
Learner pregnancy policy: Part 1- prevention
Learner pregnancy policy: Part 2- management
See also:Learner Pregnancy: Don’t Jump to Conclusions! (2017)
For statistics on child marriage and early child-bearing, see GR&AP’s 2017 Briefing Document on Child Marriage and Teen Pregnancy.
You can also read a book chapter on the new learner pregnancy policy.
On options available for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, see our comic on this topic.
Implementation of the policy
GR&AP has continued to work with the Ministry of Education on the implementation of this policy. In 2012,GR&AP was engaged by the Ministry to assist in the development of materials for an implementation package: