Race against time to get teen mums back in classroom
County administrators and school heads are racing against time to ensure thousands of female learners who got pregnant or married during the Covid-19 pandemic report to school on January 4.
This follows a directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta on Jamhuri day to the Ministry of Education to facilitate the re-admission of all learners who may not be able to resume due to pregnancy.
Ministry of Education Chief Administrative Secretary Zack Kinuthia told People Daily that though the task to ensure all the affected girls report back to school is herculean, it has to be undertaken.
“It is a programme that also targets to rescue those in early marriages. Those lactating may be given one or two months before they report back,” Kinuthia told People Daily.
Chairman of the Kenya Secondary School Heads Association Kahi Indimuli confirmed they had received the government’s directive and is ready to implement it.
“We have been told to file an audit report on the students who would have reported by the second week after reopening, and the same would be forwarded to the President,” Indimuli said.
The President said all secondary and primary schools must submit reports capturing identity and details of all students, including pregnant girls who will not have resumed school.
With less than two weeks to re-opening, officials in counties are racing against time to comply with the President’s directive.
Through county and deputy county commissioners, the government has instructed local administrators to devise strategies that will help them achieve 100 per cent return to school for pregnant girls.
Shortly after schools were closed in March to check the spread of Covid-19, a wave of teenage pregnancies, partly attributed to the lockdown, was reported across the country.
A cross section of County Directors of Education (CDE) intimated to People Daily that despite a directive by Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha for Grade Four, Class Eight and Form Four to resume their classes in October, schools had recorded a low turnout, particularly for the girl child.
“From our findings, at least 10 students in each class failed to turn out in October. That shows how serious the issue is,” one CDE said.
According to the Kenya Health Information System (KHIS), Nairobi leads in the number of pregnant girls having registered estimated 20,000 cases, followed by Trans Nzoia, Kakamega, Homa Bay, Nakuru, Narok and Bungoma counties.
Trans Nzoia County Commissioner Sam Ojwang’ said the region has reported 11,842 cases of pregnancies of girls aged between 11 and 16 years.
Ojwang’ said each of the sub counties recorded at least 1,700 cases. Kiambu is ranked position 10 with 4,834 teenage girls seeking maternal healthcare in health facilities between January and June.
This means most of the more than 60,000 pregnant girls across the country will not have given birth by January when they are expected to return to school.
In Taita Taveta County where – according to data compiled by Sauti ya Wanawake – 1,243 cases of teen pregnancies were recorded between January and June, County Director of Education Simon Wanjohi said sensitisation meetings were ongoing.
“We have met with officials from the Ministry and we have been sensitised on what to do.
We are cascading the information to officials and stakeholders in other levels on how to handle the young mothers when schools reopen,” Wanjohi said.
He said administrators were teaming up with education officials to locate pregnant school girls, or those who have given birth, to ensure they go back to class when schools reopen on January 4.
He, however, said there were no updated statistics on the number of teen mothers expected in school.
“So far there are no statistics but we are expecting that they will be many. We are going to team up with all the stakeholders to ensure no girl is left out…we have talked to principals and parents and advised them to ensure the girls are made comfortable at school through counseling programmes,” he said, adding that the ministry had already issued a manual.
Mombasa County Children’s Officer Philip Nzenge said during meetings bringing together all stakeholders, a clear message was passed that the young mothers must be accorded their right to education.
It, however, remains a daunting task for chiefs and their assistants who were tasked to enforce the directive to convince parents and the young expectant mothers of the need for the latter to go back to class.
Learning institutions will also face challenges such as establishing lactating centres for girls who have already given birth to breastfeed their children besides coping with emotional and psychological challenges the young mothers will face.
In Kiambu, DCCs are leaving nothing to chance to enforce the directive.
But some parents of expectant girls are reluctant to allow their daughters go back to school, saying they need to rest until they give birth.
Others feel their daughters have let them down and destroyed their own future and are unwilling to support their education.
Some of the expectant, or recently delivered young mothers, fear stigmatisation by fellow learners and teachers if they go back to school.
A student (name withheld because she is a minor), who gave birth two months ago, says going back to school could be a waste of time because she believes she will not perform well under the circumstances.
A fellow student from Gatundu North impregnated the 16-year-old girl, who was in Form Two. She hails from Juja.
She also says she doesn’t want to burden her poor family with school fees problems.
“Having failed my parents, I cannot go back to them and ask for help. They are poor and have other children to educate.
Because the father of my child, who is also a student, has denied paternity. I will start a small business to help bring up my child,” she said.
But Gatundu North Deputy County Commissioner Buxton Mayabi said the President’s directive will be enforced without exceptions.
He said his office will conduct door-to-door campaigns to ensure not a single girl is left out.
“Our girls must all be in school to study for a better future. We are working in collaboration with the Education ministry and parents to ensure the directive is adhered to,” he said.
Kenya Women Parliamentary Association chairperson Gathoni Wamuchomba regretted that most of the girls may not be in a position to go back to school owing to lack of preparedness, fear of stigmatisation and health challenges.
She, however, called on the government to initiate systems and strategies similar to those introduced in the implementation of 100 per cent transition policy to ensure that no girl drops out of school because of pregnancy. Reporting by Reuben Mwambingu, Mathew Ndung’u and David Musundi