Basic Education wants proactive support for pregnant learners

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Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has given notice to Parliament that she has submitted the policy on the prevention and management of learner pregnancy in schools.

Motshekga concedes that she previously made an error in not informing Parliament on the policy after it was gazetted.

The policy aims to, amongst other things, prohibit the expulsion of pregnant learners from schools but instead provide them with pre and post-natal support. Four percent of learners between the ages of 14 and 19 years fell pregnant between the year 2018 to 2022. That’s according to research conducted by Statistics South Africa.

The Basic Education Department now wants proactive support for learners who fall pregnant. And more importantly, the department wants the learners to be retained in schools and be given support.

Learners who are over six months pregnant will be required to submit a medical certificate indicating the status of their pregnancy and estimated delivery. And provide medical reports to their appointed educator or school principal, certifying that it is safe for them to continue with their schooling.

A learner can study until she is eight months pregnant. If she does not have a medical certificate, she may be asked to take leave of absence until proof is provided. If the pregnant learner is under the age of 16, this would require mandatory reporting to police and entails civil and criminal proceedings against the male partner if he is over the age of 16 years. Where educators are involved, they will be disciplined and criminal charges laid as well.

According to Stats SA, more than 83 000 children between the ages of 10 and 17 gave birth countrywide during the 2019/ 2020 financial year. The Commission for Gender Equality has also conducted its own research and it says it is concerned.

“It has been confirmed by the study undertaken by the CGE that a significant number of learners do not return to school after. They are usually lost to the education system forever. This deepens poverty in their families for themselves and their children. Our other concern is that some are underage and this confirms statutory rape is rife. There is a need to train our frontline duty bearers especially educators, health workers and social workers to report such cases to police officers and also encourage parents to report,” says Adv. Nthabiseng Sepanya-Mogale, Chairperson of Commission for Gender Equality.

The policy also advocates that learners be returned to school after pregnancy either to the same grade or progressed to the next grade. And to mitigate pregnancies, schools will be encouraged to provide access to effective contraceptive technologies.

“The policy undermines the rights of parents, enforces SGB’s and teachers to refer learners for contraception and where necessary abortion without parents knowing,” says Marie Sukers, ACDP MP.

One education expert says all stakeholders should work together to eradicate the scourge.

“The key recommendation that I think we should focus on is how do we further strengthen advocacy efforts to support the implementation of the policy on learner pregnancy policy of the Department of Basic Education and how do we strengthen that advocacy in the way that really involves a range of stakeholders at every level because this is not a problem just for the education department in terms of strengthening implementation. It requires a whole society approach to supporting young learners who are pregnant and who have given birth at a young age when they should still be in school,” says education expert Prof Mary Metcalfe.

The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education is expected to deliberate on the policy when it resumes its sittings.