Thabang Pooe, SECTION27
The results of the last Annual School Survey, released in 2017, sent shock waves through the country. According to the survey, an estimated 15 740 learners fell pregnant in the previous academic school year – that’s roughly 43 every day. This was described by Minister of Education Angie Motshekga as a major social, systemic and fiscal challenge – not only for the basic education sector, but crucially, for national development.
Teenage pregnancy among school girls impacts negatively on the girl’s ability to complete her schooling. In many cases, girls who fall pregnant while in school drop out and rarely return to school post-pregnancy, thus ending any prospect of further education or access to the labour market.
It is in this context that the Department of Basic Education introduced the draft Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy for public comment. The DBE acknowledges its central role in the social sector’s collective response to this challenge, and sets out in this policy its goals, guiding principles and policy themes, to stabilise and reduce the incidence of learner pregnancy and its adverse effects on the education system.
The policy not only seeks to address the high rate of pregnancy among learners, but also the context within which this occurs – the familial and social context. It further seeks to provide options for reducing the number of unintended and unwanted pregnancies, the management of pre- and post-natal implications, the limiting effects of the associated stigma and discrimination, and importantly, the retention and re-enrolment of affected learners into school.
Of significance is that this policy seeks to ensure the accessible provision of information on prevention, choice of termination of pregnancy, care, counselling and support, frameworks for impact mitigation, and guidelines for systematic management and implementation. This it aims to do through the provision of comprehensive, quality sexuality education and access to adolescent and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services.
The policy further asserts the constitutional right of pregnant learners to continue and complete their basic education without stigma or discrimination. Specifically, it confirms that there should be no exclusion of pregnant learners, who must be allowed to remain in school during their pregnancy and return as soon after giving birth as is appropriate for both the learner and her child.
For its part, the school is required to accommodate the reasonable needs of the learner to ensure that her right to education is not disrupted or ended by pregnancy or birth. It thus promotes the right of girls to education by ensuring they are not excluded from school as a result of falling pregnant and giving birth, and providing a supportive environment for the continuation of learning.
Comments on the draft policy were due to be submitted by 10 March 2018.