- The Head teachers unanimously agreed that allowing pregnant pupils back to school was a heavy burden for them as it had serious health and social implications.
Nhlangano: Some school Head teachers in the Shiselweni region have vehemently rejected the proclamation by the Deputy Prime Minister’s Office to allow pregnant pupils to continue with their education despite their condition.
The teachers were speaking during a Teenage Pregnancy (TP) review meeting that was hosted by the Nhlangano AIDS Training Information and Counselling Centre (NATICC) at the Bethesda Mission on Friday.
The objective of the meeting was to galvanize schools to accelerate the fight against school dropouts due to teenage pregnancy. Present during the meeting were Head Teachers and Deputy Head teachers from the following schools; Mantambe High, Nkhungwini High, Edwaleni High, Nzongomane High, Mbukwane High and Makhosini High Schools respectively.
The COVID-19 induced national lockdown appear to have worsened the teenage pregnancy scourge as preliminary reports from various schools suggest that a number of pupils might have dropped out of school due to pregnancy.
The Head teachers unanimously agreed that allowing pregnant pupils back to school was a heavy burden for them as it had serious health and social implications.
Makhosini High School Head Teacher who was identifies only as Mr Msibi, said as head teachers they do not have the skills to attend to the health complications associated with pregnancy.
“Towards the end of last year, I had to rush a pregnant pupil who was in labour to the Nhlangano Health Centre. I was left traumatised as anything could have happened during the journey to the hospital. The student could have delivered during the journey which could have caused a major problem as I don’t have the skills that doctors and nurses have,” said Msibi.
Edwaleni High School Head Teacher Bhekie Xaba decried the lack of proper consultations between the DPM’s Office, Ministry of Education and Training and the Schools as are key stakeholders.
“Allowing pregnant pupils back to class has presented a major challenge for the school administration as we have not been empowered to handle such cases. The pregnant pupils also experience extreme stigmatization and discrimination from fellow pupils. The proclamation by the authorities was a bit rush,” Xaba said.
Xaba further suggested that after delivery and taking sufficient maternity break, the pupils should then be reintegrated into nearby schools so that they can avoid the stigma and discrimination.
Mbukwane High School Head Teacher, Tehlile Khumalo said allowing pregnant pupils back into class was tantamount to serious moral decay. Pregnancy in schools should not be normalised. Allowing pregnant pupils to continue with class is sending a wrong message to the rest of them in the schools,” she said
Nzongomane High School Head Teacher, Esau Dlamini said teenage pregnancy is now glamorised in schools as focus is now being given to the pregnant pupils rather than the law-abiding ones. ‘NGOs and Cabinet Ministers are very quick to give special treatment to the pregnant pupils which sends a wrong message to the other girls within the school. “The pregnant girls are now treated as celebrities,” he said. ‘We will never win the fight against teenage pregnancy if we continue to give special treatment to the pregnant students. The other students will crave the attention’ He continued.
Dlamini further encouraged all stakeholders including parents to ensure that the defaulting girls receive positive punishment. “The girls and boys should be allowed to assume parental responsibilities so that they can feel the pinch of being a parent. Parents should allow the new parents to feel the burden of parenting,” he said
The head teachers also alleged that they are witnessing an increase in the number of illegal abortions amongst female pupils within their schools.
During the meeting NATICC Executive Director, Sisekelo Nzima highlighted the need for the pregnant girls and their families to receive proper interventions so that they can fully recover from the ordeal. He said teenage pregnancy is a serious health and education problem in the country that has serious implications for the young girls, their families, the community and the country at large.
“There is need for extensive psycho-social services such as counselling for the young mothers and their families,” he said.
Nzima said NATICC Social Workers and Psychologists are always readily available to provide assistance to the young mothers and their families.
Nzima further emphasized the need to reintegrate the young mothers back to school after they have delivered and all the other maternal issues have been sorted out.
Welcome Mhlanga, President of the Eswatini Principals Association (EPA) said it was very true, head teachers had this concern on to how to handle the pregnant pupils in the classrooms. Mhlanga said as teachers, they were not capacitated on how to handle the complications that come with pregnancy.
Mhlanga said this was a very serious concern for them as principals because the teachers were already heavily loaded as schools do not have enough teachers, now adding the burden of handling pregnant pupils was a double blow for them.
He added that the teachers were overwhelmed by the work as they were outnumbered when comparing them to the amount of work they needed to do. He said this was due to the fact that teachers had to cover last year’s syllabus.
He said as members of the society, they discouraged the pupils from falling pregnant, let alone allowing them to come to school because that send a wrong signal that it was a good thing. He said even the stigmatization no longer bothers the pupils.
Mhlanga said, nonetheless as principals, they were cognizant of what United Nations was saying about giving education to all children despite their conditions. He said given that backdrop, they were pleading with the government to come up with a guideline which will help them on how to handle the situation.
Mhlanga said they have engaged the Ministry of Education to assist them with a guideline which will train them and the teachers on how to handle the situation on hand.
Efforts to get comment from the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Training Bertram Stewart were futile as his cellphone was off by the time of compiling this report.
When launching the Early and Unintended Pregnancies (EUP), on January 30, 2020 the Deputy Prime Minister, Themba Masuku, stressed the fact that students who do fall pregnant at an early age must not be ostracized and should always be given a second chance to progress in life.
Minister of Health, Lizzy Nkosi reminded students to no deter from the goals they have set for themselves through early sexual debut.
The minister highlighted how EUP becomes a hindrance to achieving any goals that students have set for themselves. “We all have goals we have set for ourselves, you are the future of this country so do all you can to achieve all the incredible goals you have set for yourself” she said.
The Minister further reminded the students that even if they do happen to have children at an early age, they should not despair and continue to work towards their career goals and remember that they are competing against themselves and nobody else.
On September 24, 2020, Former Swaziland National Association of Teachers (SNAT) President, Sibongile Mazibuko was quoted by this publication suggesting a sabbatical Leave for pupil mothers to allow them to recover while also bonding with their new born babies.
On another note, the former SNAT president suggested that the ministry of education considers conducting student workshops to get the rest of the learners to accept students’ pregnancies.
“Workshops should be done to the schools to acclimatize the rest of the students to prepare them for such an eventuality,” said the former schools’ association president.
She said as it is the pregnant students will withdraw from attending classes due to the fear of mockery.