Readers respond to schoolgirl pregnancy

2008-02-28 00:00

THE issue of a 17-year-old, Grade 11 teen, who was allegedly expelled from Hoërskool Voortrekker for being pregnant in 2007, but has since been accepted back this week following an intervention by the Department of Education, has sparked a heated debate among Witness readers, who expressed mixed, yet strong feelings on the matter. The responses to the article were received electronically.

Some slandered the school, with one person saying its attitude on teen pregnancies “sucked” and wanting the headmaster removed. The headmaster was accused by the girl’s mother of coercing them to apply for a transfer since he would not take the child back.

“... not everyone has blinkers on”, said one reader.

“He is not God to judge people and is misusing his authority,” said another.

However, one reader, who had gone through a similar experience by falling pregnant while doing Grade 11, said the school’s policy has not always been as it is.

She said she was allowed to finish her Grade 11 while pregnant and she went back after the delivery to conclude her studies. She said that she has never regretted keeping her child and considers her decision more noble than abortion, a decision many other girls resort to.

Meanwhile, not everyone was as damning of the headmaster and the school’s policies, which are based on a Christian ethos. Others applauded the school’s effort to maintain values and stick by them.

One reader, who claimed to be in full support of the headmaster, said: “We cannot allow 17-year-old mothers to dictate to teachers and parents”.

Another believed pregnant pupils must be expelled as other children would do the same and “we’ll end up with a community of single parents, relying on their parents for support”.

One reader, who claimed to be a teacher, thought expulsion is the only solution for schools to keep pregnancies under control.

According to Circular 126 of 2006 distributed to schools, a pupil who falls pregnant may not become subject to any disciplinary action and is entitled to be protected should she or her parents choose to reveal to school authorities that she is pregnant.

It also provides guidelines on what schools should do if a pupil falls pregnant, such as arranging lesson material so pupils can keep up with the remainder of the classes and making arrangements with community nursing services for ongoing support for the pupil. It drafts steps which may be taken by schools to minimise the incidence of pregnancy and gives post-natal expectations.

Department spokesman Ntokozo Maphisa said the 17-year-old pupil and two others, who had approached the department with similar problems, have received placement at the school.

He said the children will be monitored on a monthly basis, while psychologists will also offer support on an ongoing basis.

The department will be appointing independent investigators to look into the allegations brought forward by the families and proper action will be taken based on that outcome, he said.

“Our action must not mislead pupils into thinking that we are encouraging or condoning pregnancies at school.

“We totally discourage unplanned families,” said Maphisa.

Pregnancies increasing

There are about 5 000 reported teen pregnancies in the province and those who manage them said the problem is getting worse.

Alexander High School has set up structures such as counselling for new parents, who are kept at the school as long as possible, said headmaster, Andrew Graaf. Thereafter, work is sent to the girls at home until they are able to get back to school. He said counselling is the easy part. The hard part is getting the pupils to realise the effects of falling pregnant.

“The fact that teen pregnancy is still on the increase is mind-boggling.

“The school’s management often discusses this issue and we wonder how we are failing as teachers. We try to educate them on life skills and we address HIV/Aids. But ultimately, the decision is theirs.”

Deputy principal Selvie Reddy said there have been about two pregnancies, out of the school’s 758 pupils, in each grade since the beginning of the year.

They try to shock their pupils into reality by bringing in speakers such as health care nurses and prisoners. However, she has questioned how effective this is.

“It is really sad, one girl is doing Grade 8. We try to empower our young girls by letting them know that education is the answer. But if they do fall pregnant we use the life sciences to guide them and prepare them.”

Thulasizwe Ngobese, the principal at Smero Secondary High School near Edendale, said pregnancies are a big problem at the school.

He said they have close to 1 000 pupils and about 20 pregnancies are reported every year.

“It really affects us and I would say it contributes a lot to the failures. The girls are sick all the time and some come for exams when they have not studied.”

The school’s strategy for discouraging pregnancies is to request parents to be on standby or on the school premises when heavily pregnant girls are in their care, since teachers are not equipped to deal with those children.

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