One of the impacts of Covid-19 is an anticipated rise in the number of pregnant girls who face many challenging consequences, including dropping out of school.
According to health researcher and reproductive health expert Dr Aniceth Nzabonimpa, family poverty, child labour, early marriages, domestic work, teen pregnancy and unsafe abortion escalated during the pandemic – issues that might prevent many young girls from going back to school unless rapid intervention takes place.
As part of the Back-to-School Campaign, vulnerable children are targeted for support to ensure that they do not miss out on their education. Pregnant and new mothers are one of the focuses for this campaign, and SNECOs and SLFs have been working tirelessly with schools, Head Teachers, Sector Education Inspectors and other officials to assist with this.
Nshuti Jean de Dieu, a SNECO from Rulindo District, has been covering the district of Nyarugenge for the last month. At GS Kubusunza the Director of Studies Mukarufonsi Marie Claudine and Focal Teacher Louise Tuyambaze explained to Nshuti that the school is very favourable to all students in order to enable them to learn. They accept and support learners according to their needs, which has encouraged several mother learners studying there.
SNECO Nshuti at a hospital with a student mother and grandmother
One of these is a P5 student, Umutoni (not real name), who has been studying at the school despite having an 11-month-old baby. The mother is from Nyakabanda Sector, and the school told Nshuti that they are trying their best to integrate her in school activities, responding to her needs as a mother. For example, if the child is ill they give her permission to leave school and try to repeat the lesson that she has missed in her absence.
At EP Muhima, Alice (not real name) is a 16-year-old student in P5 who delivered a baby at the beginning of January. She was taken straight to the hospital from school with help from the school and sector officials who provided a car. During her pregnancy, the school would provide her with healthy food in order to have a balanced diet for her and her baby, and the School Accountant explained to Nshuti that the school had made alterations to the uniform to enable her to continue wearing this.
During her pregnancy and since the birth, sector officials visit her both at home and at school to ensure she is integrated and receives the support she needs. The Focal Teacher Nyirandegeya Emmerence, who is currently acting as a headteacher while the headteacher is on medical leave, said that she was able to mobilise teachers, delegating responsibilities to ensure that they were all able to contribute to the student’s welfare. The school bought her hygiene materials and one of the teachers attended hospital with her, along with her mother, when she went into labour.
One of Nshuti’s neighbours had a 16-year-old house maid called Therese. Nshuti was able to convince his neighbour that Therese should go to school and to support her to do this. BLF SNECO and Sector learning Facilitator talked to Therese who said that she had completed P6 and a national exam at GS Kivumu, Rutsiro District. Therese comes from a family that is placed under the first category of Ubudehe which means the government will support her education and she can study for free. Therese was worried that the school may deny her an education and they will want her to pay fees, so BLF team in collaboration with local authorities in Rutsiro district are going to arrange for her to return to school.
In Rulindo District, BLF SNECO Diane has been supporting GS Murama, Kisaro Sector, with a girl who, when she found out she was pregnant, had refused to come back to school. The Head teacher and inclusive education Focal teacher went to visit her and her parents and after discussions, were able to persuade them that the girl should come back to school, and that the school would do all they could to keep her safe and well cared for. The school supported her and another pregnant student with free healthy food, and take extra time to explain lessons to them that they may miss.
In Burera district, SNECO Jean Claude Sabato has been supporting the Focal Teacher and Head teacher at GS Jean de Lamennais to reach out to 4 pregnant girls who fell pregnant during the covid 19 national lockdown in March 2020.Together, they managed to persuade three of them to come back to school.
These examples demonstrate the importance of working together with schools, as a team, to include one of the most vulnerable groups of students and to enable them, as mothers, to be able to receive an education that will serve them with job opportunities and future prospects for themselves and their child.