The Ministry of Education and Sports has instructed all primary and secondary schools to allow finalists who are pregnant to return to school so as to complete their education.
Finalists are expected to return to school in two weeks time to prepare to sit national examinations early next year. However, there are reports from different parts of the country showing a surge of sexual violence against school-going children during the six months of schools closure.
Statistics obtained from Uganda Police indicate that over 21,000 cases of violence against children were registered over a period of five months between March and July 2020. Many of these children are reportedly pregnant.
While the government has a policy that allows pregnant learners to continue with their studies after delivering, in the past, schools have been quick to chase learners who are discovered to be pregnant. Now policymakers say that schools must allow finalists to continue learning even if they are expecting.
Cleophas Mugenyi, the commissioner for basic education at the ministry of education says the girls need to be given a chance to continue with school.
“We have all been in unprecedented times and we need to take that into account. We have asked all schools to allow all finalists no matter the state they are in to report to schools,” he said.
“There are now many challenges, from all different aspects of life. In order to support these learners, we need to review the guidelines, to be able to cover the current socio-political challenges.”
An estimated 1.2 million learners are expected to go back to school next month. With the high cases of sexual violence being reported, Mugenyi says they believe many learners will be pregnant when they report. Mugenyi says that they have come up with guidelines to help senior male and female teachers deal with the pregnant finalists. He says the teachers will help create an inclusive climate for all learners.
Delphine Tumusiime Mugisha, the country director of Raising Voice, a child rights NGO, says that parents should use this opportunity to give their second daughters a second chance that would ordinarily not be there.
“We are giving parents a chance to allow the children to come back to school. The senior women and men have been trained to counsel them, and counsel the others to be supportive. The school, will be a safe environment, so we are appealing all parents not to withhold but give a second chance to these young girls,” said Delphine Tumusiime Mugisha.
However, some teachers find the instruction unrealistic. They say teaching pregnant students might be very complicated.
Rhitah Namukasa, a secondary school teacher in Masaka district says at times expectant mothers have different needs which might not be met in a school environment. She adds that forcing these children to go back to school will land them into discrimination as they could be perceived like rotten mangoes.
“We do not want that learner to associate with others. We fear her to associate with other learners, she will share what happened and the others will also try. The learners will look at her like she is spoilt. She cannot be free at school,” said Namukasa.
Edward Kanoonya, the headteacher of Kololo Secondary School says that at times, it’s the students who are more scared of being in school. “We might be willing to have the students come back but often it’s them who hide and even avoid coming back,” he said. “They are ashamed and would rather go to another school where they are unknown than coming back and continue studying while pregnant among their friends,” he said.