Education Talk with TIMOTHY KAMBILIMA
OF LATE there has been debate both in the media and public places on whether the Ministry of Education, Science, Vocational Training and Early Educationâ€™s re-entry policy for girls should continue or not.
Recently, Kabwe deputy mayor, McDonald Mwamba, called for the abolishment of the policy given its alleged failure to improve the advancement of girlsâ€™ education.
The civic leader went on to say that Government should revisit the re-entry policy for girls, arguing that it has contributed to increasing number of school drop-outs and early marriages in our country.
Mr Mwamba further said the policy promotes immorality among children and causes more harm than good in society (Zambia Daily Mail July 3, 2015).
Well, there are many people who share the deputy mayorâ€™s concerns on the re-entry policy, which came into effect in 1997.
Parents, teachers, traders and many other people I interact with feel that the re-entry policy is encouraging girls to fall pregnant knowing veryÂ well that they will still come back upon delivery.
Deputy Minister of Education, Science, Vocational, Training and Early Education Sydney Mushanga also feels that the re-entry policy is being abused by the school girls.
According to the Zambia Daily Mail edition of July 13, the deputy minister said it was sad that the re-entry policy was being abused despite efforts by the government to give an opportunity to the girl-child to return to school after being pregnant.
But the question being asked by many people is, should the government abolish the re-entry policy?
Like the deputy minister said, abusing the re-entry policy is very sad because girls should see this as a golden opportunity to finish their education and become independent and successful in future.
The benefits of the policy are more than the negative effects.
For instance, the first minister of education in the Patriotic Front government, Dr John Phiri, told Parliament that between 2009 and 2011 a total of 12,617 school girls who were once pregnant benefited from the policy by securing places in various basic and secondary schools (Lusaka Times September, 25, 2012).
The re-entry policy is proving to be problematic in that it is a policy and not law and it is not binding.
Some school girls fail to come back to school, falling pregnant because they are disowned by their families.
They therefore lack financial support. My prayer is that the government would one day come up with a kind of special bursary for such young mothers.
Remember, not all girls fall pregnant by their own will, but certain circumstances lead to them finding themselves in such a situation.
We should also remember that some of the young school â€˜mothersâ€™ may not have anyone to take care of their newly-born babies because the policy allows them to be away for only six months.
It is a challenge for many school girls who have no care-givers to look after their babies.
The re-entry policy should not be done away with because some of the girls who come back become serious with school work and end up going to colleges or universities.
I have personally handled some of girls under the re-entry policy. It is gratifying to see some of these beneficiaries training as nurses, teachers and technicians and are today working and contributing to the social and economic development of our country.
The government is benefiting from the taxes these women are paying and the services they are rendering to society out there.
Apart from that, we must remember that education is a right to everyone including the girl-child.
Though, not all those who are allowed to re-enter after delivering proceed to higher institutions of learning, it has increased womenâ€™s literacy levels and narrowed the gender gap in education.
There is a very big difference between a small-scale business woman who went up to Grade 12 and one who ended up in Grade Seven in terms of literacy levels.
What then should be done to make the re-entry policy a greater success? There is need for the State (education ministry) and other stakeholders to put their heads together and find a lasting solution to the high prevalence of teen pregnancies and the associated dropout of girls from school.
One of the solutions is to have effective sex education programmes in Zambian schools.
I believe it is high time that as Zambians, we must stop burying our heads in the sand or turning a blind eye to what is happening to our precious girl-child.
We must start discussing teenage pregnancies starting at domestic or home level with parents taking up leadership on this issue.
A child who grows up in a home where the value of education is respected, and where guidance is properly given with regards to sexuality is in a better position to make wise decisions over his or her future.
The re-entry policy should continue because education of women impacts positively on the future of the country.
There is also need to tighten the regulations surrounding the policy by not allowing girls who do it for the second time to be in the morning session.
Maybe such girls should be allowed to continue their education in adult centres so that they donâ€™t influence the younger class or school mates. Parliament should also help by coming up with stiffer penalties for boys and men who are responsible for impregnating the school girls.
Maybe we need a custodial sentence for such offenders to deter others from destroying the future of the girl child.
On the other hand, school girls need a lot of sensitisation on reproduction health.
Girls must not be involved in sexual relationship with school boys, non-school boys or men out there until they are done with their education. Finally, the 1997 re-entry policy for the girl child needs the support of all wellâ€“meaning Zambians.
Let us not just blame the policy and the school girls. We need to work together and find a solution to the problem.
Heartfelt gratitude to Tricia Bwalya of Chililabombwe , Beauty Chikontwe , Davies Kajima of Ndola and Victor of Katiki for keenly following the Education Talk. I treasure your support.
Education Talk with TIMOTHY KAMBILIMA