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Teen Mothers in School

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Editor: In the 1990’s, the Ministry of Education toyed with the idea of re-entering teen mothers into government owned secondary schools. This policy was met with indignation by both teachers and the wider public, halting the process in its tracks.{{more}}

Principals were apprehensive, out of fear of a backlash from the public and Parent Teacher Associations.

The late Sister Pat, of the St. Joseph’s Convent Marriaqua, was the vanguard in pursuing this policy. No surprise in her doing so – coming from a progressive minded family with the like of Michael and Rosie Douglas – politicians, and one being the Prime Minister of Dominica.

She started the policy in the 1991-92 school year, enduring a public outcry and negative comments. At one point during that decade, there were 10 such students enrolled.

Still debatable

It is still debatable as to whether the St. Joseph’s Convent Marriaqua was the first school to pursue such a policy itself. It is reputed that Petit Bordel Secondary had previously done so, but not on a continuous basis.

It was a bit easier for Sister Pat to implement such a policy, given the fact that it was a private school, and parents who disagreed with her policy had the opportunity to transfer their child/children to another school. Her decision eventually smoothed the way for public schools to adopt the same policy belatedly.

The present government concretized her policy into public schools. In the 2003-04 academic year,16 teen mothers enrolled in the education system. In the following years, there were 11, 12, 13, 11 and 17, respectively. In 2010, 12 students were enrolled in schools throughout the country. There were 23 students enrolled in the programme at the end of 2009 -10 academic year. In 2010-11 academic year, 46 students applied for re-entry into schools.

Data for the number recorded pregnancies over the years is sparse. In 2008-09, 47 students became pregnant, and in 2009-10, 52 students from 25 secondary schools were pregnant. Georgetown Secondary had the highest incidence of pregnancy for any given year – a total of 11 pregnancies in 2006.

An article dated February 18, 2011, headlined 11 girls pregnant between the ages of 10-14, highlighted the incidence of infant and pregnant teens in this country and brought home the gravity of the situation today. Questions raised relate to the age and criminal prosecution of the perpetrators involved, oblivious to the ramification of these children not having an opportunity to complete their education.

In a recent radio programme, the vast majority of the callers were still aghast at the thought of teen mothers. They were simply acting on emotional feelings rather than rational thought.

In analyzing such a policy, one should adopt a cost benefit analysis. What is the benefit or cost to society in adopting that policy? Also, what is the opportunity cost (alternatives forgone) of re-entering teen mothers in the education system?

Providing these mothers with an education can be beneficial to society. It may enable such mothers with the wherewithal to support their child or children in the future. Testimony to this policy, many of these former students are now working in the private and public sectors.

In 2008, one such student graduated valedictorian at her school and successfully went on to complete two A’Level subjects at the Division of Arts, Science and General Studies (A’Level College). At another school, one was the most outstanding student in terms of CSEC passes. Several others are now enrolled at the Division of Technical and Vocational Education (Technical College).

Re-entering teen mothers into the education system may equip them to contribute gainfully, rather than become a burden on society. They also may be able to help their siblings with their education (lessons) and by instilling proper norms and values.

Education supposedly leads to a change in behaviour, and hence may give teen mothers an added sense of responsibility in both child rearing and in pursuing their education.

Contrary to the above position, the typical argument put forward by those who are against this policy is that teen mothers are women who should not be among other students in the school system. There is no evidence to suggest that other girls in school may want to copy these teen mothers as a passage and bragging rights to womanhood.

Parental neglect

Many of these girls’ predicament is as a result of parental neglect or economic pressures of the day. The Security Industry is the most visible forms of job creation and employment in the last 10 years in this country. Many such parents have to work at nights, leaving their children unsupervised at home.

The policy of re-entering teen mothers in the education system is now in keeping with the concept of an all inclusive education. A ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy – whether physically challenged or a teen mother.

Proponents of gender parity and equality state that the re-entry of pregnant girls and adolescent mothers into the education system is one such interventionist strategy that could achieve those objectives.

Such an education policy is not the only factor at play when assisting teen mothers. Wider social and economic factors will determine whether more such mothers will be able to take advantage of this policy, benefitting themselves and the wider society.

A. Gipson