IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO — KEEPING PREGNANT GIRLS IN SCHOOL
Pregnant school girls should go back to school and should not be expelled. Why? Because “Tanzania needs skilled and well educated women and men to take part in the development of the country, so it cannot just stand aside while it is losing the most precious contribution of many young Tanzanian women to the development of the country because of early marriages and pregnancies” — these are not my words but the words of the Ministry of Education of the United Republic of Tanzania.
I agree that there can be no compromise when it comes to keeping our pregnant girls in school. The Ministry of Education jointly with stakeholders developed guidelines in 2009/2010 to allow for pregnant school girls to return to school. I am not talking of adult training centers that recently have been dubbed by the World Bank SEQUIP proposal as “Alternative Education Pathway”. I am mean like go-back-to-school-because-a-pregnant-school-girl-does-not-get-expelled instead she is suspended.
What is surprising is that some key stakeholders in government, development partners and media are not seemingly aware that these guidelines exist. But it is clear that we do not need to reinvent the wheel.
As part of preparation of these guidelines, a team of experts from Ministry of Education and civil society embarked on a study tour of several countries where pregnant school girls are allowed back to school. Additionally, the Ministry organized open public discussions in eight (8) educational zones in the country involving experts and stakeholders to debate on this matter. These educational zones were Eastern, Western, Northeastern, Northwestern, Southern Highlands, Lake and Central zones. The findings of the ministry of Education were that “generally, stakeholders agreed that, impregnated school girls be allowed to get back to school”. This is also supported by Twaweza survey in 2016 that found that 71% of the respondents were in favor of school girls going back to school. The guidelines document is like a manual that clearly instructs teachers, parents and community how to assist the pregnant school girl to get back to school, avoid future pregnancies and protect school girls.
The question is why did the Government and the World Bank not take this into consideration when developing the Secondary Education Quality Improvement Project (SEQUIP)? Let’s assume that for some reason, all stakeholders that the World Bank consulted — government and civil society — forgot or never knew about the guidelines, aren’t there existing examples within Tanzania of successful re-entry of pregnant school girls?
The answer causes more alarm in my view! The answer is yes, there is an ongoing, living example in Zanzibar where since 2010, pregnant school girls are allowed back to school after giving birth. And according to the Tanzania Health and Demographic Survey 2015–6, the rate of adolescent pregnancies is only eight percent. This is significantly lower than on the Mainland which is 27%.
And then there is always the argument that the World Bank’s job is not to focus on such internal policy matters, it’s a bank. Well, gone are the days, when the World Bank is just a bank! Today, the Bank is guided by policies and frameworks. World Bank staff have to adhere to these policies and frameworks and they are mostly technical but there is one important policy called the Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) that I would like to refer to, which as of October 2018 applies to all new World Bank investment project financing. This policy is explicit in requiring the Bank and borrowers to focus on vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and ensure that there are no risks that could hinder them from accessing the development benefit from the given project. So when people argue for the “Greater Good” saying why hold up a 500 million dollar loan that could benefit 2 million Tanzanian school children? This is the answer from the World Bank itself!
However we argue this, the only area that remains open to debate is “morality” but even that rationally can still be argued that pregnant schoolgirls are not morally more bankrupt than their peers, nor have they committed an unforgivable sin.
All that we are really left with here is what nobody wants to say out, but let me say it since I am on a roll. Making this loan conditional to allowing school girls back to school may be seen as an embarrassment to President Magufuli who publicly said in July 2017, “we collect taxes from poor people in order to educate our children. Should I use that to educate mothers? No way! Let them shout, sing, whatever — I am the President!” However this is not correct. The President is human and has strong views, but it is clear that the fate of thousands of girls is something that goes beyond personal sentiment. His statement had already caused huge uproar, and reason for the initial suspension of this same loan, so allowing back school girls would go a long way to repair his personal image in an election year.
Allowing pregnant school girls back to school should never be about personal sentiments or claiming a greater good at the detriment of the vulnerable, it is just the right thing to do. IMHO
This was published in the Citizen newspaper February 10, 2020