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Opinions of Sunday, 22 June 2014

Columnist: Pacas, Idris

Re: Allow pregnant students write [sic] BECE

The aforementioned directive was given by the Education Ministry (@ Ghanaweb 16/6/14). Having pregnant pupils take BECE, exams meant for children less than 17 years of age, has now become a norm (eg, in 2013, appalling images of pregnant pupils at exam centres were widely reported in both the electronic and the print media).

Using only last year’s huge numbers and embarrassing photos of pregnant women in ‘maternity-designed’ school uniform at our exam centres, I thought that the Education Ministry and GES would be compelled to act. But how? Logically, the Education Ministry would have set a committee to investigate this case. Accordingly, the Education Ministry and GES should have been reporting the findings of their joint committee especially on how the work of the committee drastically reduced the number of pregnant ‘pupils’ about to take BECE 2014. Thus, giving a directive that pregnant ‘pupils’ be allowed to sit for the exams as a sign of concern is a misplaced priority.

Casually, I recorded a total of 107 pregnant women on register to do BECE this year (Nabdam District = 43, Takyiman = 34, Madina-Nkwantanang Municipality = 9, Lower Manya Krobo Municipality = 8, Sunyani = 6, Akim Oda Municipality = 4 and Ayensuano District = 3). Thirteen (13) of the pregnant women had turned nursing mothers at Nabdam; accordingly, they didn’t turn up at the exam centres. At Sunyani, an 8-month-old pregnant woman is taking the exams. The number is most likely far lower because of my search limitations. In addition to those cases unreported and those pregnancies undetected, the total number could be hitting 1000s.

Our Constitution as well as our traditional and religious laws strongly prohibits premarital sex. In consequence, having sex with preteens and midteens stands as one of the most heinous crimes that can be committed against the Country. Why do we allow teenage sex to continue to an extent that we are making provisions for pregnant women to be sitting for BECE? Let’s be serious.

More importantly, no teacher has ever prevented any pupil-turned pregnant woman from taking BECE. The rules that we (teachers) use to run our schools are clearly spelled out by GES. Standing tall among them is that basic schools are not maternity homes. Therefore, any pupil-turned pregnant woman can never be accepted there. For any reason, if a pupil becomes pregnant and the pregnancy is detected, our rules clearly state that such a pregnant woman must be relocated to the appropriate place where she and her developing foetus can be properly catered for. Any reasons? Yes! Several.

Legally, basic education is provided to persons who have not reached the age of consent (age at which somebody can legally enter into sexual relationship). So becoming pregnant below this age already violates national laws. And in serious countries, such action cannot go unattended to. Ethically, keeping pregnant women in basic schools will encourage more pupils to be pregnant. Thus, if a pupil becomes pregnant at any level of basic education, she is sent away from school. But if a girl in JHS 3 is registered to take BECE and she becomes pregnant later or she was already carrying an undetected pregnancy at the time of registration; no teacher, headteacher or supervisor will ever or has ever prevented such a pregnant ‘women’ from taking BECE.

What happens is that if the pregnancy is detected weeks or months to the exams, the pregnant woman becomes a persona non grata in the school, a place meant for children. Here, notice that a child that exhibits adult behaviours is often found in adult places. Therefore, asking such pregnant women to stay away from schools conforms to their adopted adult behaviour pattern. While at home, such pregnant women may study for the exams. At the time of the exams, if the abdomen of the pupil-turned pregnant woman is so bloated that she feels shy to go to the exams centre, the teacher and supervisor carry no blame. Instead, blame the larger society.

Consequently, I consider the Ministry’s directive as misleading because it sought to suggest that teachers are unaware of the rules governing their work. (Notice that the supervisors of the exams are teachers.) Worst still, the reportage mentioned that some pregnant ‘women’ were prevented from taking the test in the past. Unfortunately, mention was not made of any such areas and the numbers involved. Here, an interesting observation trickled through me. That the Education Ministry has been fully informed of such pregnancy cases long ago. We may, therefore, want to know the action thus far taken. Going by the saying ‘silent means consent’, we can infer that the Ministry has condoned and connived with the act.

The aforementioned write-up further suggests that teachers and supervisors need to show sympathy for such pregnant women or even encourage them during the pregnancy period. Again, the Ministry should have realised that teachers are in themselves parents and in most cases are related to the affected women and have never been wicked towards them. Thus, overgeneralised statements of this category when made by persons of high ranks are often disturbing.

During the most recent past, however, I’ve never been surprised at the excessively overpretentious behaviours of our leaders. Factors promoting increased pregnancy rate among teenagers are cherished at the national level (eg, the ‘Airtel Magic Voice’ promotion). But what do we see? Highly showy leaders only interested in resolving problems ill-timely and from the wrong angles.

The Education Ministry itself is behind the increasing incidence of pupil/student pregnancy. Worth noting is that the Ministry and GES often fail dolefully to take hard-hitting action against teachers who impregnate pupils/students. In most places particularly in the rural areas, teachers befriend student-girls openly; this practice often encourages guys in the villages to join in. Persons interested in knowing more about this inaction of the Ministry may read the Action Aid Report on the sex spree at Tumu Secondary and Secondary Technical schools in the Sissala East District of the Upper West Region.

To those who claim to be fighting for the rights of girls and will love to see pregnant women in large numbers take BECE or even be allowed into our basic schools, I inform you that our schools are not maternity homes. Instead, channel you energies towards preventing them from being pregnant, this being the better option for any progressive society.

I therefore urge the Education Ministry and GES to establish a committee to look seriously into this issue so that next year around this time, we’ll hear of a zero or a drastically reduced number of pupils-turned pregnant women at our exam centres.

Part II focuses on the effect of allowing pregnant women to take BECE on the computerized placement system.

Long live practising teachers! Long live Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana!

Idris Pacas: 020 910 153 3