Ama Korkor (not real name) is one of the girls who unfortunately got pregnant and delivered at the age of 15 when schools closed during the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the many preventive measures in 2020.
When school reopened in January 2022, she was only four weeks after delivery and so couldn’t go to school, because of the demands of caring for a baby.
After several encouragements from the school authorities, her mother decided to take care of the baby to enable her to go back to school. Today, she is in Senior High School benefiting from the Free Senior High School policy.
Ama Korkor’s story represents that of the few girls who dropped out of school due to teenage pregnancy and childbirth but were fortunate to have the needed support and push to make it possible to return to school.
Yaa Grace, in the Manya Krobo District, is another success story of the re-entry policy, she delivered just after the BECE in 2020 after a long Covid-19 break, she had always wanted to pursue vocational training to become a caterer.
“I was staying with my elder sister and her husband when I delivered, I was sent back to the village, my sister heard of the re-entry policy and asked my mother to take care of the child to enable me to continue my education”
She has now enrolled in one of the Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) schools under the free SHS and TVET policy as a first-year student, “but for the re-entry policy I would have been married by now as my father insisted that I must marry the man who impregnated once I was doing nothing”.
Adwoa Saa (not real name) is another mother of a six-year-old boy and a proud student at one of the teacher training colleges, who delivered in 2016 when she was in Junior High School form 2 and dropped out of school. She had no hope of going back to school.
“I was devastated when I realised that I was pregnant and had to drop out of school at the age of 16 years, I attempted suicide on two occasions and anytime I remember that I couldn’t go to the university which was my cherished dream, it breaks my heart.”
When the re-entry policy was introduced, her senior sister offered to take care of Adwoa Saa’s child so, she registered for the BECE in 2018, and now, she is in a tertiary school. Gradually, she is inching near her dream, which but for the re-entry policy and the family’s support, would have been different.
Had it not been for the re-entry policy being implemented by the Ghana Education Service (GES) as part of the Covid-19 resilience strategy and family support, the dreams of these three young women of continuing their education and becoming empowered women in future would have truncated by teenage pregnancies and they would have become victims of child marriage.
Despite the challenges of going back to school after pregnancy or delivery, the re-entry policy is a light at the end of the tunnel for girls such as these, prior to this policy it was difficult for such dropped out girls to go back to school even when the will and zeal were there due to several factors.
Experts in education have described the policy as one of the best interventions tailored to suit the girl child to ensure that they do not fall in the cracks but have another opportunity to finish an unfinished business.
“Even if one girl returned back to school after delivery, it’s a positive sign which must be highlighted for others to emulate. If you look at the figures of teenage pregnancies, the only way out is to offer such a window of opportunity,” Mrs Joyce Ackah a retired educationist noted.
Those unfortunate girls returning back to school may not be equal to the number who dropped out, “but it’s a positive reaction to an action and a step in the right direction to reverse a potential threat in the women’s empowerment agenda,” she added.
Such girls have become school dropouts at early ages, and many parents and guardians have refused to take care of their babies so they can return back to the classroom, even though the policy allows such children to go to school when pregnant, it needs support from parents, guardians and relatives to enable these girls to take advantage of the policy.
The Forum for African Women Educationists (FAWE) has indicated among others that for the re-entry policy to be successful, there must be support systems for such teenage mothers and their guardians in the form of income-generating activities to support both mother and child whiles the teenage mother goes back to school or set up daycare support.
In spite of Ghana’s progress on the Free Compulsory Universal Basic Education (FCUBE), school dropouts, remain a huge challenge mainly by teenage pregnancies and other socio-economic factors.
According to statistics by Africa Education Watch, a not-for-profit organisation with a focus on education, over 192,000 school dropouts are in Ghana with over 102,000 being girls and up to 30 per cent of that figure is attributed to teenage pregnancies.
A GES report also shows that 70 per cent of pre-tertiary pregnancies occur at the Junior High or basic school levels, with an average in-school pregnancy rate of 7,000 per year. It is estimated that out of the 100,000 teenage pregnancies recorded yearly in Ghana, 300 of such girls returned to school in 2021.
Again, over 555,000 teenage pregnancies have been recorded between 2016 and 2021 and with the re-entry policy, about 10,800 of such teenage mothers have returned to school
Madam Patricia Birago Gyamfi, Eastern Regional Girl Child Education Coordinator described domestic support as a key intervention needed to make the policy successful, noting that parents and guardians must make that sacrifice for a better future for their daughters.
“Many of these teenage mothers are willing to go to school again, having been sensitised and counselled through the “Come Back to School” campaign under the Re-entry policy but who to take care of their babies, thus, to care and provide for them, to allow them to go back to school has become an impediment and a huge challenge to the success of the campaign,” she noted.
She explained that it was difficult for such teenage girls to send their babies to school, as the distraction and demands of caring for a baby as well as the stigma and learning at the same time would be too much a burden for such students.
This she said calls for the involvement and full support of parents or guardians to ensure that girls’ education is not truncated at that basic level of education.
The re-entry policy seems to be making some inroads as many girls are returning to school after delivery to enable them to sit for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE), yet, many others have fallen through the cracks as they could not get the needed family support.
“Many have expressed worry that the re-entry policy would promote promiscuity among school children, but from indications, the re-entry policy can be described as a thought-through solution to address some of the deficits in girls’ education and empowerment considering the large numbers of girls who drop out of school due to pregnancy,” Madam Gyamfi expressed.
Whiles not condoning pregnancy and other issues related to school dropouts, she appealed to parents to help their children put the pieces together and return to school by taking care of the babies and providing for their needs for them to have sound minds to study.