The Ministry of Education’s vision of education for all is at risk for a particular cohort of Jamaican children: school-age girls who become pregnant. While the enactment of the Child Care and Protection Act gives statutory weight to parents’ responsibility to ensure that all school-age children enjoy their right to education, discrimination, stigmatisation and the absence of sanctionable standards hinder the educational rights of school-age mothers.
Exclusion currently occurs as the Education Regulations, 1980 provides that a girl who becomes pregnant shall leave school during the period of her pregnancy. The Minister of Education has the discretion to facilitate the re-entry of such girls to educational institutions, but no policy framework previously existed for the exercise of this discretion. Instead, schools have at times misinterpreted the provision to treat girls’ absence from school as permanent. In the absence of clear policy guidelines, student mothers face cultural and institutional resistance to their right to an education.
Pregnancy remains the highest risk factor for female dropout rates, both before and after reintegration. This does not align with national policy goals outlined in the Vision 2030 document, and retards Jamaica’s fulfilment of international treaties, commitments and policy guidelines.
This policy purports to address this deficit, and establishes a framework for inter-agency collaboration to address the wider issues that limit the reintegration of school-age mothers into the formal school system.
The state machinery for providing transitional education for girls who leave school during pregnancy currently resides in the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation (WCJF), a government-owned entity reporting to the Office of the Prime Minister. The programme currently serves approximately one-third of all teenage mothers, and is globally recognised for its successes in reducing the recidivism rate among its students. The services offered by the organisation will be expanded and more fully aligned with the Ministry of Education’s curriculum, as well as its guidance and counselling services.
The key elements of this policy are:
• Automatic referral of all pregnant girls to the Women’s Centre of Jamaica Foundation.
• Reintegrating all school-age mothers into the formal school system, either in their original school or in another school, at the same level.
• Monitoring of adolescent mothers to ensure they complete their education.
• Increasing prevention messages to seek to reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy