Research by the Campaign for Female Education (Camfed) has indicated that girls have continued to drop out of school at an alarming rate because of poor implementation of the re-entry policy.

And Camfed has urged government to make the re-entry policy law in order to curb the huge school drop-out rates.

Commenting on the research findings in Lusaka, Camfed research executive Christine Mushibwe noted that the re-entry policy was not effective enough to help girls get back to school because it was implemented differently.

She disclosed that as much as 43,000 girls are dropping out of school annually, 11,000 of whom drop out due to early pregnancies.

“Despite the Re-Entry Policy being in existence for the past 20 years, its implementation has attracted a lot of debate and raised a number of public concerns over its effectiveness in addressing the initial concerns of the continuation of the affected girl’s education. Every year, approximately 43,000 girls drop out of school, out of which 11,000 are due to pregnancy. The factors affecting the re-entry of school girls could include; lack of understanding of the Re-Entry Policy (REP) by both teachers and pupils; ineffective implementation of the policy by administrators and social stigma associated with teenage pregnancy. Research demonstrated that many of these schools could not condone the policy, as it is believed that sex before marriage is against the Christian faith. Many Christian schools that view the policy as immoral resort to either chasing the girl from school or referring her to another school after the birth of her baby,” Mushibwe revealed.

“The fear of going against their belief and encouraging the vice is taken seriously by the faith-based schools. The factors affecting the REP may be many, and may continue to affect the implementation process, but evidence of its implementation stands. Unsupportive school environments can breed so much negative perspective of the returning student mother, who is in dire need of the support at all cost, in order to remain in school. Such a position may result into loneliness or depression, hence the need for support. REP may not be watertight, hence allowing a non-uniform implementation in faith-based schools and the creation of non-supportive procedures by expected implementers. However, despite this expectation, there needs to be closer monitoring, explanation, dissemination and supervision of the policy in order for it to be more effective and this, unfortunately, is where the Zambian policy falls short.”

And Camfed urged government to enact the re-entry policy into law to tackle escalating levels of illiteracy.

“There is, therefore, need for the policy to be made into a law, in order for it to be better implemented, as well as, safeguard the interests and promote the education of the girl child. The benefits and sensitization of the policy as well as its introduction have not clearly been explained. As a result, this has adversely affected its implementation. In addition to the foregoing, in spite of the officials having a greater awareness of the policy, not everyone is completely in support of the policy. Some officials in the Ministry of General Education, whose task is to disseminate information to schools on the importance of the REP, also had different views on it. It further highlights some of the reactions of some teachers towards the REP where they do not favour the policy, arguing that the policy tends to encourage learners to become immoral,” said Mushibwe.

“Thus, if teachers can openly despise the pupils who fall pregnant and return to school, the chances are that, the pregnant girls may drop out of school, and may never re-enter for fear of being dressed-down and being despised by the teachers. A teacher’s strict moral approach to the problem of pre-marital pregnancies can, therefore, have a negative effect on the successful implementation of the policy. But if this policy is made law, there will be no impartial implementation. Every school and official will be forced to adhere to the law. Our fear is that, if girls continue dropping out of schools at this rate, then we will not achieve some of the goals that we intend to achieve by 2030. How will you, when so many girls are dropping out of school? So, this policy should be made law, it’s only then that we will see change.”