Isaac Mangena
Isaac Mangena

Angie not to blame for teen pregnancy but…

The world’s super-teacher, Ron Clark, recently told CNN how he “met a principal who was recently named as the administrator of the year in her state”. “She was loved and adored by all but she told me she was leaving the profession. I screamed ‘you can’t leave us’ and she quite bluntly replied ‘look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can’t deal with parents any more; they are killing us’. ”

Clark says this is becoming more and more prevalent in the US with teachers citing the problems they have with the parents as the reason they decide to leave. I believe this is the case here too. But instead of the principal washing her hands of the parents and children it is Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Motshekga raised the ire of parents (again) in the Northern Cape last week when she said pregnancies among school children had got nothing to do with her, her department or her teachers.

“Teenage pregnancy is a problem imported to schools by homes and the community,” she said at the seating of the National Council of Provinces in De Aar. “They (children) don’t have sex at schools, they have sex at homes … we don’t provide beds, we provide pens and books.” What Motshekga is basically declaring is that her department has got nothing to do with the raising of the children apart from teaching them how to add and subtract numbers. Full stop!

When I was growing up I found refuge in school. That’s where I was taught how to face the world and how to prevent diseases by washing my hands. Many of us come from the rural areas where many parents and the elders are illiterate. Many of the parents in the village haven’t gone to school beyond standard six. And they don’t know much about sex education. This means the only place where many learn about issues beyond how to milk a cow is in class and at school minister Motshekga.

We live in tough times where HIV is a problem. Many parents don’t know this. In addition, talking about sex with your child is seen as taboo and disrespectful. Often young girls don’t even tell their parents they’ve started menstruating. That’s how difficult it is for children in rural areas like De Aar to talk to their parents about sex and pregnancy. Rural parents themselves have happily delegated this role to the teachers. And Minister Motshekga knows this very well.

How many times have you heard a parent scold a child saying: Kganthe ba le ruta enge ko sekolong? (What do they teach you at school?) It’s because traditionally parents have faith in the school system to take over some responsibilities. That’s why they send their kids and some spend lots of money for this.

Motshekga has effectively said to the teachers that “yours is just to break the chalk and leave at the end of the day”. Her remarks are in direct contrast to those of her predecessor, Naledi Pandor, who in 2007 campaigned for sex education to form the basis of basic education. Pandor was worried about the number of teenage pregnancies and the spread of HIV/Aids among learners. Pandor introduced measures strongly focusing on prevention, highlighting the importance of sex education, HIV and Aids programmes.

The measures also provided for guidelines to be followed when schoolgirls fall pregnant while at school. Motshekga should have instead told her teachers to continue where Pandor left off. Sex education is a responsibility for all. If I were her I would be worried when StatsSA revealed that 160 754 schoolgirls fell pregnant between July 2008 and July 2010.

That’s a worrying figure in a country battling with HIV. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and President Jacob Zuma want condoms to be distributed at schools. I know some of my friends would have differing views on this. But it’s worth debating. “What can the government do when these kids already know so much when they r young,” said a friend on Facebook, Ntate Joe Mange. “Minister is partly right, she’s not entirely 2 blame 4 teenage pregnancy, but tht does not mean she cn’t do nothing abt it,” Malebo Mampotse Mangena said. “Parenting should be left to parents, teaching to teachers … I personally think government can never replace parents as the primary educators of their children. No one knows your kids like you do,” added Daniel Kayz Mangena.

Sure this kind of responsibility cannot be left to the teachers and Motshekga. But the minister cannot make such reckless comments. But parents also need to come on board. And yes, teachers are at times limited on how much they can parent.

“For starters, we are educators, not nannies,” says Clark. “We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don’t fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer.”

Whatever the view, we should not forget that it takes a village (and a classroom) to raise a child.

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