Sex education

Keeping girls in school

In an effort to stem a wave of pregnancy-related dropouts among female pupils, Burundi’s education leaders introduced a programme of sex education patterned on the Burundian tradition of fathers explaining sex to their teenaged sons and paternal aunts to teenaged girls.

Using trusted teachers and other school employees for individual counseling in place of real fathers and aunts, Burundi’s primary and secondary schools started the “ Aunts and Fathers” programme in 2017. Now,  three years later, the programme is showing positive early results, with a considerable decline in the percentage of girls dropping out specifically due to pregnancy.

According to Ministry of Education figures, in 2015-2016 - the school year before the start of the “Aunts and Fathers” programme – pregnancies accounted for 33% of female dropouts in Burundi (2,208 pregnancies out of 6,661 female dropouts).

For the following three academic years, however, the percentages of dropouts due specifically to pregnancy were 1.5% in 2016-2017; 1.8% in 2017-2018; and 2% in 2018-2019. (The data for 2018-2019 is provisional, according to the ministry.) In other words, the percentage girls leaving school specifically because of pregnancy decreased considerably – and consistently – in the three years following introduction of the “Aunts and Fathers” programme.

That is good news. The counseling provided under “Aunts and Fathers” appears to be working, says Adolphe Ntibasharira, a parent. However, there is also some bad news in the ministry’s data on dropouts. The overall percentage of girls dropping out of primary and secondary school – for all sorts of reasons, including pregnancy – is high and increasing.

Here are the figures : In the first academic year for which the ministry provided figures –2015-2016 – the overall female dropout rate (i.e., female dropouts as a percentage of all female pupils) was 1.2%. However, in the subsequent three years the overall female dropout rate rose to 8.1% in 2016-2017 ; 7.8% in 2017-2018 ; and 18.1% in 2018-2019.

These percentages represent large numbers of girls who have cut short their educations and thereby diminished their future chances for employment and income. For example, in 2018-2019, the number of girls who dropped out of school was 90,353 out of a total female student population of 496,955 girls. Among the causes of the high female dropout rate are poverty and a view that school is not worthwhile because jobs are hard to find even with an education.

Although the ministry’s figures represent only a short period of a few years, such a high female dropout rate is worrying. The figures call to mind the saying of former Unesco Director-General Irina Bokova that

“educating a girl is educating a nation”. Or, in the words of Mr. Ntibasharira, ”female pupils should remember that school is the only path to success”.

Mireille Kanyange is a journalist and reporter for Radio Isanganiro in Burundi.


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