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Breastfeeding in School; Challenges and Recounts from Learners

The policy came after public outcry on the number of candidates who conceived, when schools were closed, as a measure to forestall the spread of coronavirus disease. They were on the verge of dropping out of school, starting a new life as mothers.
The mother and daughter relaxing at school after doing examinations.

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Robinah Acam, a 21-year-old candidate sitting her O’level examination at Lira Town College, is one of those benefiting from a policy that allowed pregnant and breastfeeding learners to complete school this year. 

The policy came after public outcry on the number of candidates who conceived, when schools were closed, as a measure to forestall the spread of coronavirus disease. They were on the verge of dropping out of school, starting a new life as mothers. 

But as schools reopened for candidate classes, the Ministry of Education gave a green light for them to return to school. In addition, the Uganda National Examinations Board accorded them an extra 45 minutes to complete their examination papers.

When this happened, Acam, who gave birth three months prior to the examination, had to carry her baby to school where she, her daughter and babysitter share a dormitory with the rest of the students. This however has not stopped her; Acam says she finds adequate time for the baby and is still able to revise and prepare for exams. 

“...My baby does not cry at night so I go for preps after 10 p.m. when the rest are sleeping because in the evening when people are in for preps, I would be breastfeeding and spending some time with her.” She explained.

Her day starts earlier than the rest because she needs ample time to prepare for the child before entering the examination room. When she is inside, writing her papers, the babysitter is allowed to hang around the room with the child and get the mothers attention when it's time for her to breastfeed. 

In the same school is another candidate only identified as Jacky who gave birth a week before the start of examinations. However, Jacky has opted to rent outside the school and commute as a day’s scholar.

Rose Acio, the Deputy Head Teacher of Lira Town College believes that allowing pregnant girls and those with children back to school is the best way of motivating the rest not to follow the same path. She says that the school wants to ensure that the young mothers are accorded all the support they to concentrate on the exams.

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Julian Ninsiima, a candidate at the same examination centre says that the presence of the new mothers at school is a blessing for the rest because they get to learn to prioritize and focus on education first.

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Martha Tino, a mother of four who returned to school to sit for her UCE examinations 15 years after dropping out congratulated the new mothers for coming to sit for exams saying rejoining school after dropping out is not easy.

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Meanwhile, Abarler Primary school in Amolatar is also hosting a 17-year-old, who returned to school with a three-months pregnancy, having conceived during the lockdown.  However, it took the intervention of the school authorities to have her at school where she is learning like the rest of the pupils after the parents decided that she should get married. 

She says; “I am actually living a normal life although I wake up a bit late like at 6 a.m. when the rest of the candidates are already in class.” she says.

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The young mother goes for Antenatal Care services at Amolatar Health Center IV, where a youth-friendly corner has been set up to cater for people her age seeking reproductive health services. Her message to parents is that girls who have got pregnant when schools were closed should be given another chance to complete school.

Francis Concord Ogangi, the headteacher of the school is happy that the girl’s parents brought her back to school. According to him, the girl is receiving all the necessary support she requires as a pregnant mother pursuing education.

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Data from the Amolatar District Education Department shows that four pregnant girls are preparing for Primary Leaving Examinations-PLE this year at various schools within the District. The district registered 687 girls who conceived between the months of April and June 2020.

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