BULAWAYO – At the turn of the millennium, informal education centres offering academic and tertiary studies sprung up particularly in the major urban centres.
Though initially despised as last resort options, private colleges gained acceptance primarily because of their laxity on entry qualifications.
They gave youths a second chance and solace to hordes of repeaters, dropouts and pupils expelled from formal schools.
Gradually, private colleges stamped their mark not as reject centres but as competent education institutions able to produce quality results in competition with formal schools.
In tandem with the fall of the standards of education in the country, these private colleges became synonymous with poor results for a raft of reasons.
Ominous with the phenomenal rise in the number of private colleges was a reciprocal increase in the number of young girls who revived their educational aspirations at these private institutions having dropped out of school after falling pregnant.
A recent survey by the Daily News on Sunday in Bulawayo revealed that more than half of the girls studying at these colleges comprise pregnancy-inspired formal school dropouts.
The survey revealed that most of the dropouts excelled in their studies, apparently spurred by the desire to succeed. During the survey, students from local colleges who opened up to this paper attributed the “unfortunate incident” to what they termed “childishness and peer pressure.”
“It is unfortunate that whenever a girl falls pregnant, she is always at fault but the truth is, some of these men are not forthcoming when it comes to protection considering that they will be taking care of you financially and for other immediate needs,” said Nokuthemba Ndebele, a student at one city college.
“I am one victim. I think students should be seriously empowered when it comes to relationships because they are indulging.
“Having sex is now like drinking coffee. I think the message should be drilled at schools. I was a victim myself so I know what I am talking about,” she said.
Cynthia Ndiweni likened the adolescence period to walking through a minefield.
“Of course one can always try to apportion blame, but being a teenager is quite challenging. You will be very explorative and as a result sometimes you succeed or fail,” she said.
A senior tutor at BES College in the city, Luckson Pasi, believes young girls are victims of false promises and their own insatiable quest for material things.
“They eventually fall prey to material promises by older men driven by lust and get pregnant.
“Our puritan education system does not take this lightly. It considers these victims as adults who cannot continue in the formal schools and the only place to find academic solace is in private colleges,” he said.
“Some parents fail to create a social atmosphere to educate the young girls on the dangers of sexual intercourse before marriage. “Sometimes the pool of friends they create is a cause for concern,” Pasi explained.
Danisa Masuku a senior teacher and peer educator at a local college said modern students were fast maturing into adulthood.
“As teachers we try our best to inculcate this kind of knowledge in them and during class discussions, it is one subject they like most by the rate of participation.
“When you engage them you easily notice that you are talking to adults who are now sexually active,” Masuku said.
“And one interesting attribute I have discovered is that girls who are single mothers pass with flying colours when given the chance to learn apparently because there are in a situation that will drive them towards success,” he added.
Njabulo Moyo, a motivational speaker who has been dealing with pupils in and around the city for the past two years, said the increase in teenage pregnancies stemmed from a breakdown in the schools of socialisation.
“While parents can preach and provide the platform, it is up to the individual to decide what they want to be in life,” Moyo a youth activist with the National Youth Development Trust, who is also a youth mentor on life skills, HIV/Aids and governance, said.
Moyo charged that social networking sites were fuelling the early indulgence of youths in sexual activities.
“It is a psychological issue that what the mind can conceive also becomes part of the habit and as a result shapes one as a person,” he said.
Population Services Zimbabwe (PSZi) marketing and communications officer, Mackson Maphosa told the Daily News that teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases had prompted his organisation to launch a programme targeted at combating incidence of early pregnancies.
In conjunction with the Education, Arts, Sport and Culture ministry and a steering team under the Blue Star Health Network, the project targets school and college students in the 15 and 25 years age range.
“The gospel we have preached to them is that sex is real. It is not only a physical thing. It is also an emotional activity that has risks. But mostly what we are selling is abstinence. We emphasise that the future depends on the choices they make today hence our slogan ‘Choices Change Lives.’ Youths should guard their future diligently. Life is priceless,” explained Maphosa.