Low quality educational systems could be increasing adolescent pregnancies
It is common to blame pregnancies for school desertions. However, a new study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) suggests that some adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean are looking to get pregnant to skip school because they don’t perceive that completion of their education will contribute to an improved life outcome.
Contradicting conventional wisdom, the study “Educational Failure: Pregnancies to Skip School” has found that low quality education system, in addition to a lack of educational and emotional stimuli to continue studying, have made pregnancy a deliberate choice for some young women. Accidental pregnancies are not the main cause of school desertions.
The aim of the study, carried out in Peru and Paraguay, was to interpret quantitative data that shows that adolescent mothers have less education than other women, and that the relationship between teenage pregnancy and levels of education appears to be stronger in Latin America than in other parts of the world.
This is the first time a study has sought to understand the causes behind school desertion among Latin American teens who become pregnant, based on interviews with the teens themselves.
According to the report, in many cases pregnancies are actually sought rather than actively prevented. Students who are performing poorly in school find pregnancy to be a good excuse to quit school. The study also indicates that in many cases young women choose not to use contraceptives because getting pregnant is a way of adding meaning to their lives.
"Educational Failure: Pregnancies to Skip School” asserts that young women who leave school immediately after finding out they are pregnant are students who already were performing poorly and are a number of years from completing their secondary studies. It is less common for a student who is performing well to abandon her studies when a pregnancy occurs.
Emma Naslund-Hadley, an IDB education specialist and leader of the study, states that “many adolescent women are in a situation of such complex disadvantage that to them a precocious pregnancy will accelerate their life path rather than alter it. Policy makers, educators, and parents have the responsibility to teach values and aspirations that will help adolescents develop life goals that go beyond replicating the socio-economic deprivations of their parents.”
According to data collected by the IDB in six countries (Bolivia, Haiti, Colombia, Nicaragua, Peru, and Dominican Republic) the relation between adolescent pregnancies and educational levels is stronger in Latin America than in other regions.
A majority of teenage mothers do not attend school despite having attended in the past: between 67 and 89 percent of teen mothers abandon school compared to 14 to 35 percent of women who do not have babies during their teens. Likewise, the proportion of women who complete at least the compulsory level of education before leaving school is lower among teenage mothers: between 32 and 55 percent do so compared with 55 to 62 percent of women who do not give birth in their teens.
Women who had their first baby in their teens, have a two to three- year school deficiency when compared to other women and are 14 times more likely to leave the school system than other women. This is very worrisome considering that, according to the Ibero-American Youth Organization (OIJ by its Spanish acronym), the pregnancy rate amongs adolescents in Latin America is 80 per thousand or 50 percent higher than the global average.
In addition, according to OIJ, Latin America is the only region in the world whose adolescents have experienced a fecundity increase in the last 30 years.
The qualitative study collected information through interviews donein Pery andParaguayin an effort to discover, among other things, the motivations that led to certain decisions and behaviors and to interpret the correlation between pregnancies and education. The study was carried out in Lima and Asunción, where 118 women were interviewed, 80 of them were between the ages of 23 and 33. Thirty-eight had given birth to their first baby during their adolescence and 42 of them became mothers later. The study also included 26 adolescent pregnant women, and 12 of their mothers.
The study was qualitative in nature, and representativeness was not sought.
According to the report, the group of mothers who were interviewed had low aspirations for their future and did not believe they had the power to transform their existence through education. From this qualitative data, it was concluded that some teens would be looking to get pregnant to avoid goingto school. Their expectations of having a life different from that of their parents were small or nonexistent. Therefore, in their view, a pregnancy would not dramatically alter their life path, but just accelerate it.
What can be done?
If pregnancies are being sought and not actively avoided, the study maintains that policies seeking to reduce the rate of adolescent pregnancies need to do more than simply inform and give access to contraceptives.
Schools play a vital role in the socialization of the next generation, and educational systems need to assume the task of both directing and evaluating programs that aim to reduce teenage pregnancies. “In addition, they should impart values and aspirations that help young women to develop life goals. For teenagers who become pregnant and give birth, schools must provide the support they need to continue their education, including tutoring, mentoring care, flexible hours, and childcare,” says Naslund-Hadley.