The shocking revelation in this year’s Standard Eight and Form Four examinations is the incredibly high numbers of pregnant candidates.
A nation is horrified at what arguably is a damning revelation of harsh socio-cultural and psychological challenges of our times.
But right from the onset, it is important to state that this is not a new phenomenon. We have reported over the years of girls sitting national examinations on hospital beds after giving birth.
Probably, what has not been done is to aggregate the numbers and frame the problem appropriately. Better still, the voices crusading for female schooling have muted after achieving near gender parity and the problem left to fester.
For the past two decades, there has been heightened campaign to take girls to school and ensure equity in terms of access. And the results are amazing.
The population of girls enrolling, staying and completing primary and secondary education has soared dramatically.
For example, out of the 611,952 candidates who sat last year’s Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education, 296,322 were females, representing 48.42 percent, demonstrating that access and equity objectives have nearly been achieved.
But such global figures tend to be misleading as they mask minute details. Missing in that narrative are the hidden socio-cultural and psychological challenges affecting girls such as early pregnancies.
Also unstated is the rule that requires all learners who have registered for exams to write the papers irrespective of their medical, physiological or psychological circumstances.
That is why exams are administered in hospitals for candidates who are sick or have given birth.
Studies abound on the reasons for teenage pregnancies, including socio-cultural practices, gender-based violence, peer pressure and lack of parental guidance.
While some are fairly straightforward and can be dealt with through conventional disciplinary process, others are so delicate and cannot be resolved through decrees.
Which is why even while we acknowledge the efforts by Education Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed to arrest the situation, we contend that the approach is not right.
It is perfect to set up a task force to investigate and provide empirical evidence to demonstrate the magnitude of the problem.
But the directives to punish parents or penalise chiefs who fail to report cases of teenage pregnancies is ridiculous. We need a well-thought out strategy to tackle the problem.
In this context, the debate about teaching sex education in schools must be revisited and settled. Similarly, the rules around exams administration should be revised to allow for exemption of candidates in emergencies.
Clearly, we have a daunting socio-cultural and psychological challenge and our argument is that we have to think more deeply and seek practical solutions beyond issuing decrees.