Friday, September 03, 2010

When students get pregnant

In his column on "Unitown and Teen Pregnancy", Dr. Perry Mecqui quoted a study whose findings struck me as odd. I wonder if anyone else noticed?

From Dr. Mecqui's article: "In the Philippines, a study conducted by the UP Population Institute and the Demographic Research Foudnation in 2002 showed that 26 percent of Filipino youth, ages 15 to 25, admitted to have had premarital sex, and that 38 percent are in a living-in arrangement."

I don't quite know how to interpret that. Taking the statement at face value, I would conclude that 12 percent of Filipino youth who are living in together are NOT having premarital sex. Frankly, I think it's kind of incredible: do they mean to say that they're really just playing house? If so, the researchers missed the opportunity to ask the respondents the secret to their abstinence.

In the interest of due diligence, I searched the Internet for the original study. I turned up several references in the popular media, and they all quote the same thing that Dr. Mecqui does. Of the original study itself, I found nothing. Oh, well.

Dr. Mecqui also quotes another article, "Unwed, pregnant -- and kicked out", written by Rachel C. Balawid. According to the article, the blame for the teenaged mothers' failure to rebuild their lives rests on the "long-time policy of most Catholic schools...which consists of granting a leave of absence, or outright expulsion."

And yet, the girls in the three stories that Dr. Mecqui presents all come from Foundation University which is not a Catholic school. Did the university force them to go on leave? Did the university expel them? I should hope not.

This is not what I've seen at Ateneo de Davao University which, by the way, is a Catholic school. Now, I know I'm treading on sensitive ground here -- I took up some units in English with undergraduate students two years ago, and now I teach full time at the school -- but I think we need to balance out the picture with instances when unwed teenage mothers did manage to continue their studies...in a Catholic school.

I personally know of two instances, one a classmate in English, and the other a former student. Their situations are so similar as to be practically indistinguishable. The pattern went thus: frequent absences and missed assignments, but other than that no noticeable indicators. Then they would disappear for a semester or two but eventually they come back and proceed with their studies.

If I found out, it was because I would remark to one of their classmates: "It's good to see so-and-so back, I haven't seen her in a while." And the response: "Didn't you know? She gave birth!" Fortunately, the instances of teen pregnancy that I personally know of are rare, compared with the population of the student body that I have come in contact with. In any case, I am naturally oblivious to matters such as this.

On the other hand, I'm not so oblivious as to be blind. If I didn't find out about these students' pregnancies, it's because pregnancy is not so very readily obvious. The bulge starts to show at three to four months, but for some women it can take as long as six. To their credit, none of the girls' classmates ever bothered to mention it to me (because it was none of my business); and the normally-tough teacher who did know about my classmate's pregnancy actually went very easy on her.

Yet they still had to go on leave! So terrible of the big bad Catholic school, right? But of course they had to go on leave! They were pregnant! They were going to give birth! If expecting working women go on maternity leave, shouldn't expecting students get to do the same? In the Philippines, maternity leave is 60 days; if you knew you would be out for two months out of five in a semester, do you think it would be prudent to enrol?

What matters in the end was that, in the case of these two women whom I know, they were able to continue with their studies. Did the big bad Catholic school pose any obstacle to their return? No. If these women had been studying in Foundation University, would they have been expelled? I don't know (but I suspect an official answer will be forthcoming). What made for the difference between women in the stories presented by Dr. Mecqui and the women in mine? If I had to hazard a guess, I would think it would be their supportive families and communities.