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Puberty Lessons for African Girls May Raise Attendance


Students at a school in Cameroon

Students at a school in Cameroon

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From VOA Learning English, this is the Education Report in Special English.

A new study shows that simple, low-cost interventions can help teenage girls in Africa stay in school during their monthly periods.

Paul Montgomery led the study. He is a professor in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at Oxford University in England.

"Women are the driving force of economic development across Africa. And so it's particularly important to do what you can to keep girls going to school."

One hundred twenty girls in Ghana took part in the study. They were an average of almost sixteen years old. They attended three secondary schools in urban areas and one in a rural area

In the study, girls at two of the schools received free sanitary pads and lessons on puberty. Their attendance increased by an average of six days, or nine percent, during a sixty-five-day term.

The puberty lessons included information about personal care during menstruation. The girls also learned about the biology of their developing bodies and about pregnancy.

At the third school, the girls received the lessons but not the free pads. Attendance by these girls also improved by nine percent, but that took about five months.

At the fourth school the girls did not receive the pads or the lessons. That group showed no improvement in school attendance.

Professor Montgomery says the girls in the study had several reasons for missing school during their monthly bleeding. A majority expressed embarrassment about the changes in their bodies.

"Embarrassment was a big part of it, certainly, and that was reported by well over half the girls. But ignorance, I think, was a very big part of it, too, and they just didn't know what they were doing."

He says the interventions might not only keep girls from missing school, but also reduce teen pregnancies.

"I think one of the things menstruation does is that it signals the onset of the girl transitioning into womanhood. And that in turn, I think, sets them up to get pregnant. So I think we'll be able to help reduce teen pregnancy, improve their entering the labor market and the economic development of those women."

The Public Library of Science published the study in its journal PLOS One. A larger study is taking place in Uganda until twenty fifteen. The Oxford professor says the hope is to learn more about the effects of puberty on school attendance.

"So, we already know that education is important. We know that pads are important. We know that both are important. And we 'll be able to separate out these key issues, and then be able to give some really strong advice for development officers as far as sub-Saharan Africa is concerned."

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report. I'm Laurel Bowman.

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Contributing: Joe De Capua and Jerilyn Watson

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