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The Im/possibilities of (Un)making In-school Pregnancy and Student Motherhood [as Praxis]: Schooling Post-Pregnancy Amidst Health and Social Crises in Malawi

Despite the existence of a re-admission policy in Malawi, many young mothers do not return to school after pregnancy. Utilizing a mixed methods participatory-social justice (MMP/SJ) design, this dissertation addresses the barriers to school re-entry by: (1) examining and describing how pregnant learners and school-aged mothers navigate and negotiate experiences related to schooling post-pregnancy, and (2) identifying a support framework that ensures continued learning and an enabling policy environment that allows equitable education for pregnant learners and school-aged mothers in Malawi. The MMP/SJ design centered on a community-based Participatory Action Research (PAR) strategy that incorporated photovoice and survey methods to engage with a total of 100 participants aged between 14-21 who were either pregnant or school-aged mothers. I conducted the fieldwork in Mangochi, Malawi, which is a district that recorded the highest number of adolescent pregnancies in 2020. Key findings from this study highlight critical relationships between school re-entry post-pregnancy and school-based and home-based factors such as familial support, teacher engagement, peer-to-peer interactions, and night schools—all with the self at the center. In this study, only 15% of the participants ever returned to school after delivery. The visual and textual narratives participants shared highlighted various complex and nuanced experiences that centered on the following eight themes and narratives: (1) social-class structures choices; (2) alternative schools as sights of belonging and liberation (3) juvenescence, coming of age, and sexual desires; (4) pursuit of motherhood as a push factor; (5) “sinning against parents” vs. agency; (6) teachers’ negative attitudes as a form of push-out; and (7) teacher-related support from continued schooling. Regarding support for re-entry, this study argues for an inclusive-oriented pedagogy of schooling post-pregnancy that is grounded within Indigenous cultural values, centers on women’s agency, and offers teaching and learning to pregnant/mothering students through continuation-oriented approaches that resist exclusionary practices both inside and outside the classroom. Theoretically, this study draws from the lens of critical liberatory pedagogy and Afro-feminism(s) that center on decolonial and emancipatory practices within education policy and practice. Putting these two theoretical frameworks together, this dissertation research utilizes what I call the Critical Afro-Feminist Education (CAFE) framework.
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