Promoting quality education for all.

Getting Adolescent Girls Back in School—A Needs Assessment

By Sofia Mussa, Malwina Maslowska & Kelsey Dalrymple, 

By: Sofia Mussa, Malwina Maslowska & Kelsey Dalrymple, WomenOne

“For her it was just the fees…she feels like if her parents had paid for the fees, she wouldn’t have even gotten pregnant. Because she really wanted to study and complete her course in the Polytechnic, and get herself something to do.”

This is a common experience faced by adolescent mothers in Kenya and South Africa. In Kenya alone, an estimated 13,000 girls leave school every year due to teenage pregnancy [1]. Approximately 5.5 million African girls between 15-19 years old are mothers[2]; however, adolescent mothers who are 14 or younger are the most vulnerable and most often overlooked by aid organizations. In particular, adolescent mothers in South Africa have limited maternal and child health education, which can have serious consequences for mothers and their children.

Needs Assessment

Due to the lack of research on this marginalized demographic, WomenOne has recently conducted a needs assessment in Kenya and South Africa, funded by the MasterCard Foundation, to better understand the needs of adolescent mothers and to explore if a center-based intervention would meet their needs. Specifically, WomenOne conducted 20 focus groups and 70 individual interviews with adolescent, out-of-school mothers; parents and community members; teachers and school administrators; local and national government officials; and local NGOs. Through these focus groups and interviews, WomenOne was able to better understand the circumstances of adolescent mothers; factors that lead to early pregnancy and school drop out; and desired programming for this target population. This needs assessment has also allowed us to identify communities that could benefit from a center-based program model and identify potential partner organizations.

General Findings

Preliminary results from our research illustrate the myriad of challenges that adolescent mothers face in continuing their education or finding work. In Kenya and South Africa we spoke to 75 young women aged 14-35, of which roughly one third cited pregnancy as the main reason they dropped out of school. About one fifth of girls cited school fees and lack of support as the main reasons they dropped out of school, while and an additional about one fifth of girls interviewed were able to return to school after giving birth. Community attitudes towards teenage pregnancy varied in these respective countries. In Kenya, attitudes remain largely conservative, compared to South Africa where there is an assumption that young women become pregnant to access social services.

Overall the majority of adolescent mothers we spoke to in both countries cited pregnancy as their main reason for dropping out of school, followed by school fees. Most girls were extremely enthusiastic about the idea of returning to school. Girls across the board talked about the importance of having a secondary school degree. However, the majority of them were not able to re-enter school, primarily because of a lack of support from their families or limited financial resources (e.g., money for daycare). The girls who were able to return to school had support from their respective communities. Outside of formal education, girls expressed their desire for a number of services including computer classes, vocational skills training, support groups and daycare services.

What’s Next?

In accordance with our mission to improve access to quality education for girls, WomenOne will continue to address the needs of marginalized girls. Due to the success of our recent needs assessment, WomenOne recognizes the importance of increasing and improving access to education for neglected populations such as young mothers and victims of domestic abuse hopes to conduct future needs assessments on other severely neglected populations, such as victims of sexual and gender-based violence and women and girls with disabilities, to learn more about their circumstances and improve their access to education. Currently, WomenOne is currently working to establish a Center of Worthcenter-based program in Kenya to target the educational needs of adolescent out-of school mothers as well girlsas  at a high risk for early pregnancy-risk girls. Additionally, WomenOne will continue to address the needs of these aims to highlight the issue of school dropout among adolescent mothers  marginalized populations through advocacy research, advocacy and programming activities.

WomenOne's research consultant with the South African Red Cross TeamBased on the preliminary results from this needs assessment, we recommend that other actors in this field focusing on gaps in access to educational services for severely marginalized populations of women and girls in order to really understand their circumstances and develop more targeted and relevant programming. Based on our research, we truly believe that targeting the specific educational needs of these highly overlooked demographic populations – whether it’s adolescent mothers or girls in emergencies situations – have the potential to make long-term impacts and yield positive health, development and economic outcomes for current and future generations of women and girls globally. Making education accessible to all girls can yield tremendous returns. We can change the world one educated girl at a time.

WomenOne is a nonprofit committed to creating positive change in the lives of women and girls globally through access to quality education. We work with institutions and partner organizations toward our mission to provide women and girls who are faced with extreme poverty, cultural barriers, and conflict-affected emergencies access to environments with the opportunity to receive a quality education.


[1] UNESCO. (2012). EFA global monitoring report: Youth and skills: Putting education to work. Paris, France: UNESCO.

[2] Achoka, Sarah Judith and Muthoni Frida Njeru. “De-Stigmatizing Teenage Motherhood: Towards Achievement of Universal Basic Education in Kenya.” Journal of Emerging Trends in Educational Research and Policy Studies 3, no. 6 (12, 2012): 887-892.

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