Friends, family and teachers: What do they think?

You may often wonder what’s really going through the minds of your friends, family and teachers when you become a student parent. Luckily for you, Student Parents found out! We spoke to Kitiara, whose friend and housemate fell pregnant while studying at university, Siada, whose husband

Kitiara and baby Lily

moved to England to study, and a teacher and lecturer of studying parents.

The Friend- Kitiara:

Kitiara was in her third year studying English and creative writing at Plymouth University when her soon to be housemate, Katy, fell pregnant. “My initial thoughts were shock, really. She was about to move in with my housemates and me only a couple of weeks after I found out.”

Katy was about to start her second year studying Art at university, and Kitiara wondered whether she would keep it. When it became clear that she would, Kitiara and her housemates were completely behind Katy’s decision. “It made me love her even more. I have never witnessed anyone deal with anything so smoothly. She dealt with it all in such good humour that I just had to admire her completely.

“She worked stupidly hard yet never made it seem like she struggled at all. All we could do was make it very clear that we would support her every single step of the way during and after the pregnancy. I wrote her a poem once about being an artist and creating her finest piece of work in her womb and gave it to her in bed, she almost cried and said she would hug me if she hadn’t felt like she’d throw up all over me from the pregnancy!”

There were times when it would be hard, and Kitiara and her housemates would feel helpless. “The worst thing was seeing her go through very difficult periods, where she was shattered, emotional and seeing the strain on her relationship with the father.” Having seen her friend experience these difficulties, I asked Kitiara how she thought others could support their friends through pregnancy and studies.

“They should never doubt that their friend can achieve parenthood and a degree and always make sure they know that they’re supporting them. We threw Katy a huge baby shower and rallied all her friends round. Being pregnant was really scary for her but we made sure she never felt abandoned and I think that was the most important thing.

“Katy is literally wonder woman. I mean…yeah she was emotional sometimes but she was pregnant in a house full of drunk students keeping her up at 3am when she couldn’t join in. She completed a degree and started a master’s while bringing up a baby. She’s a genius!”

And what was the best part for Kitiara? “I was there for her pregnancy to see how she changed and it was incredible; she would lie on the sofa and let us know when Lily was kicking. I felt so happy to be part of that time and then actually getting to see Lily was amazing, especially as she’s the smiliest baby ever and only a few times punched me in the face with her tiny fists!”

The Family- Siada, Mays and Ahmed:

Siada (right), Mays (left) and Ahmed (middle)

Siada’s husband came over from the Middle East to study English Translation of Arabic. They have two children together: Mays, aged 8 and Ahmed, who was born in England in December. Ahmed, her husband, only started studying in September, and Siada finds it particularly difficult as she does not speak the language very well.

“Our support network is gone, and I miss my family back home” she told Student Parents. “I look after the children by myself while my husband studies.”

Despite the challenges she is facing, Siada says she supports her husband in what he is doing, and is glad she has had the opportunity to come to England with him. “England is beautiful. Leeds (where Ahmed studies) is lovely, and everyone is welcoming. I am happy to be here, and I know that my husband is studying here to give us a better life.

“I do not know what we will do when he has finished studying. If we stay in England I will be happy, if we go home I will also be happy. When a student with a family studies, they are doing it for their family. He is supporting us and so I will support him in his decisions.

Siada explained that, between them, they create a balance. When there are times when she is stressed from looking after the children all day, Ahmed will help her, entertaining the children for a while when she has a rest. When Ahmed comes home from university and still needs to study, Siada tries to keep the children quiet so it is not too hard for him. Siada also works as a cleaner 3 evenings a week. Ahmed knows this, and will try to keep that time free to look after the children.

Mays is just about to start at a local primary school; it has taken since September to enrol her. She is picking up English fast and is excited to be living in the country. She nods her head when I ask her if she is pleased her Dad is studying. Ahmed was a birthday present to his mum, born on her birthday in December. “They are both very good,” Siada tells me.

“It is hard. We have problems with money, and cannot spend as much time as a family as we would like. But it gives us a better life, and we do it together.”

The Teachers- Tom Voaden and Arief Gusnanto:

Tom Voaden and his two children

Tom Voaden teaches 16-19 year olds at Barton Peveril College in Hampshire. He has two young boys of his own, and has seen many of his students have children. He talks to Student Parents about their studies and what teachers can do for Student Parents.

While there may be a lot of sex education in schools, and information on not getting pregnant, schools do not seem to address the issues of what a student should do when they get pregnant and have had a baby. But Tom asks, “Is educating students about parenthood necessarily an educational institution’s responsibility?” He explains that, teaching in a college, they have no formal mechanism to deliver PSHE like schools and no time in a crammed syllabus. “We do have free condoms in college and a health and well-being officer. However, I teach pregnant students every year because Hampshire has very high teenage pregnancy rates. They know how to get pregnant they just don’t realise how much hard work looking after children will be.”

He thinks the reason there is a high teenage pregnancy rate in Hampshire is not necessarily to do with students being irresponsible or not knowing the consequences of unprotected sex. “Glamour and self-destruction play more of a psychological factor than ignorance.

“One of the brightest students I’ve ever taught became a parent at the same time as my wife! We still keep in touch because our sons are now friends.

“I have lots of theories about Hampshire’s pregnancy epidemic (particularly in affluent areas). Students may want a baby but need to know that they do not stay a baby in a pram for long.”

Yet if schools do not have time in their syllabus to educate students on parenthood and the strains of looking after a child, what can the schools offer?

“With the student I mentioned earlier, we arranged for her to have a reduced timetable, giving her 3 AS level subjects instead of 4. But she thrived anyway trying to prove a point. She had a much higher work ethic than the other students.”

But not every student parent will be able to cope like the example Tom gave. He still suggests reducing the timetable. “Focus on the important subjects,” he says. If a student is really struggling and studying for A levels, he says taking time out is an option. “A levels can wait. Its more of a problem if the student is younger. GCSE’s have to be a priority because how will the student support the child with no qualifications to gain employment?”

Arief Gusnanto

Arief Gusnanto is a Statistics lecturer at the University of Leeds. He understands what a student parent is going through; he has two young children himself and is taking some classes in advanced teaching.

“Generally,” he told Student Parents, “I don’t see much difference in the performance of those students who are student parents. There are times, for example when I’m meeting my students as a lecturer, where they won’t be able to make an appointment. But in terms of studies, it doesn’t affect them that much.”

While, at first Arief thought his students were being lazy, he completely understood when a student explained they are also looking after a child. “Probably once or twice a year they will miss an appointment. The university does not make us lecturers aware that a student is a parent. But as a lecturer, I do try and have meetings with all my students individually. In our first meetings with students, they often say if they have other commitments.

“Personally, I don’t see the need to distinguish a student parent from any other student. If they are having any issues, then they can speak to their personal tutor and say if they think they will have problems that may affect their studies. I don’t treat them any differently- it doesn’t affect how I mark their work.”

Arief says all studies, whether you are a student parent or not, come down to time management. Some even do better than normal students with their time, because they know they have other commitments and put aside time to study. “Most student parents I know, they may juggle a bit, but in the end they find a pace. If you are good with your time management, you will be ok.”

But Arief does appreciate there is not much out there for student parents. He feels student parents do not need guidance once the get to a point when they cannot cope anymore, but clear information about services from the beginning. ‘It would be better in my opinion if the university provided some sort of leaflet, or some information for student parents. If we could say, these are the facilities, these are the allowances for deadlines etc., then they would know what their options are, and it would make their life far easier.”

Lillie

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1 Comment

  1. I work as a teacher of Mathematics at Kings Norton High School which is a small secondary school in one of the most deprived parts of South Birmingham. I think that schools should be very frank and honest with pupils about the implications of becoming student parents – focusing on the constraints it will place on young peoples’ lifestyles, the responsibility they take on in bringing a child into this world and the financial implications it will have in both the short and long term. Obviously in an ideal world the education they receive would be geared towards not getting pregnant in the first place – about being safe and using contraception. However, the reality is that some students deliberately or by accident are getting pregnant and they need support to cope with the situation that they find themselves in.

    From the conversations I have had with other staff who have experienced working with student parents I have gathered that it has a severely detrimental effect on the students’ work. The primary issue is attendance – obviously during the pregnancy time is lost due to medical appointments, potential morning sickness and using it as an excuse not to attend school. After birth, priorities understandably change and focus is elsewhere, but the parent’s school work does suffer.

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