HIV/AIDS Education in School
Why are Schools Important?
Many young people cannot talk about AIDS either at home or in the community. Nor can they talk about the risk behaviours that can lead to HIV infection. In many countries family planning clinics are mostly restricted to married women and couples, and young people are reluctant to talk about sex to doctors or nurses, either out of embarrassment or because they are worried that confidentiality will not be respected. They may feel equally uncomfortable talking to their parents, and their parents in turn may also be embarrassed or lack the confidence to discuss the subject with their children.
However, most young people do attend school at some point, and school is an entry point where these topics can be addressed. The potential strengths of a school setting are that children there have a curriculum, teachers, and a peer group. And school can teach them not only information, but also skills. School can also help to shape attitudes.
Obstacles to AIDS Education in Schools
Despite the desirability of AIDS education in schools, there are a number of obstacles which often stand in the way. Some countries have no policies on AIDS education, and in others there can even be policies specifically against AIDS education.
At the level of individual schools, one major obstacle is that often the subject can be considered by adults such as policy-makers, teachers and parents, as too sensitive for children or too controversial. Another obstacle, which is often encountered, is that the school curriculum is already full and that it is therefore impossible to find a slot for AIDS education.
Even when HIV and AIDS education is provided in a school, it is often inadequate for one or more of the following reasons:-
Overcoming the Obstacles - Developing a Consensus
Various "gatekeepers" such as policy-makers, religious leaders, parents, teachers and teachers' associations normally determine whether and what kind of AIDS education is taught in schools. Although they may consider some aspects of AIDS education controversial or unacceptable, there is likely to be some consensus among them on certain issues. For example, that students need protection from sexual abuse, that they should be able to refuse drugs, and that there should be educational equality between boys and girls.
This consensus can be a starting point, and it can then be extended to other matters such as the premises that adolescents can learn how to make sound decisions, including about avoiding risk behaviour, and that society should help rather than hinder them in such matters.
Overcoming the Obstacles - Designing A Good Curriculum
The starting point for designing a good curriculum for AIDS education should be to make a proper situation assessment. This involves studying students' patterns of behaviour relating to the risk of HIV and finding out, for example, what is the average age at which they first have sexual intercourse, what are their most common forms of sexual behaviour and of drug consumption (including alcohol) and when they tend to leave school.
Such an assessment should start by asking young people's views. Asking young people is essential as young people do not necessarily share adults' attitudes on sexual and drug behaviour. The students must be assured of confidentiality so that they give honest responses. The results of this assessment will have a direct bearing on the rest of the curriculum design which should then involve undertaking the following steps.
Effective programmes are those that have had a positive influence on behaviour as regards sex, drug use and non-discrimination, and not simply increased knowledge and changed the attitudes of students.
It has been shown that effective programmes do all the following things:
A Good Example In Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe all schools since 1993 have had compulsory weekly lessons on life skills and AIDS, for all students from grade 4(9-10 year olds) upwards. Booklets for students and teachers are designed for each grade and address four main themes: relationships, growing up, life skills and health. Topics range from discussions on gender roles and rape, to coping with emotions and stressful expectations. In the classroom, self-esteem and assertiveness are encouraged, and role playing suggests ways to respond to peer pressures. In addition to using booklets in the classroom, students also do projects in the community.
All materials are reviewed and approved by a committee including the national AIDS programme, the Ministry of Education, and representatives from the major religious denominations.
A large teacher training programme helps prepare serving teachers as well as students and teacher training colleges.