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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:-

  • HIV and AIDS education is often provided that deals only with medical and biological facts, and not with the real-life situations that young people find themselves in. Only if life skills are taught, and matters such as relationships, sexuality and the risks of drug use discussed, will young people be able to handle situations where they might be at risk of HIV infection.

  • Only one option in terms of sexual behaviour may be offered (for example, that of abstinence) regardless of the age of the students.

  • Materials for teachers may not exist, and teachers may not be properly trained to organise classroom activities on sensitive issues.

  • No education is provided on referral services, such as further information and skills training, counselling, and youth-friendly STD services.

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.

  • Defining the type of programme (including the age at which it is to be introduced).

  • Selecting objectives for the programme.

  • Making a curriculum plan.

  • Planning specifically for the production of learning materials, and for activities of the students.

  • Developing teachers' guides.

  • Overcoming the Obstacles - Ensuring an Effective AIDS Education Programme

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:

  • Focus on life skills with the double aim of delaying first sexual intercourse and encouraging protected intercourse.

  • Concentrate on personalising risk through appropriate role playing and discussions.

  • Discuss clearly the possible result of unprotected sex, and in equally clear terms the ways to avoid such an outcome.

  • Explain where to turn for help and support among peers, school staff, and outside facilities.

  • Stress that skills useful for self-protection from HIV also help build self-confidence and avoid unwanted pregnancy, sexual abuse, and the abuse of drugs (including tobacco and alcohol)

  • Reinforce values, norms and peer group support for practising and sustaining safe behaviour and resisting unsafe behaviour, both at school and in the community.

  • Provide sufficient time for classroom work and interactive teaching methods such as role play and group discussions.

  • Start at the earliest possible age and certainly before the onset of sexual activity. Effectively this means that age appropriate programmes should start at primary school level.

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.

 

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