PlusNews, 22 October 2002, HIV/AIDS education falling on deaf ears, Irene Berger

Schools offer very little support for children affected by HIV/AIDS

JOHANNESBURG, 22 October (IRIN) - HIV/AIDS education in schools has not achieved significant behaviour change, despite high levels of knowledge among students, a study has found.

According to a report on a University of Sussex study of the impact of HIV/AIDS on elementary and secondary education in Botswana, Uganda and Malawi, there is "little hard evidence" to show that school-based HIV/AIDS education has had a major impact on sexual behaviour.

A lack of time, resources and training meant that curriculum based education as well as counselling and peer education were inadequate, the report said.

"Curriculum design and delivery of HIV/AIDS education remain seriously problematic. It is clear that the ‘integration and infusion’ approach where HIV/AIDS topics are included in carrier subjects is not effective," it added.

Little training was provided for teachers, who lacked the commitment to teach these topics in an already over-crowded and examination-driven curriculum.

The study called for full-time life skills teachers and regular time-tabled lessons for all children.

The impact of the epidemic on pupils affected by HIV/AIDS was also assessed. Absenteeism rates in Botswana were relatively low and in primary schools, orphans had better attendance records than non-orphans.

This was due to a strong schooling culture, as well as government's comprehensive support programme for disadvantaged orphans.

But absenteeism in Malawi and Uganda was very high among all primary school children. This was mainly poverty-related, as illness in the family was not a major reason for absence, the study found.

Schools offered very little support for children affected by HIV/AIDS, the report noted. There was insufficient guidance from education ministries and a lack of resources to carry out any support programmes.

The report recommends a number of important measures that can be introduced in schools to improve the level of school-based support.

The referral and monitoring of affected children, school feeding, "pastoral care and counselling", financial assistance and the involvement of guardians, carers and children living with HIV/AIDS, were some of the areas identified by the study.

The response of most education ministries in Africa has been limited, the report noted.

Most ministries had appointed an official to act as the HIV/AIDS focal point, "however, to date, officials appointed as the HIV/AIDS Focal Point have usually been relatively junior and they have therefore lacked the power and authority to ensure that all departments and units properly mainstream HIV/AIDS with respect to both policy and practice.

"MoEs [Ministries of Education] in the high prevalence countries must make the HIV/AIDS crisis a top priority for at least the next ten years. Nothing short of a ministry-wide mobilisation is required in each country in order to deal with this crisis," the report said.

The report warned against an "excessively negative and simplistic assessment of the impacts of the pandemic" and called for more research on the impact of the pandemic on the education sector.