Taking action against Aids
If you mention HIV/Aids to teenagers, they say theyâ€™ve heard it all - they claim to “know it all”. Consequently many of them still practise unsafe sex, which leads to pregnancy and the spread of the HI virus.
To counter the status quo, there has been a proposal that HIV/Aids be introduced as a school subject.
I can hear teachers heave a sigh of despair: “More meetings, more makeshift training, more preparation, more paper work, longer hours, and to what effect? How can we become experts overnight? Where will we find the time to be effective HIV educators? Learners groan if you mention HIV, so we will be fighting an unequal battle.”
Educators teaching learners about HIV will still be stuck at stage one - information-giving. We know information is essential, but, unless it translates into action, it has no value.
I would like to run through a “lesson” on HIV with a grade 11 group that took place at Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg recently and leave you to assess its effectiveness. It is one of a series of workshop lessons I have devised as an HIV trainer that can be easily reconstructed with some team-work and the necessary encouragement from the top.
It is based on the premise that teenagers need to utilise information to enable them to think for themselves. Apart from basic instructions and setting up the workshop, I did not enter into group or general discussions. The teenagers did all the talking and every one of them in groups of four or five was involved for the entire hour.
I feel strongly that we must hand over to them and avoid telling them what they should do or what they should think. I did, however, place an extra chair in each group and circulated as they discussed their articles. I gave each speaker my undivided attention without joining in. Listening is a powerful tool and loosens the tongue and mind of the speaker. Use your discretion about entering into a discussion but do keep a low profile.
Let’s start with the information. I used recent articles from newspapers, as well as political cartoons. I scour newspapers daily for material on HIV/Aids, so I have quite a collection. Get the staff to collect and cut out every newspaper article on HIV/Aids or related topics that they can lay their hands on. Avoid censorship - people like Zapiro and Pieter-Dirk Uys shock us into thinking and that is what teenagers need to do.
Scrounge around for newspapers dating back to the Toronto HIV/Aids conference when there was a spate of news available. Rope in learners to do the same. If you are lucky enough to have a school librarian and internet facilities, you are really in business. (I must mention that I was surprised to find learners steered away from the pristine, white copies taken from the internet and opted for the cuttings from newspapers when they selected articles to read.)
Prepare your classroom beforehand. Spread articles on tables and arrange chairs in groups to accommodate no more than five learners. There should be enough material available for each learner to choose three articles. A political cartoon counts as one article as it can lead to lively discussion.
Choice is important. Learners will choose articles that attract or interest them. Peace reigns as learners read their articles silently in their groups. Next, each learner tells the group what the article is about - just reading out the headline could be enough explanation. One article is singled out by each learner as the one he or she wants to talk about in detail. It is important to “sell” the article as a worthwhile piece of information and one that gets everyone fired up and talking.
Ultimately, each group must decide which article they found most useful or led to the best group discussion. Either the person who chose that article or a volunteer then presents the article to the class. A class vote for the most interesting article can bring the exercise to a close.
The Sacred Heart College group spoke with confidence and passion and some decided views were put forward. One learner, Matthew, pounced on an article entitled “Police ignore children who ply sex trade” with the subtitle “Prostitutes and policemen are odd neighbours”.
The abandoned warehouse occupied by prostitutes is situated between an army base and a police station, but is also a stone’s throw from Matthew’s home in Lenasia South. He found it ironic that neither the police nor the army were able to address this glaring social problem where children as young as 13 were involved. Matthew commented that the neglect by the authorities meant that the spread of Aids went unchecked.
He had written a school essay on the subject before he came upon this article. He had noticed that the kids “suck glue” and observed that when you suck glue “you lose your conscience”. He added that the children were missing what kids need: “love, security and discipline”. Did I have anything to teach this young man? He possesses a maturity and a social conscience that matches his thinking powers.
Thabo and Mpho chose articles and cartoons about Jacob Zuma. Thabo said the masses follow Zuma blindly because of what he meant in the struggle, so his irresponsible sexual behaviour had a disastrous ripple effect. He summed it up in one powerful statement: “Jacob Zuma washed away the whole HIV programme with a shower.” Mpho used rhetorical questions that made us sit up and think. “Is this the kind of guy we want for our president?”
The level of maturity of the Sacred Heart learners and the ability to put across their ideas was impressive. For me the workshop was a success because everyone was contributing, breaking new ground, interacting and, above all, thinking. Educators instinctively know when learners are participating fully.
If you use this approach in your school please let us know how you fared.
E-mail Joan Dommisse on [email protected] or write to the Teacher, PO Box 91667, Auckland Park 2006