The pandemic has placed a strain on education. Lesley Wood gives teachers some pointers on how to deal with this subject.
Statistics repeatedly tell us that HIV and Aids are affecting the lives of millions of South Africans—an estimated 5,7-million in 2009—the majority of whom are involved in the education system as teachers, parents or learners.
What the statistics don’t tell us is how the average teacher and learner are affected on a daily basis. Warnings about the potential effect the pandemic will have on the quality of education somehow do not capture the real trauma and despair of teachers who have to deal with severe emotional, financial, social, psychological, health and pedagogical challenges.
Although the negative effects of the pandemic put additional pressure on an already depleted and struggling educational system, educators have an important role to play in both the prevention of HIV infection and the care and support of those already infected or affected.
The problem is that few teachers have been trained to cope with the educational, social and psychological consequences of HIV and Aids. This article will give some pointers on how to begin to do this.
You need to make sure that you know the correct facts about the virus and how it is transmitted.
To see if your knowledge is up to scratch, take the tests.
You need to know not only the HIV facts, but also about condom use, pregnancy and other sexually-related issues. This may mean that you have to become comfortable with talking about these subjects—not an easy task when we have been culturally conditioned to avoid them.
There is a lot of information available, so you should be able to make sure you know the facts. If you don’t, you risk spreading myths and false information that could lead to stigmatisation and other negative consequences.
Teachers in all learning areas (not just life orientation) need to be able to facilitate responsible decision-making with learners and should be comfortable about integrating life-skills education into their syllabuses where possible.
To be an effective HIV and Aids educator is to be aware of your own values, beliefs, feelings and behaviour, because what you believe, feel and do in the classroom will convey either a positive or negative message around HIV and people living with HIV and Aids.
The exercise below will help you to clarify how you feel and highlight what you might need to do to improve your teaching about HIV and Aids.
Think about the following questions — your answers will be important in helping you to tackle HIV and Aids in your teaching:
Once you are aware of your own attitudes towards HIV and Aids and those infected or affected, you will be able to make sure that you create a safe and supportive school and classroom environment that will encourage learners to share with you any problems that might be affecting their ability to concentrate and learn.
HIV and Aids exacerbates already existing problems, such as poverty, and often the teacher is the only person a learner can turn to for help.
Some ideas that might help you to create a supportive environment for vulnerable children include:
In addition to these practical actions, the school should try to create an environment in which children feel loved, secure and valued. This will help them to learn and develop holistically.
Something as simple as smiling and greeting each learner by name can make a tremendous difference to their lives.
Professor Lesley Wood has written a book titled Dealing with HIV and AIDS in the Classroom, published by Juta Academic, as well as articles on this topic in various journals. She is an associate professor in the faculty of education at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Dos and don’ts of of HIV/Aids education
In spite of the added stress and challenges that HIV presents for education, it also presents an opportunity to rethink your approach to teaching and learning.
Teachers can take the chance to integrate life-skills and sexuality education into the curriculum, to talk about safety and gender issues, to encourage a greater level of caring and empathy at schools and to bring back the nurturing element of education.
HIV and Aids could be the catalyst we need to humanise teaching, to make sure education contributes to developing learners who will be compassionate, caring, responsible and HIV-free citizens.
Sources: UNGASS (March 31 2010) South Africa UNGASS Country Progress Report. Wood, L. 2008. Dealing with HIV and Aids in the Classroom. Cape Town: Juta