Young South Africans do not perceive themselves to be at risk of contracting HIV, which make calls for innovative education more urgent.
A recent study found that only 22% of sexually active teens in grades eight to 12 had been tested for HIV or thought they were at risk of contracting the virus. Yet the vast majority reported that HIV was a topic discussed in their school at least once a month.
“This suggests that our current classroom model of delivering HIV prevention programmes to our learners is excelling on a theoretical manner, but the reactive behaviour that should stem from such knowledge is not evident,” said Joanne Brink, head of the Foundation for Professional Development’s education department, which conducted the study.
According to Brink, the critical insight gained from focus groups of grade eight to 12 learners is that learners are not able to internalise the meaning behind the “HIV facts” they are taught at school.
According to learners, the current HIV prevention messages are delivered through didactic classroom lectures—which often emphasise abstinence—whereas they would prefer to engage in more direct conversations about the reality of their lifestyles and sexual health. HIV should not be the only focus.
Brink said: “They [the learners] advised that we should not be coming in saying ‘HIV, HIV’, but make the campaign part of a wider focus about looking after their overall health. We should be talking to learners about what has been happening in their lives and [then] compare it to HIV and Aids—to help them to differentiate between the lives that they are living and the lives that they need to lead.”
A programme with a difference
OneVoice is an organisation that has been implementing such an approach for five years in 44 high schools across the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. A school-based life-skills programme gives grade eight learners a platform to discuss and address HIV, Aids and TB, life skills, sexual reproductive health,
gender and human rights issues. The overall aim is to reduce the number of new HIV infections among young people.
According to Josianne Roma-Reardon, managing director of OneVoice, the difference between this programme and others is the participatory methods used. “We’re saying: ‘Talk to us. What are the issues? What do you like about the programme? What’s important to you?’ It’s not just adults saying ‘this is what you must do’.”
Sphesihle Mkhize, a OneVoice learner, said: “What I like about OneVoice is that they let us speak our mind during the workshop. We are able to interact and give our opinions. I’ve learned many things about peer pressure, HIV and puberty. I don’t find that very often because sometimes you would ask a question and the teacher doesn’t give you an answer because these things are not usually open, but at OneVoice I’m able to speak my mind.”
The programme offers 12 workshops. The first workshop on values and human rights helps learners to explore their own values and where they come from, before linking those values to human rights. There are also workshops on self-knowledge, gender roles and even problem-solving. The last aims to help learners understand how a step-by-step approach can help them solve any problem in their own lives and
“I like OneVoice because it taught us many things. I didn’t know how to solve my problems but now I know how to solve [them],” said Portia Zuntu, a OneVoice learner.
Confidence to deal with problems
Another workshop helps learners to understand and accept the physical, emotional and social changes that occur during puberty. Learners also explore different kinds of relationships, so that they are able to create and maintain healthy relationships that do not put their lives at risk.
Basic information workshops on HIV and TB are also given to help learners identify behaviour that places them at risk of contracting HIV and to assist in the detection and treatment of TB.
Developed by educational experts, with input from learners, teachers and OneVoice staff, the programme is aligned to the 2007 to 2011 HIV and Aids and STI Strategic Plan for South Africa, South Africa’s National HIV and Aids and TB Response 2012-2017 and the National Life Orientation syllabus.
Learners are also encouraged to design, implement and monitor advocacy projects that they can run in their school or community to address existing problems. This gives them confidence to deal with problems.
Roma-Reardon said: “We’re giving them those skills that they’ll need later on for their careers or jobs or whatever they do in the future.”