Pupils fail in Aids awareness

Two-thirds of grade six pupils in South Africa do not have the minimum knowledge about HIV/Aids needed to protect their health, according to recently published research findings.

This is described as “alarming”, because their average age is about 13 and they “are entering a stage of development in which they may become sexually active or may choose to become involved in high-risk behaviour”.

This is one of the findings in the latest Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality report, based on research conducted in 15 countries in 2007 and published last month on the basic education department’s website (education.gov.za).

The findings still accurately ­des­cribe many schools today, educators and health experts said this week. They blamed poor teacher training and inadequate support from the basic education department as prime reasons.

The figures
In 2009 more than five million South Africans were living with HIV.

“The results [indicate] that major alarm bells should be ringing in South Africa [because] knowledge levels about HIV and Aids among about two-thirds of grade six pupils in 2007 were below the consortium’s minimal knowledge ­benchmark,” the study’s authors, Meshack Moloi and Mark Chetty, wrote.

Marion Stevens, co-ordinator of Women in Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health Associates, said: “Pupils may know about blood and cuts, but not about how to address boundaries in friendships and ­general feelings.”

She said she believed the study’s figures remained accurate.
“If we are going to address HIV successfully in schools, then we are going to have to address teachers. We have got a serious problem because educators can barely talk about the parts of their bodies or their own feelings and boundaries.”

Moroba Lekgalake, principal of Inkwenkwezi Primary School in Soweto, said: “HIV education and awareness remains a challenge at many schools because teachers are too shy to talk about sex.”

A knowledge gap
The consortium found that 90% of teachers had the necessary ­levels of HIV/Aids awareness but “this does not seem to be transmitted to pupils”.

But Panyaza Lesufi, spokesperson for the basic education department, said: “Our life orientation teachers are well trained on HIV. How to talk [about it] is the first issue emphasised in training. We passed the issue of shyness a long time ago.”

The department’s HIV/Aids awareness budget and programmes had reached more pupils since 2007 and “recently the department of health has approached us on their voluntary testing model, which we are currently in discussion to assist in addressing [HIV awareness levels],” Lesufi said.

The study found that socioeconomic status significantly affected HIV/Aids awareness—17% of pupils in lower-income groups reached a minimum level of knowledge compared with 65% in wealthier categories.

A teacher at a “well-resourced township school”, who asked not to be named, said teachers in rural, under-resourced schools were “stuck to tradition and custom and did not want to be open to children”.

Her own school provided workshops for teachers and parents on how to handle HIV education, she said. “No one must be shy about HIV.”

There were large provincial ­variations in the pupils’ HIV/Aids knowledge, the consortium found. Gauteng scored just below Tanzania, the highest-scoring country. In contrast, Limpopo’s score placed it below the lowest-scoring country, Mauritius.

Limpopo education department spokesperson Pat Kgomo said the department was “hopeful” that awareness in primary schools had improved since 2007. “Before 2008, the province did not have someone assigned to specifically deal with HIV-awareness programmes in schools, but now we have a person to do that.”

The large consortium project also compared reading and mathematics ­levels of grade six pupils.

Victoria John

Victoria John

Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011. Read more from Victoria John

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