Research: More than 50 000 teachers at public schools are living with HIV

More than 50 000 teachers at public schools are living with HIV and most of these teachers can be found in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.

This has been revealed in a research by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) released today. The study titled: The Health of Educators in Public Schools in South Africa was commissioned by the Department of Basic Education.

The Health of Educators in Public Schools in South Africa by Christine Rupiah on Scribd

The purpose of the research was to look at the health and wellbeing of public schools, with specific focus on the HIV profile of teachers and school leadership.

Similar research was conducted in 2004.

“The good health and wellbeing of educators is critical for the provision of quality education. Health and wellbeing are in turn influenced by factors such as the school environment, educators’ mental and physical health, substance use and abuse and structural barriers.

“Research shows that factors such as mental and physical health, school environment , substance abuse, and broader socioeconomic factors interact to influence capacities of educators,” reads the study. It further adds that the findings will contribute towards strengthening employee related programmes.

The study was conducted in all nine provinces at 1 380 and 25 130 teachers participated. It found that 2 900 teachers contracted HIV in 2015, and that more female than male teachers were living with the virus and also that it was more prevalent in teachers between the ages of 34 to 44 years. The study estimates that there are about 58 000 teachers living with HIV in the country. The country has about 400 000 teachers.

Of the 58 000 teachers living with HIV, 32 000 are on antiretroviral treatment.

Speaking at the launch of the research in Durban today deputy minister, Enver Surty, said HIV infections among teachers “continue to be unacceptably high”.

“We need prevention programmes, especially for younger female educators,” he said.

He said the department would work with teacher unions and sister departments to improve the health and wellness in the sector through resuscitating prevention, care and treatment access programmes.

“This will be implemented through the conditional grant. The guidance and support of the department of public service and administration will be leveraged to further improve the Employee Assistance Programme in province, and integrate programmes with a holistic view as recommended,” he said.

The department also released its National policy on HIV, sexually transmitted infections and tuberculosis today.

The policy says that holistic package of health and social services will be made available in schools and DBE offices, and they will provide information on prevention, counseling, testing, care and support.

“In terms of the employee health and safety programme, counseling, treatment and psycho-social support will be available for employees living with or affected by HIV, STIs, TB or pregnancy through referral to appropriate services,” reads the policy.

It also says that reasonable steps will be taken to accommodate the needs of educators, schools support staff and officials living with or affected by HIV, STI, TB or pregnancy through enforced absenteeism for treatment, counseling or the renewal of prescribed medication.

Besides looking at the health of teachers, the study also spoke to teachers about job satisfaction where some indicated that they were thinking of career change. This was largely attributed to poor pay, the high demands of the job and overcrowding in classrooms. And those wanting to leave the profession where mostly black teachers at 33.0% and those younger than 35 years. A number of teachers at 46.8% said their workload had increased in the past three years because of large classrooms, pupils not understanding the language used to teach, ill-discipline of pupils, lack of parental involvement and the lack of teachers.

It was mostly teachers in high school who wanted to leave the profession.

Some of the recommendations are that the department must look at overcrowding in schools in order to decrease the workload of teachers. The study found that some classes have more than the recommended number of pupils which is 40.

“High workload and job stress were highly associated with high intentions to leave the profession. It is recommended that DBE implements workplace programmes that assist educators to manage high stress levels. Strategies around educator career pathing within DBE should be emphasized to make educators aware of internal opportunities, especially for younger educators who were more likely to want to leave the profession,” reads the study.

Surty said the sector had worked hard over the past decade to improve the working conditions of teachers.

“We should continue to do more whilst acknowledging the progress that has been made thus far,” he said.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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