HIV/AIDS education promoting healthy nation

Educational Journey with EPHAT MUDENDA
LIKE all other members of society, education providers and learners are affected by HIV and AIDS in various ways. All stakeholders in the education system must therefore strive to fight the scourge for the good of the country.

To some extent, the pandemic negatively impacts both demand and supply of education. For instance, children who have lost parents as a result of HIV and AIDS are less likely to continue with their education. Besides the fact that the parents’ or relatives’ sickness may have drained the family’s resources, chances that orphaned children will be enrolled or will continue attending school with support from other family members are almost non-existent – in most societies today – as extended family ties are not as strong as they used to be in the past.
On the other hand, when teachers are either infected or affected, it is the quality of education provision that suffers. Apart from increased cases of absenteeism, more time and resources are likely to be concentrated on accessing medical services in trying to improve their families’, if not their own, well-being.
Although such negative effects of HIV and AIDS, among many others, are likely to put more pressure on an already financially drained and struggling educational system, teachers themselves have a very important part to play in regard to both prevention of HIV infection and the care and support of those already infected and affected.
It is for this reason that every teacher must ask himself or herself: How does HIV and AIDS affect my teaching? How must I feel each time when I am teaching, I’m also fully aware that among my pupils are some that are infected or affected? Am I really equipped to integrate the issue of HIV and AIDS in my teaching processes? What do I still need to learn or change in order to be an effective HIV//AIDS educator and counsellor?
Teachers who are aware of their own attitudes towards both the disease and those infected or affected, should be able to ensure that they create a safe and supportive school and classroom environment which encourages pupils to share with them any problems that might be affecting their ability to concentrate and learn. Such an environment can be enhanced through deliberate policies by all stakeholders to integrate HIV/AIDS education and life-long skills programmes in the school curriculum. This, in turn, will definitely be a very effective way of influencing behavioural change in children from an early age.
Experts on ‘formal education and HIV/AIDS’ believe that, while the scourge has a negative impact on education, it is through education itself that appropriate mitigation initiatives can be implemented.
As schools create an environment in which learners feel loved, secure and valued, it is easy for the young people to learn and develop holistically. Therefore, all what educators need to do is to be culturally sensitive and take into consideration the aspect of ‘age-appropriateness’ as they engage young people in HIV/AIDS-related programmes at school. Choose teaching materials carefully to respect the cultural aspects of your learners and the community they live in. Language must be carefully selected too. For example, merely referring to AIDS as ‘that disease’ and patients as ‘victims’ can send a wrong message to children.
As pupils grasp knowledge more easily when they are involved and having fun, teachers should make sure that their class is perfectly interactive and participatory. While one should be able to discuss freely matters of sex and sexuality with their learners, one should also be careful not to ‘moralise’ the subject. This is because associating HIV infection with immoral behaviour leads to increased stigmatisation.
Threatening learners with death “if you don’t behave yourselves” negatively affects those already infected. After all, some people are infected through rape while for others it was through mother-to-child transmission. Also, linking HIV and AIDS to selected groups, such as “it affects uneducated women and the poor”, can lead to learners starting thinking the scourge is ‘only for those’, not realising they are just as much at risk.
HIV/ AIDS education can surely contribute towards developing learners who will be compassionate, caring, responsible and HIV-free citizens.

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