Teacher unions have thrown their weight behind the Department of Basic Education (DBE)’s advocacy and training workshops to empower teachers on how best to teach HIV/AIDS in schools.
The workshops focus on the DBE’s revised national policy on HIV, STIs and TB for all learners, teachers, support staff and officials in all the Primary and Secondary Schools.
Cabinet approved the new policy last year, which is a sequel to a 1999 policy formulated to combat HIV and AIDS within the education sector. This led to the HIV and AIDS Life Skills Education Programme that was taught in school through Life Orientation since 2000.
According to the Right to Care statistics – a health outfit that offer workplace healthcare solutions – in 2016 nearly a third of all new HIV infections in South Africa occur in 15-24 year olds with adolescent girls being up to eight times more likely to be infected with the virus than their male counterparts. Majority of school children fall within this age bracket.
While HIV/AIDS organisations say incidences of the pandemic seem to be stabilising in the country, there are concerns about the rise in infections particularly among the school going children.
Alan Thompson, National Teachers Union (Natu)’s spokesperson said they welcome any initiative designed to assist and improve the lives of teachers. “We welcome the department’s efforts to help curb the increasing cases of HIV/AIDS within the education sector particularly among the learners. We have been encouraging our members to know their status by going for regular HIV/AIDS tests,” said Thompson.
South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu)’s Nomusa Cembi also concurred. “It is important to empower educators on how to teach and manage the virus among the learners. But we also feel it is necessary to involve parents in this because we believe education starts at home. Children come from diverse, cultural, religious and belief systems and parents may object to their children being taught about sex if they have not been involved,” said Cembi.
Minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, said as key stakeholder, it was necessary for the DBE to come up with a credible to stem the spread of the virus within the school community.
Motsthekga said: “HIV and AIDS is no longer simply a health concern, but a developmental problem that affects the social, cultural, political and economic fabric of the nation. It therefore must be tackled within the context of the behavioural, economic, socio-cultural and environmental factors driving the epidemic.”
She said the virus has evolved over the decades and this necessitates a need for her department to revise its approach and strategies in the sector.
Motshekga said the revised HIV and TB policy seeks to adopt effective and innovative approaches on how to deal with HIV “as a core management issue and therefore making it the business of every official in the system”.
But it is not only learners who are vulnerable to the HIV and TB, teachers are also at risk. During the World Aids Day last year December, Inside Education carried a report of a study by Human Science Research Council (HSRC) titled: ‘The Health of Educators in Public Schools in South Africa 2016’ which showed that teachers, particularly female, are at the receiving end of the virus than their male colleagues.
The DBE will use Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) and Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) services, said Motshekga, globally considered to be the most effective tools to stem new infections among the young people.
The department will also enlist the support of the Departments of Health and Social Services and other partners involved in the health sector to ensure the youth access the social welfare and health services offered as part of the programme.
Motshekga added: “We encourage all educators, learners, officials and key stakeholders to familiarise themselves with the various components of the DBE HIV and TB Policy as that will enable them to effectively support its implementation on the ground.” She also urged parents and the community to take part in parental and community dialogues in their areas and engage in conversations with their children on sexual and reproductive health.
Motshekga said they will host provincial workshops with key stakeholders to explore ways in which both CSE and SRH services can be shared with learners, educators and support staff at schools.