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SOUTH AFRICA: Younger teachers more open about HIV

Students are turning to teachers, particularly women, for more information on HIV
JOHANNESBURG, 9 February 2010 (PlusNews) - Younger teachers in South Africa are taking the lead in talking to students about HIV but are not practicing what they preach, according to new research.

A yet-to-be released study by the Health Economics and HIV/AIDS Research Division (HEARD) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal has found that younger educators, who felt they were more informed about HIV and less inclined to stigmatize infected people, were also more likely than their older colleagues to talk to students about HIV-related issues.

The report will be published in the Journal of Education. Gavin George, a senior HEARD researcher and co-author of the study, said he believed younger teachers found it easier to talk with learners because they were closer in age, and because younger teachers were more likely to know someone living with HIV. 

Women aged 20 to 34 are still the group hardest hit by HIV, with prevalence rates of about 33 percent; men aged between 25 and 49 are next, with an HIV prevalence of about 24 percent, according to the South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence, Behaviour and Communication Survey 2008.

The HEARD study, which surveyed 34 schools in South Africa's Free State province, also found that younger teachers, like their peers, were not immune from taking chances with either their own health or that of their partners. Almost 50 percent of the teachers did not know their HIV status; of these, most said they never used condoms.

George said this could hurt their ability to be legitimate role models to their students. "No one's really looked at interaction between students and teachers [on HIV] and, in that sense, the study does break some ground," he told IRIN/PlusNews.

"Children obviously need to speak to someone about this, and they spend the majority of their time at school. Younger teachers are taking on a mentoring role, playing the big sister or big brother," he said. "These are the people who will be able to give the consistent message at the age at which you want to be capturing these kids - 13 to 18 [years of age] - during their sexual debut."

''Younger teachers are taking on a mentoring role, playing the big sister or the big brother.''
When asked to name their main source of HIV information, the teachers cited popular media – not the Department of Education. George said this could point to a need for more training by the department to prevent educators from sending mixed messages about HIV. Expanded teacher training is the primary recommendation made by the report.

Renny Somnath, an education officer at the South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU), said the department provided guidance in its Life Orientation (LO) curriculum, which was introduced in 2002 and includes modules on HIV and text books, but curriculum delivery has been problematic.

To reach teachers who entered the profession before the LO was introduced, SADTU, other teacher unions and NGOs have begun offering teachers additional training in subjects such as HIV and sexuality.

However, David Mbetse, a SADTU national administrator, said these were difficult subjects for older teachers, many of whom believed that talking openly about sex was culturally taboo.


Theme (s): Education, HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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