Yes folks it’s true. South Africa’s HIV/AIDS National Strategic Plan for 2007-2011 has mandated that life skills classes be implemented in all schools, at all levels; this includes children as young as six. Life skills classes, also referred to as life orientation, are classes that orient kids to the world by teaching skills needed to live a productive life. Life skills curricula include basic things like hygiene, nutrition, and respect. Additionally, they include more sensitive topics such as body development and disease processes.
The area in need of the most emphasis in South African life skills classes is HIV/AIDS. As my last post discussed, HIV/AIDS is an epidemic plaguing Africa greatly and the magnitude of calamity being experienced is causing much global attention. This attention is indeed merited, as the continent is home to a country with the greatest of number of HIV/AIDS positive people in the world- South Africa (Kates et al. 2006). Despite this astonishing fact, HIV/AIDS prevalence is higher in other countries (Kates et al. 2006).
Unfortunately though HIV/AIDS is included in life skills curricula, time allotted for these classes is spent either on other subjects or life skills is taught ineffectively as is the case in townships, and other places that need it most, due to funding and staffing problems (Tiendrebéogo et al. 2003). Teachers are often uncomfortable with the sensitive nature of HIV/AIDS and are ill-trained to discuss such matters with youngsters (Prinsloo 2007). Thus the goal in South Africa’s National Strategic Plan to reduce new HIV infection in youth ages 15-24 by 20%, being that they represent 50% of new infections, hardly seems on its way to being met. Though South Africa has allotted money for life skills classes, it is having a hard time establishing and monitoring it (Prinsloo 2007).
As those between 15-25 years of age are an important focal group to the South African government, with respect to reducing new infections, so are those between 6-14 years of age. In some cases this includes those as young as 5 years of age. They are referred to as the “window of hope” (Tiendrebéogo et al. 2003). Children younger than 15 are thought to not yet be sexually active and so are more likely to take to learning and internalizing preventative measures against HIV contraction.
With this in mind, should we gasp in shock when we hear that HIV/AIDS Education is being incorporated into the curriculum of children as young as 6? Of course not! They are not being taught the same things the 14 year olds are, such as how to put on a condom. However, they are learning the realities of situations that can put them in danger and how to avoid becoming vulnerable, if possible. HIV/AIDS, depending on race and socioeconomic level, due to South Africa’s Apartheid past, is something a child could deal with on a day to day basis. Why deprive the kids who need it most of a method of protection? Loss of a parent, orphanhood, and sexual exploitation are all undeserved consequences many children have to face (Bhana et al. 2006). You cannot compare South Africa’s HIV/AIDS condition to America’s where there are much fewer infected people and no 6 year old has ever been exposed to a HIV/AIDS infected person.
Furthermore, children are active agents of societal constructions and are not asexual creatures, as much as we adults would like to preserve a veil of innocence (Bhana 2008). They can construct and negotiate matters dealing with sexuality. As such we adults should recognize that they have a right- yes a right- to HIV/AIDS education. To deprive them of that when they are bound to be in situations that make them vulnerable would be irresponsible and silly.
To teachers I say take responsibility. I know in an ideal world the parent would handle such matters, but we’re not not in an ideal world. And if there’s no support, rally for it; petition the school principal and local authorities. Be proactive!
To South Africa’s government I say not only mandate life skills classes and invest in formulating curricula, but monitor them to ensure age and culturally appropriate implementation and evaluate them for efficacy. That way you don’t just set goals, you achieve them!
Bhana, Deevia and Morrell, Robert, and Epstein, Debbie, and Moletsane, Relebohile. “The hidden work of caring: teachers and the maturing AIDS epidemic in diverse secondary schools in Durban.” Journal of Education (2006): 5-23.
Bhana, Deevia. “Sex and the Right to HIV/AIDS Education.” Journal of Psychology in Africa (2008): 439-444.
Kates, Jennifer, Carbaugh, Alicia. The HIV/AIDS Epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa . The HIV/AIDS Policy Fact Sheet. Washington D.C.: The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation:, 2006.
Prinsloo, Erna. “Implementation of life orientation programmes in the new curriculum in South African schools: perceptions of principals and life orientation teachers.” South African Journal of Education (2007): 155-170.
Tiendrebéogo, Georges, Meijer, Suzanne, Engleberg, Gary. Life Skills and HIV Education Curricula in Africa: Methods and Evaluations. Technical Paper No. 119. Washington D.C.: Office of Sustainable Development Bureau for Africa, 2003.
The views in this article are representative of solely the author’s and may or may not represent those of SCOUT BANANA.