|Learning and Teaching about AIDS at School (UNAIDS, 1997, 8 p.)|
Despite the evident desirability of providing AIDS education to students, there are various obstacles standing in the way, including the following.
The subject is considered too controversial
In many societies, the adults responsible for children or their school education are often uneasy about teaching children about AIDS and sexual risk behaviour. They may feel that this encourages young people to experiment prematurely - even though several studies have shown that sex and HIV/AIDS education do not lead to increased sexual activity (see Impact of HIV and sexual health education on the sexual behaviour of young people, 1997). Policy-makers, teachers and parents with such views can object to the introduction of school HIV-prevention programmes, on the grounds that the topic is too sensitive for children or controversial for society.
It is often difficult to find a slot for AIDS education in an already full and overcrowded school curriculum, especially when there are many issues competing for space. In theory, health education, which could embrace AIDS education, is supposed to be taught in schools, but in practice it is often neglected.
Many schools do not have AIDS education. The reasons vary. The country may have no policies on AIDS education, or a particular policy specifically against AIDS education - or policies in favour of AIDS education that are vague or not properly enforced. In some cases policy-making on education is decentralized, so that education authorities in some districts include AIDS education in their curricula while others do not.
AIDS education - where it exists at all - is usually taught only in secondary schools. However, with high drop-out rates in many schools, children - and particularly girls - frequently have left school before secondary school age, with the result that they do not get school AIDS education.
Information is taught, but not skills
HIV education may be provided in schools, but it may deal only with medical and biological facts, and not with the real-life situations that young people find themselves in. Only if life skills are taught, and matters such as relationships, sexuality and the risks of drug use discussed, will young people be able to handle situations where they might be at risk of HIV infection.
Poor quality of curriculum
This could be for several reasons, including:
· important areas of AIDS education, such as non- discrimination and support, are omitted
· learning materials may be inadequate - for example, they stress biomedical information instead of social skills and means of prevention, or they are not age-specific, or else bear little resemblance to everyday life
· materials for teachers may not exist
· teachers may not be properly trained to organize classroom activities on sensitive issues
· only one option in terms of sexual behaviour (for example, that of abstinence) is offered, regardless of the age of the students
· the objectives of the course are not clearly identified, or refer only to knowledge, attitudes and values - not to behaviour
· there is no provision for assessing how well students have learnt
· AIDS education is not meaning- fully integrated into the curriculum and its links with other health and social issues are not brought out
· no education is provided on referral services, such as further information and skills training, counselling, and youth-friendly STD services.