AFRICA AT THE CROSSROADS:
presented to the Convention of African School Leaders
I was given the title for this talk - I was not sure how I
would address it and wondered about another one, but in the
end I decided to keep it and to modify it somewhat - to Education
at the Crossroads - its impact on HIV/AIDS in Africa. I do
this somewhat deliberately for a feature of this epidemic for
as long as we have been aware of it, its spread and its
devastation has been the understanding that the one way we
have had to stop its phenomenal spread was through the
education system. It's
become one of the many AIDS clichés to say that with young
people we have a 'window of opportunity' and the possibility
to 'secure the future'.
this the education sector as a whole has failed and failed
dismally. The failures are numerous - the national department
has failed to place AIDS firmly within the curriculum. Teacher
unions and associations have failed to address AIDS as a
serious subject for inclusion in their practice. Parents have
failed in demanding that the schools fulfil their most basic
function - to prepare our children for the future. Many of the
non state schools have failed for they have on the whole
(erroneously) believed that AIDS would not affect them as
their children are 'not like that' and have an 'innocence'
which needs to be preserved.
we have failed in another way and that is because when we did
try to do AIDS education we did not think carefully enough how
it should be done. We did not try to get children to
understand what we were about . Wke did not try to look beyond
the conventional categories of thought and wisdom that placed
AIDS education in the field of lifeskills and guidance -
underpinned by heavy moral and indeed even religious
overtones. What was not paramount in our thought was how we
save lives, what was paramount in our thoughts was how we
maintain our dignity, push our value system and our
acting in this way we became part of the problem - we
exacerbated the situation, fed into the denial, the apathy and
helped to create the paradox that we have the fastest growing
epidemic in the world, whilst we have one of the most aware
took the form of a shocking novelty when it first reached
public consciousness in the mid 1980s. But soon it became
apparent that in the absence of affordable treatment the
majority of people infected with HIV would die of AIDS. Some
people called for massive prevention efforts. Others claimed
that religion, national character, monogamy and fidelity would
protect against infection.
HIV has proved to be particularly difficult - it mean among
other things forging new links between sex illness and death
and encouraging the belief that solidarity, compassion and
understanding are more appropriate to HIV disease than
discrimination and ostracisation.
are now all too familiar with the figures, but they bear brief
repeating - sub -Saharan Africa accounts for the overwhelming
majority of new infections and AIDS cases. Out of a total of
34.3 million people living with HIV at the end of 1999, 24.5
million are in sub Saharan Africa. One in ten adults between
the ages of 15-49 is already living with HIV.
South Africa the facts of AIDS are well known. South Africa
has been identified as having the fastest growing epidemic in
the world - having more infections each day than Australia has
in a year. With close on 1700 new infections per day, and over
4 million people currently living with HIV and a significant
number ill with AIDS, the rate of infection shows little sign
of slowing. There is little evidence to show that any of the
interventions are working and we are set firmly on a course
that is likely to take us to the highest levels of infections
that have been predicted.
Natal remains the peak of infection (32.5%) and the Western
Cape lowest (5.2%) with the other provinces ranged in-between.
With the population concentrated below the age of 40 and with
the peak of infection currently in young women between the
ages of 15 and 26 and in young men slightly older - the
prospects for south and southern Africa and for the rapid
changes we need to see in development, housing, education,
unemployment and social upliftment look bleak.
has the potential to undermine all the gains we have made and
to render impossible the government commitment to growth and
two decades into our infection we are still puzzling about how
we should intervene to curb the rate of infection and care for
the ill and dying and educate the uninfected to remain so. Our
early responses fed into all the categories of marginalisation
and social rejection at which as South Africans we excel. It
was a disease of white gay men, of drug users and of
prostitutes. After that it was a disease of poor (black)
people and foreigners. It
was not and could not be a disease of the (white) heterosexual
population nor a disease that could affect their children.
all meetings and in educational and social gatherings AIDS is
discussed - but always at one remove - rather in the same ways
that we talked about Apartheid - it was part of us but we were
not part of it.
all know that in South Africa, almost 25% of pregnant women
are testing positive. We know that over 60% of all African
women who are infected are infected by their husbands and we
now have the sobering evidence from Zimbabwe and KwaZulu/Natal
that the highest risk activity for young men is marriage.
latest UNAIDS report suggests that 50% of the current 15 year
olds in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana will not
live to their 50th year. Life expectancy which had
risen to over 60 years in South Africa is expected to fall to
just 40years by the year 2010. In 1990 a mere 10 years ago the
infection rate in South Africa and Thailand was under 1%, nine
years later it was close to 25% here but less than 5% in
leaves us with a situation that can only have devastating
implications. Already we are preparing for and experiencing
age shifts in the population with high death rates in young,
productive people leaving behind elderly and very young people
to care for and socialise one another.
talk dispassionately about AIDS orphans and child headed
households as if these were the norm in our society. We talk
with romantic nostalgia about how the great extended families
of Africa will with love and compassion absorb the orphans
while we refuse to accept that the reality is that these are
already over extended families and unlikely to survive through
accept that taking children into already stretched homes will
damage the life chances of both the orphans and the children
of the previously intact households but argue that this is
preferable to finding other solutions.
is no doubt that AIDS will have dramatic and unimaginable
repercussions on education and the education system in South
Africa and the rest of the continent. These lie in the obvious
areas of the loss of skilled teachers to infection, the
changing patterns of enrolments, high absenteeism and the
consequences of the disintegration of families. And there are
other repercussions. These lie in the toll of human pain and
suffering that an epidemic like this will extract. It lies in
the general decline in the family life of the children who
come to our schools and the withdrawal of children and
communities from the education process. Both education
provision and quality will be affected - through the illness
and death of the teachers and in the inability of families to
support their children in schools. In a world increasingly
reliant on technology a significantly illiterate or badly
schooled workforce will be a huge financial drain.
finally before moving to the specifics about HIV/AIDS and
education, as social and political stability is threatened by
this epidemic, so too will be the attempts to bring down the
levels of crime and social corruption. The tenuous hold that
we have on social cohesion will seriously wobble. We are
beginning to see the effects of AIDS on social cohesion in
Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone
is easy to say that we were warned - that there is not a
single school which could claim that they were unaware of the
potential threat which HIV/AIDS poses both to their existence
and the society. It is easy to blame the education sector for
their slow reaction and failure to give leadership and take
blame and finger pointing is easy and unhelpful. What we need
now is a look at how HIV/AIDS will impact on education and the
multiple ways in which we can still act to turn the epidemic
around and in doing so transform our society.
first shift is that while we must look at what AIDS will do to
the schooling system and at how we are to prepare young people
to be able to live in a fundamentally changed world - we must
recognise the liberating potential that HIV/AIDS has for us.
Unless we see what good can come from this epidemic we are
doomed to be dragged down by it. We have to see that AIDS
opens all kinds of new exciting economic and social
possibilities and we can prepare our pupils to grasp these and
have a future that will be rewarding, exciting and
second shift is to throw away what does not work - if our best
planned prevention programmes are not working it does not help
to rewrite them in different language and increase the
spending - they have not worked, it is likely that they never
third shift is that we have to prepare our selves and our
pupils for a radically different world from the one that we
know and the one that they have known so far. All our
cherished notions of family, community, society will change
and we have to be flexible in how we understand this. We
cannot cling to the security of the past and the 'good old
attic' values to see us through.
we have to decide now which road we take at these crossroads.
hear that each month 4 teaches are dying in Zambia, in South
Africa the figures vary wildly with the National Department
suggesting 14% infection rate amongst teachers and SADTU going
much higher. Whilst we cannot be sure, it is unlikely that the
teachers' infection rates would be very different from the
national average . We know we are looking at an infection rate
of well over 10% and that once one has reached 10% one is
are also fairly certain that tertiary institutions where the
teachers are trained have an infection rate on around 12%.
This has two important considerations - it means not only that
12% of new teachers will enter the workforce already living
with HIV, but also that there will be an incremental increase
in the numbers of teachers who are dying in the early years of
their careers. Whilst this has the potential to seriously
disrupt the process of teaching it also has serious
consequences for the continuity of teaching - as these young
teachers are those whom traditionally we expect to become the
older teachers, the mentors, the skilled practitioners.
on 25% of the children coming to our schools will be coming
from homes or communities where HIV and AIDS are already
prevalent. In the more affluent and elitist areas the extent
of this may still be muted, but at the very least children
will be aware of HIV and AIDS if not through the illness and
death of their families and communities - through the illness
and death of domestic workers and he employees in their
parents business concerns.
have traditionally not trained teachers to cope with death and
dying in their training programmes. We have not trained them
in what it means to be teaching a quarter of their pupils who
are in stress, terrified about their security and future and
whilst at school anxious about what is happening at home. We
have not trained them to cope with pupils who attend school
erratically because they are involved in home based care, nor
how to deal with children who through no fault of their own
cannot conform to the norms and expectations of the school. We
have not equipped them to deal with the multiple complexities
of race and culture and how these fuel the epidemic.
have not trained our teachers in the creative art of teaching
that will allow them to see their teaching as one of the
fundamental ways in which this epidemic can be challenged.
training can and should be offered by schools as a crucial
part of inservice training. It should be the case that when
new teachers apply for jobs that if they are not AIDS literate
and fully skilled in AIDS in the work-place and teaching AIDS
we should not consider their appointment.
yet our teachers should have had some of this training - for
our education system and those in other African countries have
always been vulnerable to political, economic and social
instability. It already has high attrition, repetition and
drop out rates and in redressing the past has high over age
enrolments. We already have large numbers of traumatised,
malnourished and stunted children whom we are trying to deal
with through mainstream conventional education.
addition to this we now are likely to have fewer children who
will enrol in school because mothers with HIV die young and
HIV affects fertility. Children
giving care or themselves ill will be out of school. Qualified
teachers and educational officials will fall ill and die, and
as the epidemic bites into the private sector teachers will be
increasingly poached away from schools into industry and
students will reach secondary school and this will affect the
enrollment into teacher training - and the quality of teacher
training will be affected by the loss of training staff.
School and official departmental management will be affected
as the administrative staff fall ill and die. Teachers
traditionally have generous sick leave packages and benefits
and so will hold down jobs, whilst being unable to teach - but
the conditions of service will be affected as the death and
disability claims soar.
the epidemic bites into the provision of welfare and health
services, the available pool of money for education will fall
making it expensive beyond the reach of most families. It is
likely that legislation may be passed that affects the
relative autonomy of private schools as they will be expected
to provide education for certain sectors of the school going
where does this leave us?
the first step is planning. As we have done at the University
of Pretoria HIV/AIDS has to be 'mainstreamed' throughout all
of the activities of the school.
imperatives must drive this -
The economic imperative
The moral imperative
economic imperative is that schools will need to look at how
they are able to survive this epidemic - what will the effects
be on their traditional pool of pupils and staff as well as
the costs of benefits and hiring of temporary staff and of
boarding and illness packages. It must also address the
economic costs of high teacher turnover and the increasing
inability of a percentage of parents to pay full or part fees
and to let their children take part in school activities, as
well as their ability to survive in an increasingly depressed
society with new educational demands.
second economic imperative is what the epidemic is likely to
be doing to the country - in terms of developmental growth.
What does this mean in terms of what the school curricula
teaches and how we prepare our youth for a world of AIDS. How
do we ensure that they understand what the epidemic is likely
to do and how it will affect their future livelihoods
moral imperative is the way in which we deal with HIV and AIDS
in the school community and in society. We have an obligation
to the pupils to ensure that we given them the means to remain
uninfected and that we are able to deal with compassion and
understanding towards teachers, parents and students who may
themselves be infected and affected. This must be reflected in
the conditions of service as well as in the bold steps that we
take to educate staff and students about HIV and AIDS and how
it is likely to affect them.
second moral imperative is that how society deals with the
epidemic largely depends on how we socialise the students in
schools. We are now well into the second decade of this
epidemic and the levels of stigma and prejudice remain high.
This means schools are failing to instil in their students the
understanding and commitment to the epidemic that allows them
to treat people with HIV and AIDS with the respect and dignity
we all deserve.
part this stems from the attitudes of teachers and their
ability to deal with their own sexuality, fears and anxieties
as well as their ability to deal with the sexuality, fears and
anxieties of the students they teach.
fundamental mistake we may have made is to have targeted
education at personal behaviour and risk taking. Given our
failure to have effective sexuality education in the past and
our failure in the smoking and alcohol campaigns it is
extraordinary that we tackled HIV/AIDS education in this way.
it’s the wrong way to educate teachers - they do not attend
training college and inservice training primarily t be trained
in safe sex and 101 ways to use a condom. We have done
personal education badly and we have not addressed at all the
professional aspects of teaching in a world of AIDS.
people do need guidance into the world of sexual exploration,
and in the kind of world that they will be doing such
exploration. We have premised too much of our HIV/AIDS
education in the context of right and wrong doing - rather
than on the overriding moral imperative to save lives.
have allowed our religious beliefs, moral value system and
ideology to stand in the way of frank and open sexuality
education. The joy and pleasure that young people experience
with their sexual awakening is masked in the blanket of denial
that would have us believe that all young sex is coercive or
wilful, or that its due only to peer pressure. We treat the
pupils an 'innocent victims' in a world of dangerous and
exciting sexual possibility and I suspect that we do this with
a mixture of judgement and envy!
of our failure to deal with this epidemic is that even as
teachers we do not know how to ask the right questions. In
most of our work we ask status quo questions which must give
status quo answers. Status quo answers will not help us fight
this epidemic and most school based HIV/AIDS education is
premised on status quo questions and answers.
challenge lies in oppositional questions which give
oppositional answers and allow both staff and students to
recognise their own particular vulnerability to infection and
the ways in which they can address this. It should also allow
for new categories of meaning and explanation - new forms of
understanding, a new language and new solutions.
if parents or teachers cannot speak to their children or
students about HIV/AIDS and related sexual issues, then at a
very fundamental level they are saying that their
embarrassment, morality, pride is in the long run more
important to them than their child's or their student's life.
traditional HIV/AIDS education has failed then we must seek
new ways to achieve what we want. My experience from the
lifeskills committee as well as through the work we are doing
at UP has convinced me that HIV/AIDS cannot be a separate area
of study - it cannot be a component of life skills or guidance
and hope to succeed.
we need is to challenge our existing curricula and integrate
it through all the subjects we are teaching - from the
principles of coffin making in design and technology education
to the obvious ways in which it fits into all subject
is far too fascinating a subject in terms of its history what
it tells us about society, about culture, racism and ourselves
and its effects on our present and future to be relegated to
the easy options. It also places an undue burden on those
teachers need essential training in the legal and ethical
issues that the epidemic poses for their careers - their
rights, duties and obligations in a world of AIDS, counselling
skills and social empathy and understanding. Many teachers
have this already, but they will need greater skills as
society comes to realise that it is teachers who are at the
interface of this epidemic far more than nurses and doctors.
is teachers who will carry the burden of care for young people
whose lives are shattered by disintegrating families, it is
teachers who have to cope with the fear and horror that
parents confront, as they know they will predecease their
children. Teachers will have to cope with the illness and
death of their colleagues and their families.
is because teachers are this interface that schools play the
pivotal role in ensuring that as a society we can cope with
the epidemic as it unfolds. That we can teach our students
about new forms of community, family, belonging and
relationships. How do we teach them to confront a world in
which people of 40 are the ones who are dying and how do they
cope in a world of the very young and very old?
will need to recognise the need for some kind of institutional
care for the students - but not institutions as we now know
them but institutions as we have never thought of before.
School must become the places of open debate and understanding
- where the current prejudice and stigma is challenged and
understood and where the fears of AIDS are allayed. This is a
terrible period in our history and we must give young people a
secure and honest road they can travel - to get through it and
is the choice as we stand at the crossroads. What is our
greater morality - to fundamentally change how we think and
teach about and act on this epidemic so that we can find the
liberation and new exciting challenges it offers;
- or to take the road that we know - the road that is
secure to us in our beliefs and prejudices, but the one that
will ultimately lead many students to their death.
we make the wrong choice now - we are in danger of reaching
the point of no return - the cul de sac of the worst case
an act of faith and an act of courage and requires great
leadership and vision. But it is the only road to take - or
the effect of education on HIV in Africa will be decisive and