Most Ministries of Education are ill-prepared to deal with the HIV/AIDS challenge
UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team on Education (IATT) released a comparative report about the response of the education sectors to the HIV/AIDS threat.
The question to 71 governments was simple: what have you done so far to tackle the HIV and AIDS pandemic through the education sector. "Many Ministries of Education appear to feel driven by the need to satisfy external demands and produce extremely ambitious strategic plans … which are quite obviously unattainable," says the report. The IATT report highlights major deficiencies in the provision of adequate policy development, the lack of anticipation regarding the impact on teachers and on the quality of education. "Ministries are reportedly ill-prepared to deal with the potential impact of HIV and AIDS on teachers, lacking adequate data on teacher morbidity and absenteeism". Only in three of the countries surveyed have ministries made systematic attempts to train teachers on HIV and AIDS. No synergy effort The report also shows that the "relationships between civil society and Ministries of Education were often quite informal, and dependent on relationships between individuals rather than institutions." Civil society organisations, and thus teachers' unions affiliated to EI, have been involved in the IATT review process. EI affiliates emphasised that they seek partnership with the education and health authorities of their countries in order to achieve an effective and coordinated response to the pandemic. The report strongly supports this attitude and stresses that improved collaboration and partnership is needed between the Ministry of Education, civil society and development partners. The report also praises the role of teachers' unions: "In 79% of high prevalence countries, meetings of teachers unions address HIV and AIDS as standard item". In Senegal, Rwanda, South Africa – actually in almost all countries where EI affiliates implement the HIV and AIDS training programme – unions and government have entered a dialogue leading to a stronger education response. A crucial issue for the teaching community is the provision of prevention programmes, teacher training and orientation programmes in life skills and HIV/AIDS education. The report notes that "there is a considerable gap between the claimed development of HIV and AIDS curriculum and life skills programmes and the availability of support materials." A survey done by EI amongst its affiliates in Southern Africa confirms this. For EI, prevention programmes are the basis for any effective strategy. The conclusion of the IATT report is clear: "The pace is too slow, at all levels in the education sector". "That only half of the high prevalence countries could report the availability of HIV and AIDS materials to students in the tertiary sector is simply shocking," says the report. This raises questions on the ability of higher education institutions to prepare learners for their future roles as professionals, family and community members living in a world with HIV and AIDS. Likewise, there are hardly any guidelines for teachers to deal with HIV and AIDS in school settings. The report notes that further efforts to integrate HIV and AIDS in school curricula should be advocated. On this issue, Tania Boler of Action Aid notes that in the area of prevention huge ideological battles are still going on in which some governmental donors and (faith based) NGOs play a very confusing and divisive role. And again the conclusion of the report does not leave room to many interpretations: "Many ministries of education appear to continue to provide a part-time response to a full time crisis. Although many ministries may have a strategic plan, few have made concomitant strides in implementing these plans" EI started implementing a strategic programme for teachers in 1998. Since 2001, EI has been assisting teachers' unions in 17 countries to train education personnel. In four years, 133,000 teachers were trained in more than 25,000 schools.