(HN, September 20, 2010) - As a major UN review of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) opens today, a new study has cast doubt on the effectiveness of millions of dollars of donor money pumped into HIV AIDS prevention education in Africa.
Moreover, the study, supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), calls for “a comprehensive review and evaluation of all aspects of the delivery of HIV AIDS prevention education programmes in African schools.”
In short, the landmark study of 60,000 Grade Six pupils and their teachers in over 2500 schools in 15 countries, finds that students within most of the countries have “a generally low level of knowledge about HIV AIDS.” Only 20-40 percent of pupils reached the minimal knowledge level and less than 10 percent reached the desirable level.
The results are nothing short of damning and its authors of the study by the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) don’t hold back in their criticism.
“These research results should send major shockwaves through those governments, international agencies and development partners that have made substantial investments in HIV AIDS preventative education programmes for Africa.”
The authors point out that Grade Six pupils in Africa tend to be at a very vulnerable age and yet “their knowledge about HIV AIDS is clearly inadequate for the task of guiding their decisions about behaviours that will protect and promote health.
“This is not an acceptable outcome - given the extreme human suffering caused by HIV infection and the massive amount of effort that has been devoted to large-scale HIV AIDS prevention education programmes.”
Major donors for HIV AIDS prevention programmes in Africa include the Irish Government, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the UN and the Fast-track Initiative - which groups such donors as the World Bank, Australia, Canada, the US, UNICEF and the European Community.
Ironically, the study found that Grade Six teachers in Africa have very high knowledge levels about HIV AIDS. Said the study: “Almost all teachers in the SACMEQ countries reached the minimal knowledge level and around 80-90 percent of teachers in most SACMEQ countries reached the desirable knowledge level.”
The authors called for a comprehensive review of the delivery of HIV AIDS education programmes in Africa - and further research into explanations for the yawning knowledge gap.
“For some reason the knowledge in the teachers’ heads isn’t being transferred to the students,” said a UN official in southern Africa, who cant be identified because he doesn’t have authority to speak.
In some African countries, teaching HIV and AIDS - especially with curriculum containing explicit HIV information - is a tricky proposition, because of conservative beliefs or opposition from the Catholic church. In Lesotho, for example, most schools are church-owned and some education materials need to be signed off by the bishops overseeing them.
Education experts in the region say reaching children as young as possible with credible, preventative education is critical if there is to be a hope of stemming the HIV epidemic in this generation. Children as young as 10 need to be targeted given that the age of sexual debut in many African countries is as low as 12.
In the SACMEQ study, students in Mauritius, Lesotho and Zimbabwe scored the lowest and those in Malawi, Swaziland and Tanzania scored the highest. Yet even in Tanzania, the highest scoring, only 24 percent reached the desirable level.
SACMEQ studies are customarily seen as authoritative because the international, non-profit consortium groups the Ministries of Education in 15 countries in southern and eastern Africa. SACMEQ researchers used a recognized testing tool to probe students’ and teachers’ knowledge. The test has “a high level or reliability...and is suitable for placing pupils and their teachers on a common scale of knowledge about HIV-AIDS.”
According to UNAIDS, there are more than 20 million people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa, and around 10 percent of these people are below 15 years of age.
A UNESCO official who co-authored the study did not respond to email inquiries.
--- Reporting by HUMNEWS staff