Research unit evaluates HIV/AIDS education in schools

28 August 2006

The Western Cape Department of Education and Health has appointed the Adolescent Health Research Institute (AHRI) in the School of Child and Adolescent Health to evaluate selected HIV/AIDS peer education prevention programmes in the province's high schools.

The evaluation project will run over the next three years. The contract follows the release of findings and recommendations by the AHRI based on the evaluation of loveLife and GOLD peer education projects in 2005. The interdisciplinary evaluation team is headed by the unit's director, Professor Alan Flisher.

The province's schools are tough environments to work in. They are under-resourced, there is high teacher absenteeism, sexual harassment is on the rise and gangsterism is rife.

"But schools are an important setting for HIV/AIDS interventions among adolescents in South Africa because a high proportion of youths are sexually active and their peers exert a great deal of influence when it comes to sexual activity," researcher Dr Terry-Ann Selikow said. "Adolescence is a particularly trying developmental phase. In addition, HIV/AIDS education is a very complex issue, and teachers are not adequately equipped to deal with HIV/AIDS prevention and youth sexuality."

Although many of the peer-based interventions had not reached the intended student audience in a systematic manner, Selikow said the study had identified a number of positive outcomes of the interventions. "Peer education programmes give youth confidence, a channel for their energy and a chance to make a difference."

It was necessary to identify how these benefits could be transferred to a broader group of students.

The contract is an important endorsement for the AHRI. The evaluation highlights challenges faced by HIV prevention project implementers in schools, but it also draws attention to many good practices and positive developments in youth education. This is important, especially at a time of high negativity about youth and youth issues.

Team member Thabile Ketye said: "Through a number of processes, such as this evaluation, the province has actively engaged and reflected on the effectiveness of various school-based approaches."

Flisher added: "It really stands to the credit of the Departments of Health and Education that they have seen the need for these interventions to be evaluated by contracting an unbiased, outside group."

(The evaluation team comprised Zanine Wolf, Liezille Pretorius and Catherine Mathews.)

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