Impact of HIV/Aids on schools

In the wake of World Health Day, commemorated around the globe a few days ago, it is prudent to highlight the impact that HIV and AIDS has had on the education sector in Zimbabwe and in the Sub-Saharan region at large.

The relationship between HIV/AIDS and the education sector is like a vicious circle. As the epidemic worsens, the education sector is damaged, which, in turn, is likely to increase the incidence of transmission.

Essentially, the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be conceptualised as affecting education through many different mechanisms and if these are not properly identified, it will continue to take a toll on the education sector and erode the country’s human resources.

HIV and AIDS affects the demand for education, its supply, the resources it needs, its potential clientele, its process, content and the entire school organisation, reducing sector-wide planning and management and donor support for the system.

At the macro-level, AIDS will have the long-term effect of there being fewer pupils to educate. This will be because populations will be significantly smaller than they would have been in the absence of AIDS.

With AIDS in the family, it means either there is no longer a source of regular income or else whatever income was coming in is directed to palliative care for the sick person.

The second feature is the extensive difference in attendance rates between orphans and non-orphans. Given the close link between Aids and orphanhood, it seems clear that one major impact of Aids on pupils is to reduce the likelihood of their school attendance.

“HIV/Aids affects the demand for education because there will be fewer children to educate, fewer children can afford the costs of education, and for socio-economic reasons, more children will drop out of school without completing the normal primary school cycle,” observed Peter Makoni, a lecturer in the Department of Educational Foundations at the University of Zimbabwe.

It also seems likely that the fewer children will want to be educated, partly because of the trauma they have suffered through the experience of AIDS in their families.

Meanwhile, the elderly children tend to drop out of school and seek employment to generate income for family support or become care-givers for the sick or babysitters for younger siblings. Heart and hope have gone out of many of them. They are so overwhelmed by the extra chores, and their attention is diverted from the goal to attain a formal school education.

HIV and AIDS affects teachers as well. The epidemic has had a devastating impact on the already inadequate supply of teachers in Zimbabwe and other countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Infected teachers are likely to take increasing periods of time off work. Those with sick relatives may also take time off to attend funerals or to care for sick or dying relatives. Further absenteeism may result from the psychological effects of the epidemic.

When a teacher falls ill, the class may be taken by another teacher, may be combined with another class or may be left untaught altogether.

Even when there is a sufficient supply of teachers to replace losses, there can be a significant impact on the pupils. The illness or death of a teacher is especially devastating in rural areas where schools depend heavily on one or two teachers. Moreover, skilled and experienced teachers are not easily replaced.

The epidemic affects the availability of both pupils and private resources for education. The United Nations Development Programme estimates that global economic growth has declined by 1.4 percent due to the impact of HIV and AIDS on the global economy. The adverse impact is attributed to decreased revenues and increased costs. Absenteeism due to illness, time off for funerals and time spent training a less experienced labour force, which reduce productivity and, hence, translates in to lower revenues. Spending on health care costs, burial expenses, and recruitment and training of replacement employees would lead to increased costs.

AIDS sickness and mortality strike disproportionately in the working age population. Deprived of the breadwinner, households are left without the resources to pay school fees and to meet the many educational needs of their children.

Within the household, a large proportion of greatly reduced resources may be diverted to traditional healing, local and other medicines, special foods and cleansing materials for an AIDS- infected person, to the detriment of what might be spent on meeting the education costs of children, particularly girls.

HIV/AIDS also impacts on education. The growth in the number of orphans is taxing families and society at large. Few orphans are afforded school fees.

Many have to care for others in the homes they live. Many have to work to support themselves and their younger siblings. Many carry responsibilities well beyond their capabilities as children.

Some are so traumatised by the death of a family member that they cannot concentrate in class and a significant number are at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS through the consequentially inescapable vice of prostitution.

Most children orphaned by AIDS are excluded from the gaiety of a normal childhood economically and psychologically, and they have needs that differ from those of other children in school, needs to which the school must respond.

The number of street children is also increasing rapidly. Poverty and family disintegration, due to death and divorce, are factors leading to this.

Family structures that should have supported them have collapsed, frequently because of HIV/Aids, leaving them with no choice but to roam the streets to fen for themselves. Their peers in rural and remote areas are children from HIV/AIDS affected families who do not attend school because AIDS care has absorbed the meagre family resources, leaving nothing for school fees.

Some end up spending school time on household chores, caring for the sick or for children, herding cattle or petty trading that can no longer be undertaken by infected adults.

The advent of HIV and AIDS has changed the role of the school. Traditionally, schools were expected to educate the child across the broad spectrum of the intellectual, social, moral, cultural, physical and spiritual domains but are reduced to institutions of instruction on HIV and AIDS.
<BR> Reverend Rinashe, a Special Needs Education guru at the University of Zimbabwe, believes that the intrusion of HIV/AIDS necessitates psychological support for children from affected families.

Teachers, he says, “find that increasingly they are being called upon to counsel their pupils and help them deal with the stresses arising from HIV/AIDS in their families”.

Studies on orphans have identified the need to help children express their feelings in appropriate ways and the need for those working with children to be able to adopt suitable communication and counselling roles.

In other words, in addition to their traditional concern with intellectual development, schools are slowly recognising the need to play a more pro-active role in pupil psychological support and counselling.

What has been put forward suggests that HIV/AIDS is creating a host of problems that threaten to overwhelm the very fabric and structure of educational organisation, management and provision as we have traditionally known it.

This is a correct observation. As alluded to earlier on, the school in an AIDS infected world cannot be the same as the school in an Aids-free world. The crucial questions are, what to do about it all, and how to stem the tide.

l Albert Mugumwa is studying Special Needs Education at the University of Zimbabwe.

December 2006
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