Feature story

Supporting young learners living with HIV in Namibia and Tanzania

23 December 2008

"Supporting the educational needs of HIV-positive learners: Lessons from Namibia and Tanzania”.
Credit: UNESCO

According to a new UNESCO report the learning needs of HIV-positive children in Namibia and Tanzania are currently not being met by their education sectors whose AIDS responses are described as wanting in many respects.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that schools and the education sector have an opportunity and responsibility to support HIV-positive children in their leaning and social development. To enhance the capacity of the education sector, they commissioned this first report specifically on the educational needs of HIV-positive learners.

“Supporting the educational needs of HIV-positive learners: Lessons from Namibia and Tanzania” identifies the challenges facing educational institutions who want to respond to the needs of children and young people living with HIV and makes recommendations and guidelines on how best to support them.

The pervasive theme of stigma and discrimination is one of the most striking findings in the study. Every HIV-positive child interviewed in both Namibia and Tanzania described personal and ongoing experience of the negative consequences of disclosing their HIV status. Each felt that there was greater safety in keeping silent. Stigma was described as “more killing” than the disease itself.

The studies found that the information on HIV shared in schools was often “depersonalized and remote from the needs of the individuals infected and affected by the disease.” Associated with this sense of denial and silence surrounding HIV is a lack of effective communication about sex or reproductive health. In many schools this subject was found to be treated “flippantly.”

The review found that the school environment has the potential to offer important social and developmental support to a child. Families of HIV-positive children can themselves be adversely affected by HIV and this means teachers’ and peer support can be a valuable supplement to a child. As many HIV-positive children live in residential homes rather than family setting, the school becomes an important adjunct to institutional care.

The report argues that gaps in data and a lack of research are masking the extent of the failures to support HIV-positive learners. Meanwhile evidence of reduced school fees and expanded feeding schemes for children orphaned or made vulnerable by HIV as well as children living with HIV, suggests that “things are getting better.”

Improving the equitable delivery of accessible, quality education for all children is recommended by the UNESCO report is as important a focus as specific interventions for children living with HIV.

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Supporting the educational needs of HIV-positive learners: lessons from Namibia and Tanzania (pdf, 1.86 Mb - Currently available in English, the report is forthcoming in French and Portuguese. Limited copies of the report can be obtained free-of-charge by emailing to aids@unesco.org and specifying the number of copies and preferred language version)