China’s vocational schools play a key role in AIDS education
16 October 2009
The Zhaoqing Vocational School in Guangdong, China, provides basic technical skills to several thousand migrant workers a year. It is also one of the first schools of its kind in the country to include information on sexuality, reproductive health and HIV in its core curriculum. This model has now been scaled up nationally with technical assistance from the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Programmes like the one supported by ILO can serve as an excellent model to reach tens of millions of young people and their partners in China, right at the age when they are most prone to behaviours that put them at risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.
Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in China
Many graduates from Zhaoqing’s school will find jobs along the province’s Pearl River Delta, which is the largest manufacturing zone in the world and employs over 60 million migrant workers from China’s rural areas. Before the students, who range in age from 14 to 19, enter the world of work, teachers are committed to imparting knowledge which will help protect them against frequent incidences of unwanted pregnancies and reportedly high rates of sexually transmitted infections such as HIV.
For many young people at the school the intervention seems to be working and they are reaping the benefits of greater openness and access to information. According to one female student, “At the beginning of HIV training I felt very nervous and shy. After the teacher's explanation I felt natural and accepted what she said. I felt I had known nothing about HIV… People with HIV are not dangerous and they don't deserve any discrimination.”
Using the example of Zhaoqing and other similar schools, the ILO and the United States Department of Labor, (USDOL) have set out to reach as many of the 18 million students in the country’s 16,000 vocational schools as possible.
The ILO/USDOL project, known as SHARE (Strategic HIV/AIDS Responses in Enterprises), recognises that vocational schools are in a position to reach large
numbers of vulnerable young people with HIV, STI and reproductive health
training. A survey of 1,602 female students from vocational schools in Anhui, for example, showed that nearly 12% said they had had sex and, among these, more than 60% reported pre-marriage pregnancies.
Based on this need, SHARE has established programmes in 1000 vocational schools and trained over 2000 teachers in delivering participatory training. The Chinese Ministry of Human Resources is supporting this effort with a national policy which requires all vocational schools under its authority to integrate STI, HIV and reproductive health training into the psychological health curriculum.
According to Richard Howard, ILO Chief Technical Advisor of the HIV/AIDS workplace education project in China, "It is estimated that with the capacity built
in the vocational schools, five million students will be reached in China over the next five years.”
The authorities in the country are very much aware that, despite early successes, the project needs careful monitoring and evaluation. “Challenges ahead include how to track the impact of this intervention,” says Zheng Dongliang, from the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and National Project Director of the ILO/USDOL HIV/AIDS workplace project. He adds, "We can now assess how that knowledge has been transferred during examinations but our objective is to facilitate behaviour change and we are looking at ways to better monitor and evaluate the impact of the interventions to make sure we achieve positive behaviours among these vulnerable youth.”
In principle, sex education in Chinese schools was established in 1992. However, its implementation and effectiveness varies. Ms. Li Hua, a teacher at the Wuhu vocational school reports that “most often it is the teachers who are embarrassed to talk about sex with their students. The students are eager to learn and – when given the right space – talk openly about their experiences”. It is one of the objectives of this programme to equip teachers with the knowledge, the skills and tools to frankly discuss sexual and reproductive health issues in class.
“It is refreshing and encouraging to see teachers and students interact in a lively and imaginative way about rather private matters”, says Dr Bernhard Schwartländer, UNAIDS Country Coordinator in China. “Programmes like the one supported by ILO can serve as an excellent model to reach tens of millions of young people and their partners in China, right at the age when they are most prone to behaviours that put them at risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.”.