In the past decade or more, the level and quality of HIV education in the public school system in Canada has declined considerably. A study that tracked high school students’ knowledge of HIV and compared it to knowledge levels ten years earlier, came out 2 years ago. It found a very significant decline in those HIV knowledge levels. Recently students in 7th, 9th and 11th grades believed either that there is a cure for HIV or that HIVis a chronic manageable disease not to be too concerned about. Little was know about transmission, risk factors and what it actually is.
On the other hand, as noted in an earlier post, authorities in Kenya, wanting to break the cycle of ignorance about HIV and its taboo status in that country, decided that getting the relevant information to the young people was a top priority. They embarked on an ambitious programs over 7 - 9 years of training certified HIV instructors in every one of the more than 18,000 primary and secondary schools in the country. They achieved that and did so trying to allow for as much local delivery and decision making around the process as possible. A commendable and difficult goal that was achieved with the help of Dr Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Social Justice and Sexual Health, at the University of Windsor and other NGO assistance. Dr. Maticka-Tyndale reported on this effort.
A recent evaluation of the project reported in a current HIV journal. It noted some problems in achieving the intended outcomes, and of course they largely have to do with peoples’ preconceived notions and fears.
The first big issue is the reluctance and inhibition of many of the teachers to discuss sexuality with the students even when the students indicate that they want to do so. This is based on the perception and fear of being seen to condone teen sex, pre-marital sex etc. The second issue is not that different and throws religion and morality into the mix. This is based on perceived pressure from parents expressing disapproval about talking about having sex outside the bounds of marriage and the “sinfulness” of all sexual expression that entails. The morality states that sex should not be a part of unmarried students lives and any sexual expression outside of marriage is sin!
And so open, informed and honest talk about HIV, HIV education and prevention gets compromised, if it happens at all
The situation in Canada and Kenya and many places in between, occurs in spite of the fact that on May 7, 2009. UNICEF warned that too many young people are unaware of the risks of HIV.