Global Co-ordination > Working Group on Education for All >
First meeting / Document 8
Inter-Agency Working Group
on AIDS, Schools and Education
Sheldon Shaeffer


Why this strategy framework?

At the request of UNAIDS, the UNAIDS Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) on AIDS, Schools, and Education met very recently in Geneva at UNAIDS (1-3 November, 2000) to discuss a global strategy framework on AIDS, Schools, and Education. For the first time, this IAWG expanded participation to include non-UN agencies, including key bilaterals, INGOs, and international teachers' unions and education associations. The IAWG is expected to report to the UNAIDS PCB meeting early in December on progress regarding the development of the global strategy.

Who is it for?

The idea for this strategy framework was initiated through UNAIDS and is intended to articulate with the UNAIDS global framework currently being developed. By definition, a global strategy framework cannot be specific, and so will be designed to guide potential stakeholders at any level through the key issues, but to encourage adaptation and local level iteration. While clearly directed at education systems, and particularly at improving the reach and effectiveness of programs delivered by or through schools, all that needs to be done cannot be achieved by the education sector alone. A range of sectors are encouraged to consider the key issues and collaborate on supportive strategies for achieving common goals.

What is the purpose?

The proposed global strategy framework is intended to highlight AIDS issues related to schools and education systems, within a broader framework which will focus on young people, which will in turn link to the overarching UNAIDS global framework. As such, the strategy framework will be necessarily limited to schools and education systems as important vehicles for reaching young people, who are of critical importance to the prevention of AIDS and to promoting caring and supportive communities and schools, while some are themselves affected by AIDS. The strategy framework will sharply focus on children and young people of school age, especially those in school, but will also look to bring more children into school as well as to reach out into the community.

What are the key elements of the strategy framework?

The current draft of the global strategy framework on AIDS, schools, and education focuses two main tracks:

(i) Responding to the impact of AIDS on education, and

(ii) Using education for AIDS prevention, within a continuum of care and support

1) Responding to the impact of AIDS on education

While in some parts of the world AIDS is not having a clear impact on education, in the most AIDS affected countries, especially Sub-Saharan Africa, the main ways that AIDS is making an impact is by affecting

  • the supply of education (teachers dying, sick, or caring for others),

  • the demand for education (orphans, children affected and infected by AIDS not able to attend school regularly),

  • the quality of education (AIDS escalates the problems of already struggling systems), and

  • the management of education (inability or inactivity regarding long term planning which considers and responds to AIDS)
  • Some studies on the impact of AIDS on education have been conducted in African countries affected by AIDS. The overwhelming need is for guidance on possible responses. One possibility is to look to the relative success in some countries or to consider AIDS as integral to a broader agenda of overall education reform. The International Institute of Educational Planning (UNESCO) in Paris is working to serve as a clearinghouse for studies and activities in this area.

    2) Using education for AIDS prevention, within a continuum of care and support

    AIDS prevention education delivered through schools, whether via formal and non-formal approaches, has enormous potential for reaching children and young people with necessary information and skills to protect themselves and to help them to cope with the impact of AIDS on their lives and their communities. Effective skills-based health education, in whatever form it takes at the school level, is considered a key strategy. However, in general this potential has not been realized.

    Three key reasons why effective AIDS prevention education has not reached its potential for preventing AIDS and for helping people cope with the impact of AIDS include:

    a. A belief that AIDS prevention, reproductive or sexual health education leads to increased sexual activity

    Despite volumes of research evidence to the contrary, this persistent belief has stymied many attempts to provide young people with the information and skills they need to protect themselves and to care for and support others affected or infected by AIDS. Cultural taboos and the 'sensitivity' of the content area are often cited as the reasons why AIDS prevention cannot be institutionalized. In reality, sex is a sensitive or special issue in all communities, but some overcome this barrier more effectively than others.

    b. A belief that AIDS prevention education doesn't work

    Two key factors influence the above belief. Firstly, expectations of AIDS prevention education are often too high. AIDS prevention focuses on the intermediate factors of knowledge, attitudes, and skills which can contribute to behaviour change; however AIDS prevention education alone are unlikely to achieve and maintain behaviour change in the long term. To achieve long term behaviour change, a range of consistent, long-term, supportive strategies, including AIDS prevention education through schools will be required.

    Secondly, AIDS prevention education has seldom been implemented with sufficient quality and coverage to allow for a fair evaluation. Where evaluations are unfavourable, the conclusions often point to ineffective implementation rather than an ineffective program per se. This is also true for many other education programs. Education in general is labour intensive and relies on human capacity to a great extent, which makes good quality education expensive. However, education, and especially marginalised programs such as AIDS prevention programs, is often under-funded with inadequate attention to the necessary related strategies which will maximise the success of such programs - such as appropriately funded and effectively implemented policies, related health services, and links with the community and other sectors.

    c. The broader context of struggling education systems

    AIDS exacerbates the challenges of already struggling education systems. AIDS prevention education is one of many strategies required to respond to the challenges of preventing AIDS and mitigating its impact. AIDS prevention education works best in the context of supportive and consistent policies, related services, and links to the broader community and other sectors. Any form of education will be less effective, or even ineffective, where the physical environment is inadequate (classrooms, furniture, health facilities…), where the psychosocial environment is less than child-(or teacher-) friendly (physical and sexual abuse, corporal punishment…), where education management and administrative considerations are less than supportive (overcrowded classes; low or irregular salaries for teachers; ineffective, discriminatory or "AIDS-risky" policies. As such, the effectiveness of AIDS prevention education is frustrated by the same factors which erode broader education systems.

    In order to implement effective AIDS prevention programs through schools which have the necessary quality and coverage, intensive advocacy is required to influence the three key barriers outlined above. Communicating the evidence, listening and responding to community concerns, and valuing community opinions must be considered key factors to success in this regard, while effective resource mobilization will underpin the success of such efforts.

    Other Considerations within the Global Strategy Framework

    The current structure of the draft strategy framework encourages attention to both macro and micro issues within the two main tracks of:

    a. the impact of AIDS on schools and education systems and

    b. using education to prevent AIDS, within a continuum of care and support.

    In addition, the drafting group and collaborating agencies and stakeholders are currently grappling with the challenges of making the strategy framework timely and sufficiently relevant for the diverse experiences of countries around the world without being prescriptive.

    Key issues include:

    1. Reflecting the range of country experience

    Recognition of the need to engage countries with low prevalence, to motivate countries with emerging prevalence, and to activate countries with high prevalence must be reflected in the final document.

    2. Reflecting cross-cutting issues

    A range of important cross-cutting issues, such as the pervasive effect of poverty, gender, inequality, and human rights abuses, needs to be reflected in the strategy document.

    3. Encouraging innovation and intersectoral collaboration

    Improving the effectiveness of schools to prevent AIDS and related discrimination, and to promote care and support for those affected and infected, needs to be considered within the broader intersectoral capacity and a need for innovation - beyond formal school-based programs to non-formal and community-based approaches; beyond schools as passive institutions and towards schools as active community resources; and beyond teachers as the only facilitator of programs and support.

    4. Broad participation in an inclusive process

    The recent meeting in Geneva at UNAIDS (1-3 November, 2000) was merely the initiation of a broader process designed to rally the support, interest, and debate of the full range of stakeholders in improving the capacity for schools and education systems to both respond to the impact of AIDS and to deliver more effective AIDS prevention, within a continuum of care and support necessary for those already affected or infected. A number of mechanisms have been put in place by this core group, including informal dissemination of the first draft to regional and local levels, and to other potential partners, before developing subsequent drafts, and releasing a final document in time to coincide with other important events.