Educational Support and Vocational Training
Many children and youth affected by- or infected with- HIV/AIDS lack access to a complete and safe education. Education is vital for physical, intellectual, emotional and social development. It helps children gain the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to achieve their potential and secure their future. Schools can provide children with a safe, structured environment, adult supervision and emotional support, and opportunities to interact with other children and develop social networks. Research on children and AIDS demonstrates that quality education can significantly improve the well-being of orphans and vulnerable children and families.
Education plays an essential role in protecting vulnerable children from HIV infection by providing students with opportunities to develop age-appropriate, gender-sensitive life skills and to learn about sexual education, including HIV prevention strategies. Special outreach is needed for children who do not receive educational support, such as children of ill parents, children cared for by other adults or older children, children in institutions, and children on the street or working.
In discussing the effects of education on HIV/AIDS, Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the UNAIDS Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, states that, “One of the clearest lessons of the past three decades is that illiteracy and poverty fuel the spread of HIV and that education can slow it. Education — not just sex education but literacy, numeracy, critical-thinking and global citizenship — is the social equivalent of a vaccine, and it’s already available for clinical use” (September, 2012.)
Early Childhood Development (ECD)
From birth, children need care and support that promotes their intellectual and emotional development. During the first three years of life, 700 new connections form every second in the young brain. These connections set the foundation for all later cognitive development and skills. In early childhood, parents, caregivers and ECD programs are key partners in helping children develop social, verbal and motor skills that prepare them for life and learning.
Programs can build awareness of the importance of early childhood development and support parents and caregivers with training through home-based care programs, community crèches and integrated programs such as mother and child health services.
Children learn and develop extremely rapidly during early childhood. Their development depends on a number of key factors, including health, education, stimulation and interaction. Early education and development programs are particularly important for improving school readiness and socioeconomic growth, especially for girls. Interventions at this stage have great benefits including:
- Higher intelligence scores
- Higher and timelier school enrollment
- Less frequent grade repetition and lower dropout rates
- Higher school completion rates
- Improved nutrition and health status
- Improved social and emotional behavior
- Improved parent-child relationships
- Increased earning potential and economic self-sufficiency as an adult
- Increased female labor force participation
Early childhood development programs may be particularly important for HIV-infected children. Research indicates that HIV infection is associated with cognitive impairment in children, as a result of direct and indirect effects of the virus on the developing brain. HIV-affected and -infected children face developmental delays in addition to central nervous system damage. These programs should be linked to child survival and PMTCT programs in all areas and should be a major priority in areas with a high prevalence of HIV.
Children should have access to safe and child-friendly schools that provide them with a structured environment, social and emotional support and the supervision of adults.
The relationship between HIV and education is complex. Education has the potential to reduce the devastating effects of the HIV pandemic, and HIV/AIDS affects access to and quality of education at both a micro and macro level (JLICA).
How should educational support be delivered?
Educational support needs to address barriers to access for vulnerable children by:
- Supporting systemic interventions such as school block grants. Programs suggest that block grants are likely to benefit more students in high-prevalence contexts, are slightly more sustainable and may be more cost-effective than scholarships Center for Global Development, 2011).
- Supporting reduction of school-related costs through elimination of school fees and other expenses.
- Changing the way education is provided to reach children who are not in school-based education, including through community schools, informal education projects, interactive radio education and vocational training centers. This may include flexible schedules that allow for competing family responsibilities
- Indirectly increasing access to education by strengthening the economic position of families through social protection measures and income-generation activities, and by ensuring that children have birth registration so they are eligible for enrollment
- Improving educational quality by adapting curricula to make them more relevant to children, and by training teachers to meet children’s psychosocial needs
- Creating ‘child-friendly’ schools that provide a safe and healthy environment for children and staff, offer positive role models, address negative gender stereotypes, have HIV workplace policies in place, and adopt zero tolerance policies for gender-based violence
- Establishing vital linkages between schools and communities by integrating of community-based programs into (ECD) and school programs to strengthen family and community support to children.
- Mainstreaming HIV/AIDS education across the entire educational sector.
Key links for educational support
- EDUCAIDS – the Global Initiative on Education and HIV & AIDS – is led by UNESCO in collaboration with UNAIDS. It seeks to promote, develop and support comprehensive education sector responses to HIV and AIDS. The website provides a range of tools to support a comprehensive response to HIV in the educationsector.
- Africa Education Initiative (AEI) is funded by USAID and is a $600 million multi-year initiative that focuses on increasing access to quality basic education in 39 sub-Saharan countries through scholarships, textbooks, and teacher training programmes. Eighty million African children will have benefited from AEI by 2010.
- FHI 360 Global Education Center
- Sidibé, Michel (September, 2012). Putting Education First.