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Research Chair: HIV & AIDS in Education


Project leaders: Naydene de Lange (NMMU) and Deevia Bhana (UKZN)
Co-researchers: Claudia Mitchell (McGill University), Lebo Moletsane (HSRC), Robert Balfour (St Augustines), Vitallis Chikoko, Volker Wedekind, Daisy Pillay and Thabisile Buthelezi (UKZN)




This NRF funded project, “Teacher development and rural education in the age of AIDS,” takes as its broad goal the notion of drawing together several research areas which ‘converge’ on teacher development in rural education in the age of AIDS. Five study areas include:

1. Reflexive methodologies in studying teachers’ lives
At the centre of this project we would argue, is the specific study of teachers’ lives, and the use of reflexive methodologies which contribute to teachers acquiring a greater awareness of themselves as assets. Biographical and autobiographical methods such as self-study and auto-ethnography are already underway in the Faculty (Mitchell and Weber, 2005; Pithouse, 2005, 2006; Stuart, 2006; Grossi, 2006), along with oral histories and life-histories. Research and anecdotal evidence suggests that there are significant challenges faced by teachers in rural areas, and that teachers respond in very different ways to these challenges. For women teachers, one of the challenges can mean commuting long distances and living outside the community. For those actually living in rural areas, both men and women, issues of exclusion and ostracisation can be critical. Far from attempting to homogenize and narrow the field, we need to expand our understanding of teachers’ work in rural areas, and to deepen an understanding of schools as ‘community centres’ within rural communities. Most particularly, though, we think it is critical to ensure that teachers’ voices in terms of the impact of HIV and AIDS on their own lives are not ignored. We know from the work carried out by the HSRC on the impact of HIV and AIDS on educators (HSRC, 2005) that there is a need to build in a recognition of the ways that HIV and AIDS is having an effect on teachers’ everyday lives – ranging from dealing with bereavement and loss in the school, through to dealing with bereavement and loss in their own lives.

2. School leadership and management 

School leadership, as has been well established in the effective school literature around the world is a critical feature of quality schooling. Not surprisingly when South Africa embarked on the transformation of its school system after the 1994 elections, it turned first to education management and the human resources sector as the key entry point to change. An every voice counts framework (at least implicitly) was at the heart of the South African Schools Act (SASA) which laid the foundation for decentralization and local governances through school governing bodies, youth participation through the Representative Council of Learners, school management teams (as opposed to schools being led solely by principals) and strong recommendations around training for principals that would prepare them for these new leadership roles (Beckman, Foster and Smith, 1997; Smith, Sparkes and Thurlow, 2001). Clearly however education management and governance remains a challenge, particularly in rural schools as Gordon (1999) and many others since have pointed out. What has become apparent though in the emerging literature on school change is that leadership can be manifested in a variety of ways, both formally and informally. Within an asset-based framework, one might look at how different types of leadership emerge, and how leaders, regardless of whether they are working formally or informally take account of the school and community assets. The studies within this Study Area will explore school leadership through an asset-based ‘lens’. Critical questions revolve around the overall effectiveness of ‘whole school development’: what are some examples of effective leadership within an informal context? How does gender come into play in terms of overall effectiveness? How does leadership play out in relation to taking into account the community and in particular community support for vulnerable children?

3. Voices of young people

Developing a coherent and relevant approach to interacting with children and young people in rural areas is critical. In rural areas where ‘every voice counts’ it is a critical that schools see young people as allies in developing a future for communities. Teachers may not have had exposure to human rights frameworks which support the rights of children, and may not realize how significant the voices of youth could be in combating violence in and around schools, in participating in classroom management (as an alternative to corporal punishment for example) and so on. Young people, we know, are often disillusioned, see little place for themselves in rural areas, and it is not uncommon for them to migrate to cities. Teachers and other adults in the community sometimes ‘demonize’ young people, as we saw in a recent health study where teachers and community health care workers were asked to visually respond to ‘challenges and solutions in addressing HIV and AIDS’ (Mitchell et al, 2005). How teachers can engage young people themselves as knowledge producers in addressing HIV and AIDS prevention, education and care is a key question in testing out asset-based approaches in schools.

An important finding from our previous work in supporting teachers to work with young people is the significance of using media, arts-based and other participatory approaches to addressing HIV and AIDS (Mitchell et al, in press; Moletsane et al, 2005; Mitchell et al, 2006). Approaches to addressing youth participation vary from those which have a strong media base such as photography and video and including indigenous media, to those which draw on other arts-based and other participatory approaches such as drama and role play, writing, the uses of literature to explore gender and sexuality, etc. However, while participatory methodologies seem to be ideal for reaching young people, and indeed can contribute to a youth-empowerment model of education, teachers need a great deal of support in this work if they are to move from a transmission model of teaching to a more learner-centred approach. At the same time, however, the idea that teachers themselves can gain valuable skills-building in such areas as photography and poster production, film-making, IT and new media suggests that ‘what is good for young people is also good for teachers?’(Mitchell, Kusner and Charbonneau-Gowdy, 2004). In particular this approach responds to the critical issue of intergenerationality in addressing HIV and AIDS.

4. Teachers and communities addressing gender violence

Addressing gender violence in rural schools remains a critical area of concern, as the recent South African Human Rights report (2006) points out. Male teachers continue to be perpetrators of violence, male students, as a recent study by Sathiparsad points out, continue to see it as their right and ‘their culture’ to hit their girlfriends and to engage in coercive sex (Sathiparsad, 2006). Even very young boys in primary schools, as Bhana points out (in press) are already enculturated in terms of expressing power through sexual violence. Girls and young women end up leaving school because of pregnancy and continue to be at the highest risk biologically and socially for becoming infected with HIV. A gap in much of the literature is in the area of counselling and it here that the work on asset-building seems crucial critical (De Lange, 2006). As we have seen in our recent work in a rural district, young people are asking what life after abuse looks like, a question which implies a lack of understanding of care and counseling, and a lack of opportunity for these voices to be counted or heard.

Beyond this, though, what has also become obvious in some of our work with young people is that they themselves are noting the absence of a discourse for discussing gender violence, and for addressing masculinities and femininities amongst the community and in their own homes. As we have found in our recent work in rural settings where we used visual methodologies, there is clearly no one answer except to begin to see it a cross-cutting issue that runs beyond the school and into the community, and to see the community itself as an asset in creating safe schools and safe communities in terms of the response of the school, the community, parents and so on.

5. Partnerships and pedagogies in preparing new teachers

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