Dare to be Different: Enhancing Life Skills Education for HIV Prevention in South African Schools

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Author: 
Tobey Nelson Sapiano
Nathi Sohaba
Eka Esu-Williams
Affiliation: 

The Population Council

Publication Date

March 1, 2008

According to this 8-page research brief, reaching young South Africans with effective prevention programming has become key to slowing the rate of HIV infection. One of the main strategies the South African Government has used to build HIV prevention awareness and promote behaviour change among young people is through school-based life skills education, which is part of the Life Orientation Programme.

A study conducted by Horizons, a programme of the Population Council, revealed that life skills programmes in South Africa have more impact on younger youth (ages 10 to 14) than older youth (ages 15 to 24). This younger age group - bridging childhood and adolescence - therefore presents a special window of opportunity for HIV prevention. Horizons researchers found that young people 10 to 14 years old are particularly receptive to messages about abstinence or delaying sex and being faithful. To improve HIV prevention programming for this age group, Horizons, in collaboration with education specialists and representatives from South Africa's National Department of Education implemented a pilot project. The pilot project involved:

  • the development of a programme for sixth and seventh grade learners that promotes a balanced "ABC" strategy, emphasising abstinence (A) and being faithful (B), while building upon existing condom (C) knowledge;
  • building the capacity of teachers to implement and deliver the programme within the existing Life Orientation curriculum; and
  • an assessment of the feasibility, relevance, and acceptability of the programme among teachers and learners.



Horizons and partners conducted three activities: a consultative workshop, curriculum development, and pilot testing of the curriculum. The resulting Dare to be Different (D2BD) module includes messages that promote the advantages of abstinence and faithfulness/mutual monogamy and highlight the consequences of risky sexual engagement. D2BD also incorporates activities to build such critical skills as decision-making, critical thinking, problem solving, negotiation, resisting peer pressure, and communication.

A study of the pilot programme found the following:

  • Teachers and learners feel positive about D2BD - Teachers appreciated the learner-centered approach and the clear and comprehensive messaging and skills-building activities.
  • Learners want more than just HIV prevention information - Teachers and learners generally agreed that D2BD does more than provide the basics of HIV prevention by building critical thinking and decision-making skills, fostering communication about HIV, and encouraging learners to identify risky behaviours and recognise the consequences of those behaviours.
  • D2BD enhances the Life Orientation Programme - For example, D2BD provides more specific information about HIV/STI prevention and transmission. D2BD is learner-centered and provides opportunity for self-expression and creativity through role-plays, games, singing, and topical discussions.
  • D2BD improves parent-child communication - Many teachers felt the Home Talk component of D2BD presented a unique opportunity to involve parents in their children’s sexuality education.
  • Challenges to implementation remain - One of the major challenges during implementation was insufficient time. An over-committed school schedule, a lengthy teachers’ strike, and a short implementation period all contributed to this. Language was another issue, as the curriculum was developed in English, which is not the first language of the majority of learners.



According to study respondents, the Life Orientation Programme was easily able to incorporate D2BD into its existing curriculum. The report suggests that with a stronger focus on abstinence and partner reduction, the D2BD module helped fill serious gaps in the Life Orientation Curriculum. Teachers, learners, and parents were enthusiastic about D2BD, citing its learner-centered approach and such components as Home Talk, which helped bridge the communication gap on difficult issues between learners and their parents. A more rigorous evaluation is necessary to determine whether D2BD can have an impact on sexual behaviour and knowledge. Horizons plans to revise the curriculum module based on the pilot’s findings to further improve its acceptability and usefulness among teachers and learners.

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