The goal of ZIMTA/AFT is to create a learning environment for both students and educators in which lifestyle choice and low-risk behaviour can be taught and sustained. In addition to targeting teachers, ZIMTA/AFT carves out a crucial role for school principals at all levels in making schools low- rather than high-risk environments. This approach involves helping principals to recognise the problem and communicate its gravity, both among themselves and to teachers and students.
ZIMTA/AFT is motivated by the conviction that morals and values among teachers need to be reassessed. In short, these organisations hold that the education system needs to embrace change at every level so that teachers may be themselves be educated about, and to make personal changes in light of, the problem of HIV/AIDS.
ZIMTA leaders will identify key decision makers at all levels and initiate a qualitative response to mitigate and manage the HIV/AIDS problem. The initiative will mobilise teachers and principals through study sections that focus on the topic of initiating and sustaining change. These sessions will be structured by efforts to:
- review and revise policies, such as sick leave policies, and regulations;
- empower teachers and principals to respond in a timely way to the initiative;
- collect data about the problem of HIV/AIDS in the schools;
- cultivate partnerships with the Ministries of Health and Education, NGOs, and the Social Welfare Departments;
- create local networks and support groups to enable personnel to share information and prevention strategies;
- create an HIV/AIDS hotline at ZIMTA offices throughout the country;
- develop educational material for teachers from various sectors so that they might modify and enrich their curricula, promote choice, and encourage the adoption of sustainable changes in behaviour.
- address the problem of marginalisation of the infected and affected by involving them in teachers workshops as resource persons;
- establish permanent HIV/AIDS management structures at all levels of the Association; and
- develop a curriculum of lifestyle change for teachers and principals.
Teachers are among the three groups infected at the highest rate in Zimbabwe (the other two being the army and the police). This phenomenon has led to a loss of experienced personnel and a decline in the quality of education. The problem stems, in large part, from insufficient training in HIV/AIDS. First, while some teachers' colleges train would-be teachers in this area, the demand for teachers trained to discuss HIV/AIDS with their students is still unmet, and is growing. Second, these training programs do not provide concrete guidance as to teachers should work to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS.
The disease has, more specifically, influenced the education sector in several ways, all of which engender system inefficiency or outright failure. First, educators suffering with HIV/AIDS have not been adequately attentive to their students as a result of poor performance and decrease in time with students. In fact, ill teachers are thrown out of the system for 90 days after frequent absences. Many, then, drag themselves into the classroom to teach even when they are very ill. There is a high level of attrition due to chronic illness as well as death, relocation, job change, and retirement. There is an associated depleted number of principals all levels. Second, the educational experience of students with HIV/AIDS is impaired. Girls with HIV/AIDS are the first to be removed from schools.
There is an increase in the number of orphans, many of whom end up as caregivers of ill relatives. In short, there is an overall decline in enrollment due to HIV/AIDS.
The ZIMTA/AFT initiative grew out of the realisation that the low ratio of trained teachers to students is adversely affecting the quality of the educational experience and levels of enrollment. Teachers have been called poor educators about the problem of HIV/AIDS, as some of them have become poor role models. They lack the necessary knowledge on the issue, but most HIV and AIDS materials are designed for students rather than for teachers.
Furthermore, although behaviour change is urgently required on the part of teachers, this change cannot be achieved in an environment where mixed messages abound.
American Federation of Teachers (AFT); US State Department.
Letter sent from Roseline Mangota to the "AF-AIDS" Listserve on November 5, 2001.