Group time at Teen Spirit recently focused on our experiences with HIV awareness and education at school.
Members identified feeling (understandably!) uncomfortable during classes, but also mentioned that teachers were often misinformed, misleading and inaccurate with the information delivered.
This is concerning on a couple levels. It means that not only are educators potentially spreading myths, but as a result, potentially entrenching social stigma and feelings of exclusion. Let’s hear from the Teen Spirit members themselves!
Compiled below are the teen’s tips to teachers as well as their experiences with stigma within school.
If confidentiality were not an issue, the one thing I would have told my class and teacher about being affected by HIV is…
“I would shout, ‘this is where you flopped!’ And take the class and tell them all the details and facts.”
“A boy said, ‘the one thing positive about your lifestyle is your HIV status,’ and I couldn’t say anything. It was offensive and wouldn’t have been allowed if they said something like that about cancer.”
“Jokes about HIV are not okay.”
My one tip for a teacher who is teaching about HIV is…
“Don’t call it a disease.”
“Don’t say how everyone is ill and weak.”
“Explain that you can live with HIV and it does not have to be a life-limiting virus.”
“Don’t say it’s the same as AIDS or that it is the thing before you get AIDS and die.”
“Go into detail and make sure you get the facts straight.”
“Reassure people by explaining the false routes of transmission.”
“Don’t let people in the class express inaccurate stereotypes.”
“Don’t talk about Africa as a place where everyone is ill and poor and has HIV.”
“Talk about medication.”
The one thing that all students should not leave school without knowing about HIV is…
‘You can live with it.’
‘It is not just transmitted by sex.’
‘That HIV and AIDS are not the same thing.’
‘It’s not funny.’
‘It’s not a joke.’
When I was at school the one thing that did not work when you were taught about HIV was…
“The way that other illnesses are taken so seriously and not HIV. Because of the stigma I couldn’t explain what it’s like. If its cancer or diabetes people talk about it and get sympathy.”
“It’s not the same as Ebola.”
“I didn’t attend any HIV lessons I can’t take it I just go to the toilet or leave.”
“They explained more detail about STIs than HIV and also kind of lumped them together.”
If I could sum up what my HIV education was like at school in one word it would be…
“I felt I knew more than the teacher.”
If you’re a teacher looking for ways to teach the facts around HIV, check out Life in my Shoes, a resource of lesson plans, activities and film designed in partnership with young people living with and closely affected by HIV.