Teachers' Attitudes towards Adolescent Sexuality and Life Skills Education in Rural South Africa

June 2013 - Structural Prevention

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Smith, K.A. and Harrison, A. Sex Education (2013), Vol. 13 No. 1, pp. 68-81.

The authors conducted qualitative research with 43 secondary school teachers and administrators from 19 schools in rural KwaZulu Natal, South Africa to understand their attitudes towards sexuality education, HIV, and adolescent sexuality; and to determine the level of implementation of the school-based life skills curriculum for HIV prevention. Informants’ strong views on morality and young people’s sexuality, particularly regarding girls and pregnant students, may pose barriers to implementing education on HIV prevention and sexuality. Stigma towards HIV within the general community was apparent. Pregnant students were often pressured to leave school, and sexual behaviors and relationships were discouraged. Most respondents reported that dissemination of the life skills curriculum was very informal because of limited time and high workloads, but they discussed other school-based sexual education, which revealed varying levels of comfort in presenting these topics. Most informants ardently supported this education, including for teachers, and offered strategies, e.g., inviting external HIV programs into schools. Most teachers were knowledgeable about HIV transmission and prevention but less knowledgeable about testing and treatment. Some teachers supported traditional practices such as virginity testing and believed themselves socioeconomically superior to the student community. School-based initiatives may enhance HIV prevention in South Africa, yet future interventions should assess teachers’ knowledge of HIV and perceptions of adolescent sexuality, and should address young people's varied life and sexual experiences.

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