Critical findings on HIV/AIDS teaching and learning at TVET colleges: Study paves way for innovative public-private sector collaboration

The first study ever conducted to ascertain capacities among South African TVET colleges to teach and support learning about HIV/AIDS is complete and the results are already being used for new projects.

This baseline study was conducted in 2015 by the Higher Education and Training HIV/AIDS Programme (HEAIDS) of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET).

The study made some critical findings with the overall conclusion that the current HIV/AIDS policies for TVETs are outdated, that the curriculum needs strengthening and that action plans are urgently needed.

The greatest gap across TVETs is that their curricula are almost entirely technical and focussed purely on vocational training. They lack varied content and while some do offer life-skills training, there are many weaknesses that need to be addressed.

This translates into a lack of teaching about health and wellness, exacerbates risky sexual behaviour, substance abuse and gender-based violence and more specifically the inability of students to deal with HIV and related issues in their places of work. These gaps may further have the combined effect of preventing many students from completing their training or entering the job market.

HEAIDS implements a two-pronged approach across 50 technical and vocational training colleges (TVETs) and 26 universities: it supports the roll out of comprehensive campus-based health and wellness initiatives to ensure students and graduates remain healthy. It also strengthens teaching and learning about personal and professional competencies so students can compete as part of a productive labour force.

TVETs are ideally placed to address students on the issues of HIV/AIDS, health and related social challenges because of their location and the central role they play in social and youth development, and as the source of graduates ready to enter various industries.

In explaining the aim of the study, Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia, director of HEAIDS said: “Investment in our youth is an investment well placed.”

The findings are being used to inform strategies on how to improve life orientation teaching in colleges. Essentially this will be done by reviewing and strengthening the curriculum and capacitating lecturers to teach it.

A number of stakeholders and partners are already part of the initiative including the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Department of Mineral Resources (DMR), the Chamber of Mines and the South African Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (SABCOHA).

HEAIDS intends to share the findings with other role players including the Departments of Labour and Agriculture and Business Unity South Africa (BUSA) in order to strengthen collaborations and maximise the opportunity to improve student through put rates and the national economic outcomes.

“These organisations and their stakeholders have recognised that the HIV/TB co-epidemics take a heavy toll on the labour force – where many recruits are TVET graduates,” continued Dr Ahluwalia. “So while the students are in the higher education and training environment, we have the opportunity to build their skills and competencies to contribute to the management of HIV/TB and related issues in their worlds of work.”

Deputy Minister of Higher Education and Training, Mr Mduduzi Manana said: “Together, DHET, HEAIDS, our stakeholders and other role players have a keen interest in improving the knowledge and competency of young graduates to protect their own health, and enhance the wellbeing of families and communities.”

In line with the HEAIDS’s commitment to ensure more people have access to HIV/AIDS knowledge, prevention and treatment, the study has already reached out to economic sectors which have for decades struggled to mitigate the effects of HIV/TB co-epidemics.

Two pilot projects have begun in the mining and agricultural sectors – South Africa’s major industries. It is important to first look at these two sectors as they are seen to be major employers of labour that come from the TVET colleges. Research suggests that while HIV/AIDS impacts on these particular sectors significantly, TVET curriculum has not yet addressed the need in the training of its students.

South Africa is estimated to have the world’s fifth-largest mining sector which contributes about 18% to the GDP and is one of the top employers in South Africa.

Agriculture is also an important economic sector – largely because of its potential to create jobs. It is estimated that around eight million people are directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture for a living.

Hence, TVETs operating in the mining areas of Gauteng, Limpopo and the Northern Cape will be incorporated into the HEAIDS National Skills Fund programme with ILO, SABCOHA, the DMR and other stakeholders helping to develop and implement richer curricula.

Agricultural courses into which HEAIDS and partners will incorporate new teachings on HIV, TB, STIs and the mainstreaming of gender relations and entrepreneurship will be piloted in TVETs based in KwaZulu-Natal, while mining curriculum will be strengthened with technical guidance on managing the HIV and TB co-infections.

 Dr Ahluwalia concluded: “This approach and curriculum relevance bodes well for giving the student a competitive edge as he or she enters the labour market.”