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School AIDS pilot gets top marks

A report measuring the results of a nationwide pilot program on HIV/AIDS

education for secondary school pupils has concluded it was so successful that it

should be continued.

The assessment questioned around 2,500 Grade Nine

students from rural, urban and remote schools. It was carried out by the

Ministry of Education, UNESCO and the World AIDS Foundation.

It showed

that the three day education program considerably improved students' knowledge

on AIDS prevention. School directors, teachers, parents and pupils

overwhelmingly hailed the scheme as a good step forward in the battle to educate

the youth about HIV/AIDS.

The head of UNESCO's education program, Supote

Prasertsri, said the object of the evaluation was to find out if students had

benefited from the scheme. The results were so encouraging that it would now be

integrated into the government's five year education plan and the national

curriculum.

"We hope school health departments, teachers and NGOs will

integrate this feedback," said Prasertsri. "It was very productive and [the

program] will have an impact on millions of children."

Before they took

the three-day education course, the students took a test gauging their knowledge

about attitudes towards HIV and how to protect themselves from the disease.

Afterwards they were tested again.

The mean average increased from 72 to

84 points. The improvement was more marked for girls: the percentage with a high

level score (75 to 100 points) jumped from around half to 87 percent. For boys,

around half gained a high-level score before the course - that figure reached 81

percent afterwards.

But it was not all smooth sailing. The report

recognized that cultural sensitivities about sex needed to be taken more into

account. Female teachers were embarrassed demonstrating condom use in front of

male students, whereas pupils felt the classes should be separated by

gender.

One of the key steps required to improve the reach of the program

was to introduce it permanently into the national curriculum. Others involved

improved training of all secondary school teachers in HIV/AIDS education, and a

stronger focus on measures to reduce discrimination of people with

HIV.

Prasertsri felt confident all the recommendations would be

implemented, although he conceded that other hurdles still

remained.

"First we need to find the funds for training the teachers," he

said. "We also need to conduct the classes more regularly and for a longer

time."

However the main barrier, he noted, was the low numbers of

children who were able to receive secondary education.

"Enrollment in

secondary schools is only 20 percent, so our program only reaches 20 percent of

the youths," Prasertsri said. "The best recommendation we can give is to get

more children into secondary education."

The HIV/AIDS Prevention

Education Program for Secondary Schools ran from 1998 to 2000, and targeted all

Grade Nine and Grade Twelve students in Cambodia. The pilot program was funded

by the UNFPA and the World AIDS Foundation.

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