Programme Director and DBE Deputy Director General: Dr Granville Whittle;
USAID Health Programme Director: Ms. Kerry Pelzman, and other officials from USAID;
Teacher Unions, Educators, Learners and Parents;
Civil Society Partners;
Officials of the national and Provincial Education Departments;
Officials of sister Government Departments;
Representatives of Research & Academic Institutions;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Although I was unable to attend this pre-conference in person, it is still a great pleasure for me to once again address this gathering, the Pre-Conference Meeting ahead of the 7th edition of the South African Aids Conference.
Today is particularly special as it is the first time we are hosting a Pre-Conference meeting on the sidelines of the largest gathering on HIV and AIDS in South Africa, the 7th edition of the South African AIDS Conference. I thank you most sincerely for your presence today.
The theme of the 7th edition of the South African Aids Conference is “Reflection, Refocus and Renewal.” The theme is fitting to what we want to do today, and over the course of the next four days here in Durban. We want to reflect on the Basic Education Department’s response to the HIV/Aids epidemic to-date. We also want to learn from all of you so that we may sharpen what we have to do for better quality, efficiency and impact. As DBE we re-commit ourselves to tackling the twin challenges of HIV/Aids and TB. We intend to do so with vigour, increased energy and determination.
South Africa is at the epicentre of the HIV and TB epidemics in the world. A review of our collective efforts over the past 20 years paints a mixed picture, with a generally positive trajectory. The basic education sector has been an integral part of this tale.
There have been notable achievements which we should all celebrate. For example, more people are receiving antiretroviral treatment today, which means that parents are living longer and healthier, and can therefore take care of their children and are not dying as in the past. People on treatment are also less likely to transmit HIV and we expect this to contribute to less new HIV infections. The prevention of mother to child transmission is yet another notable success. There is also a lot more openness in society to talk about sexuality and responsible sexual behaviour.
However, HIV prevention is lagging behind. We are not likely to achieve our target to halve new HIV infections by 2016. And as the education sector, this is the strategic objective in the National Strategic Plan that speaks directly to our mandate. So we should be very concerned at this slow progress.
The curriculum remains our key lever to effect systemic and long-lasting change. Therefore we must give priority to efforts to strengthen HIV and sexuality education in the curriculum, if we are to succeed.
The latest South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey by the Human Sciences Research Council in 2012, tells us that knowledge levels on HIV and AIDS are on the decline. This is worrying because complete and accurate information is a pre-requisite to changing behaviour.
Since 2000, the Department has implemented the HIV and AIDS Life Skills Education Programme. From the evaluation studies we have conducted, we know that the Life Skills Programme has been instrumental in improving learners’ knowledge on how HIV is transmitted; in addressing stigma and discrimination against People Living with HIV and AIDS; and in opening conversations with parents and other adults on the very sensitive topic of adolescent sexuality.
But we expect much more of the programme!
We know from a number of international studies that sexuality education curricula and programmes can change behaviour – it can delay early sexual debut; and it can increase condom use amongst young people; amongst others. These are some of the determinants of HIV infection that we must change as they drive HIV infection in South Africa.
Taking guidance from the available scientific evidence, the Department’s programmes adopt a comprehensive sexuality education approach. This approach recognizes that while abstinence and delaying sex is the key message, education has an equal responsibility to ensure that learners have the knowledge and skills to engage in sex safely, when they are ready to do so. We have therefore developed Scripted Lesson Plans for Grades 7 to 9 to support teachers in delivering quality lessons in a standardised manner to begin to influence behavior change in learners. We will hear a lot about this work from Ms Jenny Kinnear later today. More importantly, I hope that the meeting will discuss how we can collectively take the Lesson Plans forward in order to strengthen CAPS implementation across all grades.
Chairperson, in December 2013, I, together with Ministers of Health and Education from 21 countries in East and Southern Africa, signed the Ministerial Commitment on the provision of comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services for adolescents and young people. This is commonly referred to as the ESA Commitment. Through this commitment, we committed ensuring access to good quality, comprehensive, life skills-based HIV and sexuality education (CSE) and youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health services for all adolescents and young people.
Ladies and Gentlemen, on 5 May 2015, the Minister of Basic Education gazetted the new Draft National Policy on HIV, STIs and TB for public comment. The Draft Policy articulates the Department’s intention and approach in responding to HIV, STIs and TB in the sector, including the provision of sexual and reproductive health services. We are rightfully proud that our draft policy is the first HIV and comprehensive TB policy emanating from an education in the world.
The Draft Policy aims to achieve the following four outcomes:
1. To increase HIV, STIs and TB knowledge and skills among learners, educators and officials;
2. To improve access to HIV, STIs and TB prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care and support services;
3. To decrease risky sexual behaviour among learners, educators and officials; and finally
4. To decrease the barriers to retention in schools, in particular for vulnerable learners.
We welcome the robust public discussion on the draft policy. As a result, we have extended the period of public comment to 19 June 2015 and invite you as stakeholders to provide your written comments. I wish to acknowledge the contributions we have already received during the 2 year consultation process we have undertaken, which have enriched the draft policy enormously.
Programme Director, we know that being in school is protective, so we must work with all social partners to make sure that all children of school-going age attend school regularly.
Our teachers, learners and parents are an integral part of all our efforts to improve the quality of our education system. We thank them for their role.
As I close, I want to register my sincere appreciation to all those who have worked tirelessly to convene this pre-conference meeting, as well as the range of activities that the Department will participate in, at this Conference. A special word of appreciation goes to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for being our firm and long-standing partner in the fight against HIV and AIDS. I also want to thank the Sexual HIV Prevention Programme for supporting the Department’s participation at the conference.
The legacy we must leave behind are healthy, empowered and educated young women and men who will work side-by-side with us in building this nation, to make South Africa the success it can, and should be.
I thank you for your kind attention.