Shaping Student Attitudes
Rau, A. & Coetzee, J.K. 2008. Curriculum as a space for shaping student attitudes to and perceptions of HIV/AIDS. Paper presented at the ‘HESS (Higher Education as Social Space) Conference’, 30 Nov-3 Dec 2008, Rhodes University.
Traditional guiding principles of a university education are to offer a quality learning experience in which students are urged to think critically, to develop themselves to their fullest potential, and to contribute meaningfully to society. But in South Africa, the ravages of HIV and AIDS are threatening these aims. Not only is the pool of potential students shrinking, but many students living with HIV are abandoning their tertiary studies. This affects the capacity of higher education institutions to deliver their core business functions - teaching, research, learning and community engagement. More broadly, the loss of students and graduates has the potential to impact negatively on the country’s economy and its educational demographics. Recognising these threats, higher education institutions are co-ordinating their efforts to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS. One avenue of response is to include HIV/AIDS issues in university curricula, which is a key intervention identified by HEAIDS – South Africa’s Higher Education HIV/AIDS Programme.
This paper describes an action research project which infused HIV/AIDS related content and issues into a third year Research Methodology course in the Department of Sociology at Rhodes University. Students identified and then researched six themes of risk in the student population: Substance use; Health; Finance and Environment; Crime and Violence; Racism and Xenophobia; and Emotional risk. In this paper theoretical insights of Basil Bernstein - such as classification, framing, and recontextualisation - are used to analyse the design and delivery of the course, while findings from a comprehensive evaluation record student responses to it.
Two significant evaluation findings are that 94 percent of students either agreed or strongly agreed that it is the duty of all South African universities to address HIV/AIDS in teaching and research, while 78 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that Sociology should offer more HIV/AIDS focused courses or projects. Although these findings cannot be generalised, they challenge a commonly held perception that university students suffer ‘HIV/AIDS fatigue’ and resist engaging with HIV/AIDS issues. Many students reported that the project increased their sensibility of risk and sensitivity towards people living with HIV/AIDS: both of these outcomes have the potential to enhance the ability of students - and thus future graduates in multiple sectors and fields of work - to respond appropriately to challenges posed by the pandemic.