Breaking the Culture of Silence in Checkmating HIV/AIDS as a Teacher-Researcher
This study is about the author, a primary school teacher, who as a teacher-researcher wanted to improve the awareness of HIV/AIDS that has become a major challenge globally and has been on the increase over the past two-and-a-half decades, especially so, in sub-Saharan Africa. This is in spite of an "overflow" of HIV/AIDS information. The thesis documents two action research projects. Both of them are based on an emancipatory action research methodology. It has long been recognised that the HIV/AIDS pandemic requires more than medical attention and that the way in which teachers deal with HIV/AIDS education, especially at primary school level, becomes critical. A fundamental assumption of this study is that teachers play a critical role and are often the main adults, other than family members, with whom young people interact on a daily basis. Teachers can and must play a vital role in the development of valuable behavioural guidelines about reproductive health amongst the youth. This study views teachers, and more so primary school teachers, as important role players in the struggle to come to terms with HIV/AIDS. In reflecting about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, I realised that my classroom practice was characterised by a "culture of silence" when it came to discussing sex and matters concerning sexuality. The study sets out to enhance behavioural change in the way learners think about sex and sexuality and includes a continuous process of self reflection, self-awareness, planning and appropriate action. In Chapter One, I have tried to locate what I would regard as the problem in my teaching. I became increasingly convinced that my classroom practices might well be contributing to a lack of interweaving HIV/AIDS education into curriculum activity, while at the same time, promoting a "culture of silence" when it comes to issues of sex and sexuality. I arrived at this particular point as a result of reflectively looking at my own teaching career, as well as my own historical and schooling background which I felt has impacted on the way I teach. In this chapter I also give a brief historical background of the school where I teach and where I conducted my research. Towards the end of the chapter, I emphasise that teachers, including myself, need to redefine their role so as to empower students by creating the opportunity for their "voices" to be heard. I also explain concepts used in this written account such as "culture of silence" and "transformative intellectuals". In Chapter Two, I address the HIV and AIDS pandemic debate in more detail. I look at the impact of HIV/AIDS on education and how the implementation of an outcomes - based curriculum (C2005) takes up the HIV/AIDS challenge. In addition to this, I attempt to unpack the Western Cape Education Department's plans and policy concerning HIV/AIDS, after which I focus on breaking the HIV/AIDS "culture of silence". Before I conclude the chapter, I critically engage with the idea of the teacher as a researcher and critical change agent in an HIV/AIDS challenged society. In Chapter Three I provide a brief historical background of the development of action research. I point out how Lewin (1948) and Stenhouse's (1975) idea of action research was later taken up further and given a more critical perspective by writers such as Elliott (1985), Hopkins (1985), Walker (1985), Carr & Kemrnis (1986), Grundy (1987), Winter (1989), McKernan (2000), Meerkotter (2002) and McNiff & Whitehead (2006). I start with the defining (with due regard for the pitfalls of definitions) of action research and then focus on the nature and practices of an emancipatory action research approach. In this chapter I also elaborate on the reasons why I have decided on emancipatory action research as the main approach for this investigation. Chapter Four focuses on my first action research project where I set out to hear my students' "voice". And to contribute to the development of their voice to empower them with regard to sex and sexuality issues, a voice reflecting their increasing understanding of the seriousness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and most of all a "critical voice" as purported by Freire (1972; 1980), Giroux (1988; 1991) and McLaren (1991; 2006). My second action research project "Checkmating HIV/AIDS", which is described in detail in Chapter Five, is a continuation of the first action research project where I tried to break down the "culture of silence" concerning HIV/AIDS and sex and sexuality in my classroom. On reflecting about the first project, I realized that awareness alone was not going to be enough to take up the HIV/AIDS prevention challenge. Infusing awareness with action was my next step, and sport, being a rallying point on our country's Transformation and Nation Building agenda became the ideal educational tool for this process. For successful prevention, individuals must be able to make decisions to protect themselves. In the second project I focus specifically on one code of sport, namely chess. In this second project, I set out to discuss the potential of using this code of sport to take up the HIV/AIDS challenge. Chapter Six is the concluding chapter. The question posed is: Can we ever win the battle against HIV/AIDS? Is it possible to change the way we think about sex and matters concerning sexuality? Thereafter the concept of change is interrogated and "clarified" in the context of my study. This is followed by looking at the two projects, and I specifically focus on whether these projects had been liberatory or transformative. I then address the issue concerning teachers as "transformative intellectuals" and teacher researchers and conclude by proposing emancipatory action research as a "vehicle" for change. Too often the response to the pandemic produces plans that list endless interventions. I strongly recommend that further research relating to the role of sport in education, with specific reference to HIV/AIDS, be prioritised. The argument being that sport, recreation and play are increasingly elements of development programmes around the world, contributing to the well-being, health and education of children and young people. If chess can contribute to checkmating HIV/AIDS and basketball to dunking HIV/AIDS then a big code such as soccer can definitely contribute to "dribbling" and "tackling" the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Especially, in view of the fact, that South Africa is hosting and showcasing the soccer world cup of 2010.