News clipping – West Cape News – M&G online – 4 March 2011

A Tool for Life

A unique life-orientation resource for the classroom, developed in consultation with teachers and learners, is being piloted in Western Cape schools. It is expected to be completed early this year, with a national rollout to follow.

The grade eight resource being developed by academics at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) is unique not only in that teachers and learners have provided input, but also in that it teaches life skills through focusing on tuberculosis (TB) as a means to deal indirectly with issues surrounding HIV and Aids.

TB was chosen because of the high number of infections in the Western Cape, its link to HIV and the existence of “HIV fatigue” among learners and teachers, said Professor Trish Struthers, of UWC’s School of Public Health, a project coordinator.

Surveys show the extent of misconceptions. In one involving 41 learners, 9% believed HIV could be transmitted through sharing cutlery, while 7% held it could be transmitted from a toilet seat.

Consultation established what life-skills learners felt they needed to acquire, with stress management, relationships and “love” scoring high.

Thus, the resource takes an “eco-systemic approach”, imparting vital information through participatory activities that provide learners with tools to make positive changes in their lives. The resource looks at the child in his or her entirety and ties in to what’s happening at schools and the problems learners have, said Struthers.
“Its about empowerment and learning social skills.”

The link between TB and HIV is strong, with 55% of people living with HIV contracting TB due to their lowered immune systems. One of TB’s side effects is depression, so coping skills for those infected and affected are essential. Hence, embedded in the resource is how to deal with depression and where to go for help.

Project curriculum co-developer Toni Sylvester said that, in developing the first draft of the life orientation resource, a workshop involving both teachers and learners was conducted. Along the way additional “snapshots” of input from teachers and learners were taken.

Curriculum co-developer Edna Rooth said feedback from learners showed that they didn’t want to see vulgar language, depictions of naked people, racism, drugs or alcohol. They wanted a colourful resource that provided affirming, positive information.

The resource has been tested in the classroom by 105 students doing their Life Orientation Advanced Certificate in Education.

While the resource would be provided in the form of a book for learners and a handbook for teachers, it would also be available online. Interactive e-learning components developed by the UWC’s eLearning Development and Support Unit (eDSU) and the SA National Bioinformatics Institute would be contained on a DVD.

EDSU materials development coordinator Clint Braaf said both proprietary and open-source tools were used to create multimedia components, such as quizzes, puzzles as well as audio and video-clips.

Braaf said a testing session showcasing chapters one and two was done with grade eight learners from two schools in June, with feedback showing that engaging with audio and visual media made learning easier and more enjoyable.

Deputy education specialist of the life-orientation curriculum in the Western Cape Education Department Joey Sitzer said the resource was yet to be finalized and endorsed by the department, but
“From my perspective it’s a well-needed and well-placed initiative simply because there is a gap to be filled.”

By: Steve Kretzman