Theory, Methodology and Human Development: HIV/AIDS and Education in African Countries

Introduction

The HIV pandemic is acknowledged all over the world to be the most serious health crisis in the century. HIV continues to escalate at worrying rates throughout the world, and successful efforts to contain it have been minimal. This is correct despite advances of remarkable nature in our comprehension of the virus’s molecular biology and its effects on the body; advances that have resulted to therapeutic findings in the second decade of the pandemic (Perry, 2008).

For people capable to receive treatment with antiretroviral drugs, infections of HIV have been transformed from a fatal disease to a terminal illness. This has resulted to a dramatic downturn in mortality and morbidity from the disease throughout the world in the last decade.

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Despite these developments on the biomedical front, however, the pandemic continues to escalate and treatment remains scarce to overwhelming majority of masses requiring it. According to World Bank (2000), statistics reveal that, of the six million individuals currently requiring treatment in the development world, 8% only are accessing it; this figure reduces to 2% in Africa where majority of these individuals live.

These alarming statistics have made majority of international observers to declare AIDS pandemic the leading menace to growth of Africa. The most afflicted countries already experience significant reversals in their growth indicators. Despite HIV and AIDS are commonly known to be a medical and physical health condition, today there is no doubt that HIV and AID influence a series of social areas, and education is not an exception.

Studies of education systems in African countries that are the most affected by HIV/AIDS have already demonstrated that there is certain correlation between the level of HIV/AIDS prevalence and children’s academic performance (UNAIDS, 1999; UNICEF, 2002). Education is the future of each country, that is why the influence of HIV/AIDS prevalence on the educational system is an important issue to study. Despite a series of questions have been already answered, there are still many issues to work on.

Background

Like every other sector of the social and economic life of countries affected by HIV/AIDS, education has also been impacted hard by the pandemic. Rising numbers of states in Sub-Saharan Africa have faced teacher shortages as the pool of qualified teachers is shrinking. The epidemic has not spared education sector administrators, planning and financial officials (UNAIDS, 1999).

HIV and AIDS have impacted the sectors of education in developing countries in a number of ways: the disease has reduced the number of skilled teachers; has affected student enrollment levels in schools; and has worsened educational quality in the affected countries. Teacher absenteeism due to HIV infections also affects the quality of education provision in affected regions (UNICEF, 2002). Teachers also tend to relocate away from HIV and AIDS prevalent areas (UNAIDS, 1999).

According to UNICEF (2002), the death of children or parents directly affects school enrolment levels. This happens as a result of children dropping out due to lack of financial means to sustain their education, or they drop out to care for their siblings or sick parents. There is also possible reduction in education quality due to absentia of teachers from school (UNAIDS, 1999). They may also not offer similar quality of schooling they used to provide before they became sick (UNICEF, 2002).

Studies have been performed to find and project the effects of HIV and AIDS on the education sector in developing countries. According to the UNICEF report of 2002, developing countries face inadequacies of teaching personnel. A study conducted by UNICEF in Zambia for instance indicated that only 56,000 primary school children out of 1.7 million would have lost a teacher in 1999 to AIDS (UNICEF, 2002).

The study also revealed that the rate of teacher mortality in 1998 was equal to the loss of two thirds of the annual output of newly trained teachers (UNICEF, 2002). The demand of quality education is also being affected by HIV/AIDS. For instance, analysis of 49 case studies of families infected with AIDS throughout Zambia discovered that 56 out of 25 children had been forced to drop out of school (UNICEF, 2002).

Research Problem and Hypothesis

Considering the data provided below, it is possible to assume that the indicators of African children’s academic performance themselves are not the only problem in education connected with HIV/AIDS. Moreover, bad performance is more likely to be the result of certain negative processes that take place in national educational systems.

In other words, the logical link “HIV/AIDS – bad academic performance” seems to be incomplete: in the middle of this chain, there should be certain components of educational environment that are affected by high HIV/AIDS prevalence and at the same time lead to bad academic performance.

Culture for learning is the component of educational environment that is considered to have very strong impact on students’ academic performance. It includes such components as students’ understanding of goals of learning, their awareness of importance of material that they study, their expectations for the learning process and their own achievements, and desire to improve their academic performance (Danielson, 1996).

To understand the impact of HIV/AIDS on education in African countries with high prevalence of the disease, it is necessary to work on the following research topic: impact of high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in African countries on culture for learning in these countries’ schools.

Correspondingly, the following research questions should be discussed: 1) is there connection between high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in African countries and problems with culture for learning in local schools? 2) if it is, what aspects of culture for learning are impacted by HIV/AIDS prevalence and why? 3) if this impact takes place, how exactly does it influence students’ academic performance?

Having taken the abovementioned background information into account, we may formulate the following hypothesis: being affected by the consequences of high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, culture for learning in local schools creates prerequisites for students’ low academic performance.

Methodological Questions

In the course of study, a series of methodological questions will need to be answered. Some of significant questions are discussed below.

1. Students/teachers/parents

To fulfill the given investigation, it is necessary to outline the circle of its participants. It is important for a researcher to define who makes the most substantial contribution to forming the culture for learning at school. On the one hand, students and teachers are undoubted and unconditional participants of the process; at the same time, it may be assumed that being affected by consequences of HIV/AIDS prevalence, students’ parents also change their view on education and its importance, and transfer this view to their children.

2. Methods of data collection.

Considering the topic and the purpose of the investigation, there are three options that a researcher may choose from when studying the issue: a survey, observation and case study; there is neither opportunity nor need to carry out an experiment.

Each of these methods has its pluses and minuses, and each of them will help to get specific kind of information: while a survey may help to throw light on students’ (teachers’, parents’) attitudes and opinions, unobtrusive or obtrusive naturalistic observation and case study may provide more objective information about culture for learning and provide the data that a survey would not provide.

On the other hand, it is necessary to consider that though observation may help make conclusions about culture for learning, it will hardly provide specific information on such narrow issue as influence of HIV/AIDS on culture for learning. Probably, combining all methods may be reasonable.

3. Quantitative/qualitative

It is necessary to decide whether the focus of the research will be on quantitative or qualitative study. More probably, qualitative study will be used, as measuring culture for learning and impact of HIV/AIDS on it gives narrow opportunity for studying the issue.

3. Cause/effect

While studying culture for learning in African schools is quite a neat task, it would be quite difficult to prove whether HIV/AIDS is exactly what has the strongest impact on it. The question will arise: maybe, there are other factors that have the strongest impact? Besides, the same question will appear considering the connection between culture for learning and academic performance.

Scientific Method: Social Sciences versus Natural and Physical Sciences

There is no doubt that the research questions set in natural and physical sciences differ from those studied in social sciences. However, the question arises: does it mean that the traditional scientific method also differs from that of social sciences?

The traditional scientific method implies that a researcher takes the following steps (Bewick et al, p.8):

1. Identification of a research problem. A researcher decides what phenomenon requires further study and formulates a question: “what?”, “how?” et al.

2. Observation. A researcher collects the necessary data.

3. A possible answer to the question is formulated. This possible solution is called “hypothesis”.

4. A researcher fulfills a new observation in order to test a hypothesis.

5. The correspondence between the results of observation and hypothesis is studied. If the correspondence exists, a researcher may communicate the results of his/her/research and continue the study in order to collect the new data for testing a hypothesis. If there is no correspondence, a researcher needs to revise a hypothesis.

In social sciences, the scientific method includes the same steps: it is impossible to omit either formulation of a research problem, observation or any other step. For example, in the case discussed in this paper, we have also offered a research problem and have developed a hypothesis based on the existing data. However, the difference may be noticed not in “what”, but rather in “how”: a research in social science has its peculiarities which are connected with such notion as “human aspect”.

The human aspect influences the course of a research in several ways:

1. An object of a research is a human. His/her behavior may be influenced by a range of factors and quite unpredictable. This means that a participant of a research may refuse to provide the necessary data, or distort them, while in an experiment in chemistry, two substances will never “refuse” to react with each other.

2. In social sciences, it is rather difficult to make generalization: if a hypothesis has been corroborated by research results got in a group of participants, it does not mean that the same will occur in another group.

3. A researcher him/herself is also a human, which also influences the course and the results of a research. A researcher’s behavior and attitudes may impact the way a research is carried out; besides, being influenced by his/her own experience, a researcher may wrongly interpret the research results.

Despite there is certain difference between carrying out an investigation in social sciences and natural or physical sciences, significant similarities also exist. In both cases, a researcher should choose the optimal research methods and ground his/her choice.

In the study discussed in this paper, such methods as observation, survey and case study are expected to be used. Among these methods, only observation is used in natural sciences: for example, researchers observe behavior of animals in their natural setting. However, using this method would not be enough in our case: we would not be able to understand participants’ attitudes, thoughts and opinions without using other methods.

The second difference between social and natural or physical studies is interpretation. Describing and measuring is not enough for social sciences; the key issue is to correctly interpret the data, find cause-effect connections. Research methods used for collecting the data do not help a researcher to cope with this task.

References

Bewick, S., et al. (2009). CK-12 Chemistry. USA: CK-12 Foundation.

Danielson, C. (1996). Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. Umatilla. Retrieved 25 Nov 2010 from http://www.umatilla.k12.or.us/NCLB/Char_Danielson.htm

Perry, J., & Perry, E. (2008). Contemporary Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

UNAIDS, (1999). A Review of Household and Community Response to HIV AIDS Epidemic in Rural Areas of Sub-Sahara Africa. Geneva: Switzerland.

UNICEF. (2002). Children on the Brink 2000. New York: International Program Center.

World Bank. (2000). Education and HIV and AIDS. New York: World Bank Publications.

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