Success Stories: Life Skills Materials
TATITOWN - As the afternoon sun bakes the red Botswana dirt outside a classroom at Tashatha Junior Secondary School, students inside seem unaffected by the heat. They sit in their blue and white school uniforms, the boys with their ties loosened at the neck, listening intently to the story of Goabaone.
The 14-year-old girl is smart and gets good grades, but she also hangs out with a wild group of friends who like to drink alcohol and get into trouble. Goabaone's lifestyle and personal choices are now threatening to affect her health and her future.
The story is from a new life skills manual developed to support HIV and AIDS curriculum in Botswana's schools. It was designed by the Ministry of Education and BOTUSA, a partnership between the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Government of Botswana. The materials were funded in part by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan.
Goabaone is a fictional character in the manual, but her situation seems to have hit close to home for one student at Tashatha who shares the same name.
"When I read this, I saw that I was this girl," the real Goabaone tells the classroom, as her friends break out in giggles. "I thought of my friends and how they act, it was too much related. It made me realize I need to change."
The Botswana's Window of Hope: Skills for Life curriculum materials are intended to help teachers discuss life issues important to young Batswana who are growing up in a region where 25 percent of the sexually active population 15-49 is thought to be infected with HIV (BAIS II 2004).
Five sets of teacher guides and learner workbooks were developed at different levels from primary to senior secondary school. They were released at a special launch in July 2006 and are being distributed throughout Botswana by the Ministry of Education.
Prior to the development of the material, a needs assessment conducted in selected primary and secondary schools revealed that most schools were using materials that were not appropriate for young learners.
The new manuals use stories and characters with familiar names, role playing, poems, and class discussions to help teachers impart knowledge and build skills for decision-making in Botswana's young people. Topics include self-awareness, goal-setting, managing stress, sexuality, facts and myths about HIV/AIDS, benefits of relationships, risk reduction, social responsibility and healthy living.
"The survival of learners depends on the acquisition of such skills," says Susan Makgothi, Director of Curriculum Development and Evaluation in the Botswana Ministry of Education.
The manual is part of an "AB project" meant to teach skills that promote abstinence and being faithful to one partner. The materials aim to promote abstinence and emphasize delaying sexual debut until one is old enough to make informed choices.
Some stories are taken directly from real life examples. Under the chapter, "Benefits of Relationships," the manual tells the story of Botswana's first president, Sir Seretse Khama and his wife, Ruth Williams, who fell in love and got married when the young Khama was studying in the United Kingdom. But the marriage was met with a lot of resistance from the Bamangwato tribe who did not want their chief to marry a white woman.
"They decided to stand together and support each other through those trying times. They had a long and strong marriage, and together they were great leaders of the nation," the story concludes. The material suggests teachers follow the story with a discussion on committed relationships they admire.
A 17-year-old student from Chobe Junior Secondary School in Kasane says she appreciates how the stories in the workbook take into account the maturity level of the students reading them. The stories are "more real" and easier to relate to than simply hearing advice from their elders.
"I'm almost 18, but my mother has been giving me the same advice since I was 13," she says. "If you can do this book for us, maybe you should make a book for parents, too."
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