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S.T. Olsen

Oslo University College (NORWAY)
The school environment presents a valuable opportunity for the monitoring and support of children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS and poverty. Children made vulnerable in this context might be dropping out of school or their ability to perform adequately at school might be significantly reduced. The aim of my study is to use a case study approach to explore and describe a South African formal school support provision. The study examines, in particular the relative significance of leadership, organisational development and gender related matters in addressing the needs of children made vulnerable in the context of HIV/AIDS and poverty. The availability and quality of this support are analysed within the context of the Education Department transforming itself from a system focused on controlling schools to a system focused on supporting schools. The reflexive qualitative research approach was decided upon in order to describe and understand how, and to what extent, the teachers and the principal of poverty-stricken primary schools might benefit from the systemic change processes when addressing issues related to HIV/AIDS and poverty. The research’s second aim is to establish principles for an approach to educational support, which would be applicable in similar situations elsewhere. The focus of the study is on how the Education Department is supporting the principals and teachers at five primary schools in carrying out their roles as leaders, teachers and caregivers. In order for the principals and teachers to provide quality support to the learners, they themselves need to receive appropriate forms of support from the education system. A central question is: How are the challenges of daily life in the running of a school met where issues related to poverty and health are dominant? Gender-based sexual violence and sexual abuse of children, as well as other social problems affecting learners in the schools investigated are included in the addressing of the main questions. I experience fully the potential of the case study to provide a ‘thick’ description and contribute significantly to an in-depth understanding of a complex phenomenon from a local and holistic perspective. I am able to focus on how the macro-narratives of support policy connect to the micro-narratives of teachers in primary schools. Based on the findings of the research, I argue that the problems of HIV/AIDS- affected children, families and communities do not only overlap considerably with the problems related to poverty - a widely held view among researchers - but that poverty related problems may, indeed, conceal the very existence of HIV/AIDS to teachers and principals and subsequently to their service providers. I believe that the findings of the study may provide valuable feedback to the current practices of the school support structures, and form a basis for informed further action by the relevant government departments and other stakeholders in education and therefore, may serve to enhance the quality of education for all children. It would, in my view, not be unrealistic to assume that the study could also provide useful insight into the overall transformation process of the education system, not only in the provincial department of this study, but in other provinces in South Africa and other countries as well.