HIV awareness charity Body and Soul has spoken to young people with HIV to find out how schools can approach their teaching of the subject differently and manage student comments to alleviate inaccuracies, prejudice and stigma. Here's what they were told.
Jokes about HIV are not OK
"If confidentiality wasn’t an issue, the one thing I would have told my class and teacher about being affected by HIV is that it’s no laughing matter and jokes about HIV shouldn’t be tolerated. Pupils sometimes make light of HIV or express inaccurate stereotypes. A boy in class once said to me, 'The one positive thing about your lifestyle is your HIV status,' and I couldn’t say anything as no one knew I had HIV. It was offensive and wouldn’t have been allowed if they'd said something like that about cancer."
Go into detail and make sure you get the facts straight
"Don’t call it a disease and don’t say that everyone with HIV is ill and weak. Explain that you can live with HIV and it doesn’t have to be a life-limiting virus; don’t say it’s the same as Aids or that it’s the thing before you get Aids and die. It’s important to reassure pupils by explaining the false routes of transmission and speak to them about medication."
"The teaching was boring, inaccurate, intolerant and incorrect. I felt I knew more than the teacher. Tackle the issue with your class but ensure you do your research in order to authoritatively dispel the myths surrounding Aids and HIV."
Treat it as seriously as you would any other illness
"Other illnesses seem to be taken much more seriously than HIV and are discussed more frequently and in more depth. If it’s cancer or diabetes, people talk about it openly and are shown sympathy, but the prejudice and lack of understanding about HIV means that few people are able to empathise. More details are given about sexually transmitted infections than HIV in schools and the two are often lumped together."
You can download free lesson plans, activities and teaching ideas to support your teaching of HIV