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Soc Sci Med. 1995 Dec;41(12):1715-24.

Learning to listen: formative research in the development of AIDS education for secondary school students.

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National AIDS Research Programme, Medical Research Council, Tygerberg, Cape Town, South Africa.


AIDS, as a social phenomenon, is highly politicized and is an emotive issue. In South Africa there is considerable disagreement between different sectors and stakeholders involved in school education about what constitutes an appropriate approach to AIDS education. For AIDS education programmes in schools to make cultural sense and to be effective, adequate formative research of the social context and cultural meaning of the salient behaviours needs to be done, and this understanding needs to inform programme development. The school community needs to be involved in the programme design and evaluation. This paper describes some of the formative research undertaken during the development of an AIDS education programme for secondary school students in South Africa. The study was undertaken during 1991 and 1992 in a Cape Town secondary school. A description of three components of the formative research is given. For each, the qualitative research methods used, the difficulties encountered, some of the results, and their value are discussed. Qualitative research methods were able to provide a more holistic understanding of student sexuality and its cultural context. These methods also provided the means with which to develop a partnership with the teachers in the process of developing the AIDS education programme. Furthermore, when this partnership broke down, they provided the means to explore the crisis that emerged around conflicting assumptions and cultural values the researchers and the "researched' held with respect to AIDS education. The generalizability of the study's results and the transferability of the AIDS education programme that was developed are discussed with respect to the exigencies of epidemiology to impact on the public health of large populations, and those of qualitative research methods to generate in-depth understanding in limited contexts.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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