In seeking to complement conventional schooling by strengthening ODFL systems and networks to combat HIV and AIDS, the research is essentially educational. However, in seeking to address barriers to schooling caused by HIV and AIDS it will need to take account of health, social, economic and political factors. A broad-based cross-disciplinary approach will therefore be adopted drawing on theory and practice from the fields of education, including ODFL, health promotion, development communication and evaluation research.
The central question guiding the study is:
- How can barriers to education access and achievement presented by HIV and AIDS be overcome using open, distance and flexible learning (ODFL) as a complement to conventional schooling?
The research will also explore the following subsidiary questions:
- What ODFL initiatives, structures and networks are in place to deliver education to young people?
- What are the barriers to accessing conventional schooling for young people affected by HIV and AIDS?
- How can these barriers be addressed through expanding ODFL initiatives and strengthening existing ODFL structures to complement conventional schooling and upgrade the knowledge, skills and empowerment of affected young people?
In the first phase of the project, five literature reviews were prepared to provide background and policy context to the study and identify factors that influence access to schooling in high HIV prevalence areas of Malawi and Lesotho. Existing efforts to deliver the curriculum more flexibly through more open and distance learning and efforts to strengthen support for children's learning have also been documented. These papers are available on the SOFIE website.
In the second phase of the project, case studies were developed in contrasting communities severely affected by HIV and AIDS to further identify contextual factors that influence access to conventional schooling and attainment. The data to inform these case studies was collected through semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions with teachers, carers and community leaders and participatory activities with young people. Based on this formative research, a pilot intervention was developed.
In the third and final phase, school-based interventions are being implemented in 20 primary schools in Malawi and 20 secondary schools in Lesotho. The intervention schools are trialing new, more open and flexible models of schooling. The intervention will be evaluated qualitatively and also quantitatively using an experimental design.