How AIDS Undercuts Education in Africa ; A Recent UN Report Says AIDS Is Eroding Economic and Educational Development

By Mike Crawley, | The Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 2000 | Go to article overview

How AIDS Undercuts Education in Africa ; A Recent UN Report Says AIDS Is Eroding Economic and Educational Development


Mike Crawley,, The Christian Science Monitor


Despite drawing children from a mix of middle-class and shanty housing, Olympic Estate Primary School regularly finishes at or near the top among public schools on Kenya's national examinations.

Its 40 teachers are proud of their record and happy to talk about it. But something that they're more reluctant to discuss is the effect of AIDS on their school. Since 1996, four teachers -that's 10 percent of the staff -have died of AIDS.

In fact, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), there is a disproportionately high incidence of HIV/AIDS among teachers in sub-Saharan Africa - although no one seems to have a good explanation. In Kenya alone, nearly 1,500 teachers died last year, up from just 10 teachers' deaths in 1993.

The loss of large numbers of teachers in a poor nation is a serious blow to the nation's future development. Unless the trend is reversed, a generation of young Africans face the prospect of a lesser-quality education and reduced job prospects. "Imagine," says Meshack Ndolo of Kenya's National AIDS Council, "if [the epidemic] can affect school enrollment and completion of primary school, what that means for a country that calls itself developing."

The recent UNICEF report, entitled "The Progress of Nations 2000" echoes Mr. Ndolo's concerns. "All over sub-Saharan Africa," reads the report, "hard-won gains in school enrollment -and the returns on investments countries have made to improve education -are being eroded."

In 1999, at least 860,000 elementary students in the region lost a teacher to the disease.

Before the AIDS epidemic, it was news when a teacher died, says Mureu Kamau of the Kenya National Union of Teachers. Government figures show that as recently as 1993, fewer than 10 teachers died annually. By 1996, this had skyrocketed to about 1,000 and is rising steadily. The causes of death aren't compiled officially, but experts say such huge changes in death rates among an adult population can only be attributable to AIDS.

"The trend is likely to accelerate in the next few years," said Mr. Kamau. "It will not take one or two years before we have a serious shortage of teachers. This is a crisis. I don't think it's an exaggeration."

Indeed, UNICEF estimates 95,000 Kenyan primary students had a teacher die of AIDS last year. Official government statistics recorded 1,406 deaths last year among a teaching force of 247,000.

In the capital, Nairobi, an average of four teachers are dying per month, said Kamau. He flipped through a ledger containing the names of teachers who have died and said, "Generally, these are teachers dying of illnesses, not accidents. Most of our members who die are dying of AIDS."

Asked when the last Nairobi teacher had died, Kamau gives a sad response: "Yesterday, just yesterday. It was someone I knew well, someone I went through teacher training with."

Kenya, like other African countries, is only now realizing the full impact of AIDS on education. In addition to teacher deaths, staff absenteeism is rising, partly from teachers being ill with AIDS and partly because some are caring for family members with the disease. …

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