Key to a good life or just a bad investment? How do carers of children view and value education in the context of high HIV and AIDS?
In the face of a generalized Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Virus (AIDS) epidemic in Southern Africa, children’s education is viewed increasingly as a key area of concern as well as a potential opportunity for HIV intervention. However, the relationship between HIV and AIDS and education is a complex one, as the epidemic may influence educational indicators negatively through multiple pathways. This paper focuses upon one of these potential pathways: caregivers’ attitudes to and perceptions of formal education. We argue that this area has not been afforded adequate attention among researchers and practitioners in Southern Africa despite evidence, from both the developed and developing world, that parental attitudes are important influencers of children’s attitudes to education and educational outcomes. A review of recent empirical literature, and findings of a 2006–07 exploratory study we conducted across three sites in Southern Africa, suggest that economic factors or considerations – rather than health and objective life expectancy – are central in influencing the value caregivers attribute to children’s formal education, even in a context of generalized HIV/AIDS. Further integrated qualitative and quantitative investigation is clearly needed in our region to explore determinants of parental attitudes to education among communities highly affected by the epidemic, and how these attitudes affect education-related decisions and outcomes. Interventions have a greater possibility of succeeding if they aim to support income-generating opportunities and include efforts to bridge schooling and health education with economic opportunities. Moreover, conditional transfers and school-based interventions or services are more likely to be effective at ensuring school attendance than unconditional transfers, particularly where the value caregivers attribute to education is low.