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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Are high school kids ready to talk about HIV in the classroom?

 Action & Event-ure :

Talks on HIV have been very controversial lately and I was concerned how the situation will affect our preps for the launch of the Power of You, the anti-HIV campaign for high school students of DepEd (the Department of Education) and UNICEF. Fortunately, the launch last March 10 at Bagong Silangan High School in Quezon City turned out very well.

And now, the only big question is, are our high school kids ready for this information?

Recently, DepEd and UNICEF have raised the alarm on the rising cases of STI and HIV infections among young people. Recent findings reveal that the Philippines is currently witnessing an increase of new HIV infection as never before. Reported infections among 15-24 year old Filipinos increased five-fold from 41 in 2007 to 218 in 2009, according to the Department of Health National AIDS Registry.

Responding to the need for immediate action, DepEd and UNICEF launched last March 10 a creative approach to help young people learn about risky behaviors, STI (sexually transmitted infection, not the school), HIV and AIDS. The Power of You, an innovative educational campaign aimed toward high school students follows the story of Francis and Sara, typical teens who face big challenges everyday. The interactive video allows users to choose the path that their characters will take, through decision points depicting drama and humor of a normal teenager’s life.

Apart from rising cases of infection, national surveys also reveal that misperceptions about HIV still prevail among Filipino youth, and more of them are engaging in pre-marital sexual activity. The 2003 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey (YAFSS) showed that 28% of young adults thought that AIDS is curable while 73% thought that they are immune to HIV. Overall prevalence of sexual activity increased from 18 to 23% between 1994 and 2002.

This substantial increase in new HIV infections and lack of information on HIV and AIDS is a cause for concern not only for the Philippine government but more so for young Filipinos.

In the learning session during the launch event (this is a sample of what will be rolled out in all participating public high schools across the country), a trained peer facilitator supervised by a teacher / guidance counselor, guided the students in “Choosing the Life” of a teenager. The main characters (Francis and Sara) featured in the video experience significant situations which require critical decisions. The students were asked to decide the fate of the main characters. Sample situations are whether Francis will ignore peer pressure or not and whether Sara will stand by what she or what her boyfriend wants. Each choice results in a new situation. The facilitators gave appropriate information bits after each decision.

The Power of You campaign is initially piloting in 29 public schools in the National Capital Region, Cebu, Davao, Zamboanga, Olongapo and Masbate. The campaign aims to reach at least 12,000 high school students in the first year of 2010.

Our youngsters have the right to information at the right time, to enable them to lead healthy and happy lives (as enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely signed international treaty safeguarding children’s rights). DepEd and UNICEF recognize this right and are taking serious steps to equip high school students with important life skills that can help them stay healthy and safe from infections like STI and HIV.

So going back to the question, are our high school kids ready to talk about STI, HIV and AIDS in the classroom? For me, from what I've witnessed at the launch of the Power of You campaign, the answer is... yes, I think they are ready.  And for those who feels otherwise, adults included, the answer is... there's no choice, they should be ready, now! The health issues and concerns won't take a break and wait for them until they are ready.
Students of Bagong Silangan High School try the Power of You video in their class.

Here are some still shots from the Power of You video:

Sara, one of the characters of the Power of You video, is faced with difficult choices as part of growing up. Power of You allows users to choose the path that their characters will take, through decision points depicting drama and humor of a normal teenager’s life. 

Peer pressure pushes Francis to experiment with drugs, alcohol, tobacco and sex. The Power of You video puts the right information at the hands of high school students to equip them with important life skills, helping them to stay healthy and safe from infections like STI and HIV. 

Sara turns to her best friend for advice, in a scene from the Power of You interactive video, an innovative educational tool for high schools students on STIs, HIV and AIDS. 

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