News Roundup

Training 21st century maths teachers
The South African arm of an international study, the Mathematics Teachers for the 21st-century (MT21) study, involving six other countries (USA, Germany, Bulgaria, Mexico, Taiwan and South Korea), recently gained momentum following a workshop conducted by the HSRCÕs Education and Skills Development programme and the Michigan State University in the United States.

The study, which is supported by the Department of Higher Education and Training and the SA University DeansÕ Forum, examines how five South African universities prepare their future mathematics teachers for the general education and training (GET) and the further education and training (FET) bands.

The workshop mainly focused on sharing high-level research skills, such as the conceptual and methodological framework of the MT21 study, and data coding for junior researchers.

The MT21 builds on another international study, the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), conducted in 1999 among 38 countries, with the South African study also led by the HSRC. It measured the mathematics and science achievements of eighth-grade students (aged 13 and 14 years) and collected extensive information from students, teachers, and school principals about mathematics and science curricula, instruction, home contexts, and school characteristics and policies.

The choice of countries participating in the MT21 study is calculated on the basis of their ranking as high, middle or low in the TIMSS study. South African falls in the low-ranking category.

This is the first large-scale international study to examine how future mathematics teachers are prepared. It examines links between teacher education policies, practices and outcomes.

For the participating universities, the benefits are twofold: they are presented with an opportunity to conduct research on their own teacher education programmes and systems; and to learn from other universities and other countries. The study presents a strong capacity-development opportunity for researchers, and the potential to create room for more studies, as well as publishing projects.

HIV/AIDS conference boasts exceptional speaker

The executive director of the International AIDS Society, Mr Bertrand Audoin, is set to speak at the 6th SAHARA Conference 2011 at the end of November. With nearly 20 years in the HIV field, Mr Audoin first became involved in the response to the epidemic at grassroots level in the early 1990s. He will address the social, political and economic landscape of HIV prevention and response.

The Social Aspects of HIV/AIDS Research Alliance (SAHARA) is a network with a strong Africa focus that facilitates the sharing of research expertise and knowledge that could contribute to the prevention and mitigation of the HIV/ epidemic. To this end SAHARA also conducts multi-site, multi-country research projects to generate new social science evidence on HIV/AIDS interventions.

The 6th SAHARA Conference goes beyond the biomedical deliberations to allow interaction between experts and people on the ground, leading to an exchange of principles and findings to be communicated in an understandable manner. These findings are not merely communicated: SAHARA ensures that there are outcomes which allow the research to be translated into action plans.

This unique trait of the conference presents an opportunity for the dissemination of findings in a different way: it captures innovations arising from practical experiences, research and programmes in different contexts.

A capacity-building component is included through skills-building workshops of emerging scientists during the conference and activities after the conference in the hope of addressing deficiencies in the understanding of research finding and building bridges between research and practice.

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Adherence to antiretroviral therapy a challenge

Treating AIDS patients with antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been shown, in some instances, to prolong the lives of people, but its success depends largely on adhering to treatment protocols.

If patients default or do not comply with these protocols it could lead to treatment failure, as well as causing resistant strains in HIV in some cases.

It was against this background that the Department of Health wanted to measure non-adherence among patients in a three- to five-year period in Mpumalanga. Ninety ART patients agreed to participate in a study commissioned by the Department of Science and Technology.

The results revealed that 48% of the participants adhered to their ARV treatment, 30% adhered somewhat, and 22% did not adhere at all.

Reasons for adhering to ARV treatment were related to motivated patients; a good understanding of HIV, symptomatic HIV, fewer tablets (not too many), and support from family, friends, partners and community.

Non-adherence was related to the cost of transport and need for food; stigma and discrimination, asymptomatic disease, large number of tablets to take, patientsÕ preference to spiritual and alternative therapy, and poor support services and long waiting times.

In terms of drug resistance, very few participants knew what it means, and this was typical among non-adherent patients.

The study concluded that it is crucial to increase education on drug resistance, and that HIV disclosure counselling should address different types of relationships of patients on ART.

To this end, the study will assist in identifying best practices and ways to improve adherence to medication, as well as inform HIV/AIDS education policy.

Dieticians and community service

In 2002, the Department of Health implemented compulsory community service for a period of one year for allied health professionals, including dieticians, after completing their undergraduate degree. The department commissioned the HSRC to evaluate the competencies and experiences of community service dieticians.

Of the 168 dieticians placed in communities in 2009, 134 (80%) participated in a quantitative survey. In-depth interviews were held with five dieticians in each province (n=45), while 16 nutrition coordinators also took part in the study.

The majority of community service dieticians reported that their institutions provided a good overview of all aspects of training. Provincial coordinators rated their knowledge and competencies highly. However, dieticians claimed that their job descriptions were confusing, saying that this uncertainty was not limited to themselves, but extended to receiving institutions, as well as the district offices. They pointed out that this had to be attended to before placement.

On another level, dieticians said they spent far more time providing therapeutic nutrition services than preventive nutrition services, which is a government priority. Training programmes should therefore be adapted to provide preventative services, namely on public health and community nutrition.

Other problems were related to staff shortages, language barriers, the lack of referrals, issues related to the transparency and clarity of the placement process, as well as those related to the location of placement.

 Overall, the dieticians reported experiencing their community service year positively (60%). This included practical experience (34%), professional development and personal growth (28%), good supervision and support structures (15%), exposure to all aspects of dietetics (5%), good remuneration (4%), and reduced anxiety of finding employment (3%).

This research identifies gaps in the training of dieticians, providing recommendations to address these to better equip future dieticians during their community service years. It also evaluates the experiences and challenges that dieticians face during community service and provides recommendations to the department on improving both service delivery and overall community service experience.

This study ratified the need for community service programmes and provided important recommendations regarding the placement process, the orientation programme, supervision, and the resources associated with this programme.