Information and Communication Technology Essay

DescriptionJournal Selection
Describe the type of journal articles you selected and why. Discuss the quality of each journal
article you found. List the names of all journals where you found your articles. Explain why you
selected these articles.
Critical Analysis and Theme Determination
Of the articles that you read and summarized above, provide an analysis and describe how the
content is different, how the content is the same, who is conducting research on the topic, where
are the research studies being conducted, how many participants are involved in each of the
research studies.
Critically analyze all research articles in the Literature Review above and organize your findings
by identifying the followng for each article: information systems area, theme, theory.
Leading Contributors
Discuss some of the leading researchers who have written more than three articles on the same
topic. Describe who they are, what university they represent, what makes them the subject matter
expert in the field.
Current and Emerging Themes
Describe what themes emerged and identify which articles are more widely cited in the literature.
Complete the following table by identifying the most cited articles specific to your research topic.
This will require you to capture the values that you find on Galileo and the topics that you input in
the Search engine
Note the IS Areas found in the article, theme, and theory applied to each below:
Table 2 – Major themes in research articles: 2013-2023
Information Systems Area
Future research
Based on what you have found in conducting your research study, what additional research can
be conducted? If another student continued your study what do you believe would be a future
research study focus area? Explain why?
Follow-up study
Think about how you could make this research manuscript better. What would you have done
differently? What could have been added to make this a more interesting paper to read?
International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology
(IJEDICT), 2020, Vol. 16, Issue 3 (Special Issue), pp. 35-49
Local Strategies and Models for Availability and Access to Information and
Communication Technologies in a Rural Elementary School in Mexico
María Guadalupe López-Sandoval & Óscar Enrique Hernández-Razo
Metropolitan Autonomous University, Lerma, México
This article, which is based on an ethnographic approach, analyses the models and strategies that
a rural elementary school community in Mexico has developed to keep available, accessible, and
in daily use, digital devices and connectivity despite their marginality conditions. This case study is
explored from two theoretical perspectives. First, a critical approach to digital inclusion policies in
Latin America (Dussel 2014; González 2014) is used to understand how the school community has
translated digital inclusion policies to build their own availability models. Second, the access of the
school community to ICT is examined under the scope of a literacy access perspective (Street
2016) in order to understand ICT practices according to discourses and ideology that surround
practices, the community and institutional structures that support participation, and the
relationships with other people who model and promote ways of using ICT (Hernández & López
2019; Kalman & Hernández 2018; Warschauer 2003). This analysis shows the local strategies that
allow the school community to keep availability, access and everyday use of ICT, such as, the use
of economic resources generated by the school, the incorporation of students’ and teachers’ own
devices, the subcontracting of Internet connectivity, and knowledge sharing practices among
Keywords: ICT; marginality; elementary school; digital education; rural school.
The case study for this article stems from a larger research project that analyses changes in
teaching and learning practices, as a consequence of incorporating information and communication
technologies (ICT), in one rural and two urban elementary schools in Lerma, State of Mexico.
Located in central Mexico, Lerma is a municipality of rural and semi-urban towns listed on low and
very low marginality indexes (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social 2013).
This article will focus on the rural school, which has received equipment, without funding, through
several national digital inclusion programmes from 1997 to 2015. None of these programmes were
active during the school year during which this research took place (October 2016 to July 2017).
Despite greater socioeconomic struggles and marginality than urban schools, this particular rural
school community used ICT on a regular basis, which is uncommon in Mexican rural schools where
infrastructure, devices, and connectivity are often unavailable. The question that guides this paper
is how the rural school community keeps available, accessible, and in daily use, digital devices and
connectivity despite their marginality conditions. In order to answer this general question, this article
aims to identify how this rural school community (principal, teachers, students, and parents) has
developed strategies and translated digital inclusion programmes into local models of availability
and access that support regular ICT use.
Rural schools in Mexico
In Mexico, rural public elementary schools are located in areas with populations below 2,500 where
marginality is linked to geographical location. Those who live in scattered and isolated populations
suffer the highest levels of social abandonment. Thus, the most dispersed and isolated rural
communities suffer from high to very high levels of marginalization. Public schools often reflect
these levels of marginalization. According to Schmelkes (2005), rural schools look after smaller
student populations than urban schools, have poor infrastructure and furniture and tend to have
limited books and learning material. Rural principals often double as teachers despite having less
teaching experience while a greater percentage of rural school students live under precarious
health and nutrition conditions (Schmelkes 2005). These factors influence the difference in quality
between rural and urban schools. For example, in comparison to middle-class urban schools, sixthgrade learning outcomes in rural areas have been found to be comparable to fourth-grade level
outcomes or lower (Schmelkes 2005).
The rural school in this research is located in a town classified within the low marginality1 bracket
and matches some of the previously mentioned characteristics. There are 220 students enrolled at
this school, which has only six classrooms (one for each grade level), and staff includes one
principal, one vice principal, six teachers and a janitor.2 The school does not have a library and
didactic materials are reduced to free government-provided textbooks. However, this school has
computers installed in a computer lab, as well as computers, projectors, printers and Internet
connectivity in all classrooms. Therefore, teachers and students use ICT for teaching and learning
purposes on a daily basis.
Critical Approach to Digital Inclusion Policies
Latin America is one of the most active regions in the world in terms of integration of digital
technology into educational systems. In recent years, many countries in Latin America have
implemented digital inclusion policies mainly through the 1 to 1 model (UNESCO-IIPE 2014). In
Mexico, seven digital inclusion programmes were implemented between 1997 and 2018 at the
elementary school level. These programmes, which were designed and implemented on a national
scale by the Ministry of Public Education have had varying availability models in terms of how they
operated and in their pedagogical proposals. Meanwhile, the official documents that outlined these
programmes concurred with Severin and Capota’s (2011) perspective on the ideas that drive ICT
policies in education systems in Latin America and on their positive impacts on the economy, social
welfare, and education.
For example, between 2002 and 2007 the Enciclomedia programme equipped fifth and sixth-grade
public elementary school classrooms with a computer, printer, projector and electronic whiteboard.
The programme aimed to:
Improve the quality of public elementary school education on a national level and impact
the educational and learning process, through experimentation and interaction with
educational content incorporated into Enciclomedia, a tool designed to support a way of
‘Low marginality’ indicates that 14.19% of the population aged 15 or over has not completed
elementary education, that 7.01% don’t have access to sanitary services such as WCs, that
25.19% of the population don’t own a refrigerator (Secretaría de Desarrollo Social 2013).
2 In comparison, the largest urban school where the full investigation was conducted, had 1100
students enrolled, with a staff of 40 teachers.
Local strategies and models for availability and access to ICT in a rural elementary school 37
teaching that stimulates new pedagogical practices in the classroom when learning the
subject matter and contents of textbooks (SEP 2004, p.10).
These ideas concur with Selwyn’s (2015) observation on the discourse of governmental and
multilateral agencies, which assume that the use of technology in schools systems actively drives
In Mexico, digital inclusion policies have taken on a technocentric approach, usually aimed solely
at providing schools or students with devices while neglecting aspects that are critical to daily
operation of these devices, such as training and professional development for teachers, technical
support, dated school infrastructure, insufficient Internet coverage (Díaz Barriga 2014), updating
pedagogical objectives (Severín & Capota 2011), insufficient curricular integration and the
pragmatic predominance of ICT (Díaz Barriga 2010, p.138).
Latin American critical studies on digital inclusion policies in public schools are of particular interest
to this research (Dussel 2018, 2014; González 2008, 2014). These approaches highlight the
unidirectional character of ICT insertion and digital inclusion policies on two levels. The first level
analyses these policies from the core to the periphery of the system, for example, through
recommendations issued by international organizations that are applied in the developing world,
including Latin America (González 2008). The second is a top-down approach in which the general
population of developing countries are not taken into consideration by their governments when
designing programmes aimed at benefitting them (Dussel 2014; González 2008).
The vertical design and implementation of ICT insertion programmes ignores the characteristics,
needs, and particular interests of school communities. Nevertheless, as pointed out by Dussel
(2014), every school has taken a different approach in terms of aims and timing when incorporating
technology to their practice. Thus, critical studies on digital inclusion highlight particular or local
ways in which technology is incorporated into concrete practices that respond to ‘particular social
relations, traditions and institutional structures’ (Dussel 2014, p.40). Through this approach we can
identify how communities use technology and establish whether or not their learning process
improves within their actual living conditions (Dussel 2014) or if they take routes other than those
provided in digital inclusion policies. This approach proposes to study digital practices according to
their situated character, their relationship with the characteristics of the community, the context, the
interests, and practices in which digital technologies are used.
While analysing how school communities use ICT, we identified translations of digital inclusion
policies and problem-solving strategies regarding the use of ICT in classrooms and school
practices. Translation is understood as interpretations made by actors in order to adapt policy
guidelines to specific local contexts (Dussel 2014). These translations are expressed in community
discourse and actions surrounding the use of ICT and when communities use official insertion
programmes as a reference before adapting them to their particular needs. This concept allowed
us to trace the ways in which the school community adapted the symbolic and material resources
of public policies to developing a model for use of technologies in the classroom.
Access to Digital Technologies from Literacy Approach
In the last two decades, digital inclusion policies in Mexican elementary schools have been based
on what Warschauer (2002, 2003) calls the “device model” and the “conduit model”. Digital
inclusion programmes based on the device model consider that the physical presence of digital
devices is sufficient for people to use them. The conduits model considers that schools must also
have Internet connectivity for people to fully benefit from ICT (Warschauer 2002, 2003). However,
there is enough evidence to state that both the device model and the conduit model are insufficient
when it comes to understanding what allows people to truly benefit from digital technologies (Chong
2011; Díaz Barriga 2014; Dussel 2018; González 2014; Kalman & Hernández 2018; Kalman &
Rendón 2014; OECD 2015; Selwyn 2011; Warschauer 2003). In this context, Warschauer (2002,
2003) proposed a third model, which is based on sociocultural theories of access to literacy.
Warschauer follows in the footsteps of authors such as Street (1995) and Gee (1996), for whom
literacy is a matter of culture, power and politics, as opposed to simply developing cognitive abilities
(Warschauer 2002). This argument is central to a literacy as a social practice perspective (Street
2016, 2013), which implies a rejection of the dominant vision of literacy as a neutral technical skill,
and a shift towards a conceptualization of literacy as “an ideological practice, implicated in power
relations and embedded in specific cultural meanings and practices” (Street 1995, p. 1). Kalman
(2009) also notes that the availability of literacy resources is a necessary condition, but does not
provide sufficient access to literacy practices. For example, an environment rich in text (with books,
newspapers, libraries) facilitates access to reading practices (Warschauer 2003); however, the
discourses and ideology that surround literacy practices, the community and institutional structures
that support participation in reading and writing practices and the relationships with other people
who model and promote ways of reading and writing specific textual materials, are also crucial.
Grounded on this approach, Warschauer indicates that:
If literacy is understood as a set of social practices rather than as a narrow cognitive skill,
this has several important consequences for thinking about the acquisition of literacy, and
important parallels with the acquisition of access to ICT. Literacy acquisition, like access to
ICT, requires a variety of resources. These include physical artefacts (books, magazines,
newspapers, journals, computers); relevant content transmitted via those artefacts;
appropriate user skills, knowledge, and attitude; and the right kinds of community and
social support (Warschauer 2003, pp.43–44).
Warschauer (2003) states that access to digital technology is constructed from the articulation of
different elements. First, the physical presence of devices, which includes the number of
computers, the presence of hardware and software, and the functionality of the equipment in the
school. Second, the necessary conduits for connectivity, such as electrical infrastructure and
internet connectivity. Third, having digital content that is related to the software installed on devices
and websites that can be viewed on the Internet. Fourth, community knowledge, attitudes, and
values on the role of ICT, as a part of specific social practices. Fifth, social and institutional
structure, or personal and professional relationships that promote specific ways of participating in
practices using ICT (Warschauer 2003); and finally, the rules and structure that outline participation
in ICT practices within a community or institution. This approach allows us to understand that the
strategies that the school community has developed to maintain the availability and use of ICT are
the result of the articulation of different sociocultural elements framed in the local context of the
The case study analysed in this article took place at a full-time elementary rural school (8:00 a.m.
to 3:00 p.m.), with a population of 220 students divided into six groups, one for each grade. 3
Teaching staff at the school consists of six teachers, a principal and a vice-principal.
Data collection and construction for this fieldwork followed qualitative ethnographic methods
(Maxwell 1996). During the 2016-2017 school year, researchers conducted semi-structured
3 In Mexico, elementary school is divided into six school grades. Officially, children who attend
elementary school must be between 6 and 12 years old.
Local strategies and models for availability and access to ICT in a rural elementary school 39
interviews (Hoepfl 1997) with school authorities, teachers, students, and parents; observed
lessons; studied digitized documents considered to be evidence of the school’s digital practices
and observed demonstrations of the uses of digital devices (Hernández 2015) in which students
participated. The regular presence of researchers in the school allowed data collection based on
observations and informal conversations about the daily activities of different members of the
school community. This data was recorded in field notes and preliminary reports (Loubere 2017).
Specifically, according to the purpose of this paper, data analysis is based on the following sources:

A midyear interview with the school principal and several informal conversations, which
were recorded in the fieldnotes.
Two individual interviews with the teachers from each grade level, at either end of the
school year.
Informal observations of classroom sessions and school activities during the year school,
recorded in the fieldnotes.
However, our data interpretations are also guided by the fieldwork carried out with the students of
the school, through interviews and demonstration of student’s uses of digital devices.
Our fieldwork was based on the categories of availability, access and uses of ICT as described by
Warshauer (2002, 2003) and Kalman (2009). Availability is described in terms of the physical
presence of devices, which includes digital content and software, and Internet connectivity for
teachers and students at school. Access is described in terms of school members’ and community
knowledge, attitudes and values, and the institutional and social relationships that surround and
enable teachers’ and students’ use of digital technologies, including formal and informal rules in
schools. ICT uses are described in terms of what teachers and students do with technology in
school. Also, through interviews, teachers’ early ICT experiences were identified, the history of
digital inclusion programmes implemented at the school was reconstructed and school community
opinions and their general sentiment on the role of ICT in their school were noted.
Our first data analysis strategy consisted of transcribing interviews, class observations and
demonstrations. Then, transcriptions were coded with ATLAS.ti, a qualitative analysis software.
The first coding was divided, deductively, into three initial categories: availability, access and ICT
uses. We created a second coding using inductive pattern codes (Miles, Huberman & Saldaña,
2014; West 2019) to sort through information obtained from the transcripts.
Our second analysis strategy consisted of identifying how the school community builds local models
for ICT availability and developed local strategies to support access and the daily use of ICT and
the Internet in the context of rural marginality conditions. This analysis was grounded on a critical
perspective of ICT insertion policies in Latin America (Dussel 2014; González 2014), and the
Warschauer’s approach (2003) to access to digital technologies.
On one hand, to analyse how the school translated and implemented public ICT policies, we
identified how government programmes have changed and remained in the models built by the
school community, and the views of the principal and teachers on their decisions that led to
developing a local model. On the other hand, the analysis considered how the principal, teachers
and parents supported and improved their local ICT model, through some strategies, to suit their
context, aims, values and views on the role of ICT in education.
Local models for availability of ICT
Availability of digital technologies and local models
In the rural locality where the school is located, the availability of digital devices and Internet
connection is poorly distributed among the population. According to teachers, only a few of their
students had computers and Internet connectivity at home. However, teachers stated that most of
their students were experienced using mobile phones to play video games, navigate the Internet,
and use social networking sites. In this regard, mobile phones and cybercafés in the community
are an important resource, which enables students to search the Internet and do homework on the
On the other hand, all teachers have a desktop or laptop computer at home and can connect to the
Internet at least through their cell phone. In the community in which the school is located, Internet
connectivity is only available through mobile phones or satellite connections, which is more
expensive than the broadband connections offered by phone companies in urban areas. Thus, only
teachers who lived in urbanized communities had broadband connections at home.
Inside the rural school, the notion of availability of digital devices is similar to that of two other past
models that were implemented as a result of digital inclusion policies: the computer lab model, and
the computer-in the-classroom model (Lugo & Schurmann 2012). In the computer lab model, the
rural school designated a specific classroom where 45 computers equipped with Office suite but
no Internet connection were made available. All computers were recycled from previous digital
inclusion programmes. In the following, in order to focus the analysis, only the computer-in-theclassroom model will be described.
The computer-in-the-classroom model had been developed by the school community over 6 years.
Year after year, the school community purchased the necessary devices to equip each classroom
with a desktop computer with Office suite software, a projector, a printer, and an Internet
connection. As discussed below, the school community developed different strategies in order to
purchase the devices.
Rules for use of the computer-in-the-classroom model are flexible. The principal’s only
recommendation is that every teacher takes care of the devices installed in their classroom.
Therefore, each teacher establishes their own rules with their students regarding the use of the
computer, the projector, the printer and the Internet.
The rural school benefited from a federal Internet availability programme known as “Connected
Mexico” (“México Conectado”). However, connectivity in school was deficient during this
programme. Therefore, in an effort to privilege administrative activities in school, the service was
made available exclusively in principals’ offices. So, in order to provide Internet connectivity for the
entire school community, school authorities acquired Internet access through a private provider
with resources generated by the school, through the cafeteria, and with voluntary contributions from
parents. This Internet connection was used to wire-connect each classroom and the school office.
According to our observations and the teachers’ and students’ testimonies, the computer-in-theclassroom model is used in two general ways. First, it serves as a resource to support lessons
based on textbooks, for example, to watch YouTube videos previously selected by the teachers, to
introduce or to illustrate curricular content, or to project educational software in order to help
students solve some activities individually or collectively. Second, it is used as a resource to
develop digital skills. Most of the teachers agreed that the availability of devices like computers,
Local strategies and models for availability and access to ICT in a rural elementary school 41
printer or projector in the classroom represents an opportunity for many students to use a digital
tool or to navigate the web for the first time. Most of the teachers indicated that they invest time in
the class to show and allow some uses of the computer and the Internet to their students. In both
cases, teachers and students concur with the idea that the use of digital devices plays an essential
role in keep students’ attention and motivation.
The computer-in-the-classroom model as a translation of digital inclusion policies.
The devices required for the computer-in-the-classroom model and the formal and informal rules
on how to use them, have been the result of agreements reached between school authorities,
teachers and parents, driven by the principal’s interest in enabling the use digital technologies for
academic activities.
The rural school has allowed the implementation of several digital inclusion programmes. The
federal digital inclusion programme known as Enciclomedia, implemented between 2002 and 2007
is the most important reference for the computer-in-the-classroom model. However, the school
community has translated some of Enciclomedia’s characteristics to suit their current interests and
Originally, Enciclomedia was implemented in 5th and 6th-grade classrooms across public
elementary schools nationwide. Classrooms were equipped with a computer, a projector, a printer
and an electronic whiteboard, but not with Internet connectivity. Enciclomedia’s software included
digitized textbooks, the content of Microsoft’s Encarta encyclopedia and ad hoc educational
software developed to support curricular textbook content and a number of educational activities
suggested in the texbooks.
Some rural school teachers agreed that Enciclomedia made their work easier because they were
able to use the exercises, activities and multimedia resources that had been included in the
software, and had useful devices available, such as the printer. For example, a fourth-grade
teacher, said:
The nice thing about Enciclomedia is that we were given a printer and I could print the
materials for the children: a map, a diagram, anything. So I didn’t need to ask students to
bring the map the next day, because some students would not bring it. With Enciclomedia
I used to give the students materials myself, it was a great feature.
Also, according to teachers, Enciclomedia allowed students to stay focused and encouraged
participation in class. These were some of the reasons that led the school principal to promote the
computer in the classroom model:
I had the chance to work with Enciclomedia, and I saw its importance, because, and I’ll say
this again, Enciclomedia activities helped me a lot, supported me, made work easier; so
when I became responsible for this school and part of the Full-Time Program, the first thing
I thought of was to find a projector.
The principal sees himself as an active teacher, and Enciclomedia aided his work. When he was
promoted to school principal, he wanted teachers and students to use similar devices.
For some teachers, one of the Enciclomedia programme’s greatest flaws was that it had only been
implemented in 5th and 6th grade. Thus, the school community made an important translation by
installing devices in all classrooms. As the principal said,
Nowadays, thanks to the Full Time Schools programme, the priority is not only for fifth and
sixth-grade classrooms to have projectors and computers, and even though the
whiteboards are not interactive, we want all students to do similar activities to those offered
by the Enciclomedia program. The impact has been very positive.
According to the previous comment, another translation made by the school community was the
decision not to install smart whiteboards, mainly due to lack of financial resources. Instead,
classrooms were equipped with whiteboards that doubled as projection screens.
In the absence of interactive software like that of Enciclomedia, the school community saw the
importance of reinforcing this model with an Internet connection. This is another important
adaptation of the programme. However, using the Internet, teachers were able to find activities
similar to those once found in Enciclomedia. For example, they can introduce or review curricular
content through videos or download and project electronic textbooks to teach student to read and
write or project interactive educational software from web sites. On this matter, a first-grade teacher
I downloaded all the textbooks, so when I work with the language textbook, I take out my
computer, connect it, turn on the projector and project the page we are working on for
students to see. This way, children who have not acquired literacy skills can see what we
are working on. I point to the words and we all read together. Also, we all answer together:
they answer, I write on the whiteboard and those who still do not know how to write, can
copy what we are doing.
For teachers, the most useful Enciclomedia feature was that it provided content and resources that
made their work easier. Therefore, the most important translation from Enciclomedia to the local
computer in the classroom model was the inclusion of an Internet connection because it allowed
them to support their model with content.
Local Strategies for Availability and Access to ICT
The school community has developed local strategies to maintain availability and access to digital
technologies in the school. Availability and access to digital technologies depend on the principal,
teacher, and parent initiatives to identify different resources. Based on data analysis, these
strategies are: a) the use of economic resources generated by the school, b) the use of students’
and teachers’ own resources and digital devices for school activities, c) the subcontracting of
Internet connectivity, and d) knowledge sharing practices among teachers.
The use of economic resources generated by the school
In 2011, the school joined the Full-Time Schools Program (“Programa de Escuelas de Tiempo
Completo), which supports school with approximately $5,300.00 USD per year to invest in
improving new facilities and classrooms, providing teacher training and purchasing teaching
materials and technological equipment. Using these resources, the school community has
developed the computer in the classroom model gradually over a period of six years. Following the
purchase of a projector, the school has acquired other devices throughout the years. An Internet
service provider was also hired two months before the end of the 2016-2017 school year.
Although funding for this programme has allowed the school community to purchase computer
equipment for classrooms, the school community has sought other finance strategies to keep the
equipment running and updated, and to maintain an Internet connection. The principal stated that:
Local strategies and models for availability and access to ICT in a rural elementary school 43
[regarding installed computers] we also give them maintenance with school resources,
because the Full-Time Schools Program funding does not cover maintenance […] Some
resources come from the school cafeteria, so together with the school committee, we adjust
our budget to include maintenance and for whatever else is needed here…
The Full-Time Schools Program does not cover any computer maintenance service fees or Internet
service provider costs. As a result, the school community decided to allocate a percentage of the
resources obtained through parent donations at the beginning of the year, and from revenue
obtained through the small school cafeteria to these purposes. Decisions about how these
resources are used are agreed upon by consensus from school authorities, teachers and parents,
and are bound by a legally established association.
The use of students’ and teachers’ own resources and digital devices for school activities
Before the Internet service was installed at the school, some teachers used data from their mobile
phones for activities that required using the Internet in the classroom. For example, a second-grade
teacher, stated the following:
Researcher I: Is there internet at school?
Teacher: No, this is something that … that limits us because we have all the equipment,
but often … for example, I have to use my data to…
Researcher: To download different things from the internet.
Teacher: Yes, download information and give it to the students … or even among other
teachers … we ask, hey, do you have any data? …
The Internet is an important part of teaching activities; therefore, although the school did not have
connectivity, some teachers used the Internet service on their mobile phones to download materials
such as videos, music, educational software and other items for use in the classroom.
Personal resources are also used to purchase printing supplies for classrooms. Teachers mainly
print exercise sheets for students to solve in class or at home. Funds for ink and paper are donated
by parents at the start of the school year as part of an agreement that allocates resources
exclusively for this purpose. These funds are managed by a parent committee per each classroom
that is also responsible for purchasing supplies at the start of the year and throughout the year as
The school community is unable to use economic resources for maintaining and repairing
equipment when necessary, so some teachers voluntarily donate part of their time and knowledge
to keep the computers running. This task has been undertaken by a male fourth grade teacher, and
the school vice-principal, both of whom are known by their colleagues as ‘computer-literate’. They
support the school community by formatting equipment, connecting wires, dealing with computer
viruses or installing programs whenever necessary, even when these tasks are not featured in their
job description.
The subcontracting of Internet connectivity
To have the Internet available for academic activities, the principal and parents agreed to
subcontracting a satellite Internet service through a cybercafé located next to the school. This was
the best possible option for this rural community to have connectivity in an area where Internet
coverage is only available through satellite service which is more expensive than broadband
Some cybercafés hire this service and then subcontract it to third parties. 4 For the rural school, this
subcontracting arrangement implies lower connection speeds because it is shared for all school
computers. This influenced the way in which the school community decided to distribute the Internet
service throughout their facilities. For example, months before hiring the service, the principal
speculated on how to bring a connection to the school:
Principal: […] this is the proposal to pay an internet service with resources obtained through
the school cafeteria. I do not know how the committee will do it, but people are less reluctant
and more participative. We have considered installing the internet to use it, alternatively, to
download some activities and be more functional, taking turns to use it because we know
that when we use many computers it gets slower […]. We have already been over this and
we will make a schedule. We don’t want it installed here (in the computer lab), because
there are thirty or so machines and we need high band width, but no, we don’t have enough
resources, so what we are going to do is install it in the classrooms and here in the office;
establish a schedule for the classrooms.
The principal indicated that the Internet service is paid using financial resources obtained through
the school cafeteria. He aims to ensure that the Internet is available when teachers need it. One
consideration regarding Internet connection functionality was the number of computers that would
be connected and the schedules in which they would operate. The principal was opposed to
simultaneously connecting many of the computers in the lab because of the Internet connection.
From his perspective, the best places for an Internet connection are the classrooms because only
six computers are connected at a time. He also considered regulating the hours in which teachers
would use the Internet to avoid the overlapping use. However, once the service was installed in the
classrooms teachers used it at will and did not report any problems, thus eliminating the need for
a schedule.
Knowledge sharing practices among teachers
As previously stated, from Warschauer’s perspective (2002, 2003), access to digital technologies
implies not only the availability of devices, but the knowledge, values, institutional arrangements
and social relationships that surround and make specific uses of ICT possible. In the rural school,
teachers’ knowledge of ICT varies widely. Some teachers show fluency in the use of digital devices,
but others are unsure of the use of ICT for teaching purposes. In the first category are teachers like
a male aged 34, who teaches fourth grade. He studied Math in a state college and has worked as
teacher for seven years. As he mentions, he usually attends online, and offline ICT courses
provided by government agencies:
Teacher A: In 2014 I completed a “digital ideas” course and now I am studying other online
courses. I also just finished two courses in collaborative projects. As part of these courses,
instructors send us plenty of interactive, history, English-learning, mathematics and
language software […] We have an online forum, and through that forum, instructors send
us activities and we have to send them evidence, with photos and PDF files, of what we
are doing with our students in the classroom.
4 Satellite internet service requires a payment of $5,560 MXN ($233 USD) and monthly charge of
$929 MXN ($34 USD) for a 1.5 megabyte speed service
( In contrast, broadband internet service requires
an initial installation payment of $1,310 MXN ($55 USD) and a monthly rent of $435.00 MXN
($18 USD) for a service of 20 megabyte speed service (
/internet connection).
Local strategies and models for availability and access to ICT in a rural elementary school 45
On the other hand, there are teachers like another male, aged 52, who teaches third grade and is
not at ease using computers in the classroom because he feels he lacks sufficient knowledge and
skills. As he established in an interview:
Interviewer: When do you use the computer to teach in the classroom? Do you use it often?
Teacher E: No, I do not use it often. But I’ve realized that you need to use it frequently to
motivate students. But I feel that I need to know more about technology.
Interviewer: Do you feel that the use of technology is complicated?
Teacher E: Well, yes. I am afraid to use the computer. When I went to the Teaching School,
teachers never taught us that. We had typewriters, and we were reluctant to use computers
because we didn’t need them. But now, when we need the computer, we have to try to use
it […] I am not very comfortable with technology.
The unequal distribution of knowledge of ICT uses among teachers is perpetuated by to the lack of
permanent training programmes in the workplace. This lack of training programmes has been a
constant feature in the implementation of public digital inclusion policies in México (Kalman &
Rendón 2014). Teachers’ knowledge of the use of ICT depends entirely on experiences during their
professional training, as well as personal interest and the possibility of attending courses offered
by public agencies or private companies.
In the absence of training programmes in the workplace, social relationships play an important role
in teachers’ encouraging each other to use the computers. When the rural school´s teachers need
to solve technical or pedagogical issues about digital devices, they usually ask the two male
teachers for assistance. For example, a female fifth-grade teacher said:
When I have any problems, I support myself from my colleagues, [Teacher A or E]. Once,
[Teacher A] help me to learn how to use software to design slides, he said that it is the
easiest and most dynamic software to make slides, I don´t remember what the software is
called, it starts with z. […] Once, [Teacher E], when I was doing my planning using Excel
I needed another cell, so he sees the screen, and he said to me “no teacher, it is easier in
this way: look, go to this window, open it, find” and he is the one who, if at the moment we
have any doubt he supports us.
In Mexican elementary schools, classes are suspended once a month so that teachers from each
school can meet to discuss and propose solutions to school problems, as well as develop
continuous improvement projects. Teacher A’s comments that it is in that moment he has the
opportunity to talk with colleagues and share experiences on the use of educational software,
teaching strategies, or to support his colleagues in any questions they may have.
Given the unequal distribution of knowledge, confidence in professional relationships between
expert and non-expert teachers is important when learning to use technology and sharing relevant
software, web sites, or social networking sites for educational purposes. The relationship between
teachers and students is also important. Many teachers acknowledged that in some cases,
students know more about specific uses of technology than themselves. In those cases, teachers
are said to be open to receive help from students.
Moreover, teachers find that ICT knowledge is unequally distributed among students in their school.
Some are able to operate a computer; navigate the Internet on mobile phones; or use software like
Word, PowerPoint, Excel. Others are inexperienced with devices and software. Thus, some
students first learned to use digital devices at rural school. In the words of a female teacher who
teaches second grade:
In fact, I am teaching them to use basic software such as Word or Paint, but especially
Word because it will be useful to them forever. In first grade they did not know anything
about the computer and now they are using the keyboard a little bit more. Once I even
asked the students, as a homework assignment, to draw the keyboard on cardboard so
they could practice, because most of them do not have a computer at home. There are
very few who do own a computer.
Despite the unequal distribution of knowledge in the use of ICT, all teachers use the resources
available in their school at least once a day, especially if their devices belong to the computer-inthe-classroom model. In the teaching community, ICT are seen as necessary to promote learning
while enabling teaching as well.
The data show that the rural school community developed strategies and local models of ICT use
to maintain the availability, access, and regular use of ICT in classrooms. Local availability models
have direct references to official ICT insertion programmes, so we consider that local models are
shaped by translations of official models implemented years before. On the other hand, developing
local strategies that allow the functioning of the ICT availability models, the school community
articulates several economic and socio-cultural elements that facilitate access and constant use of
technologies in the school.
The local models for availability of digital technology that the school community built are shaped,
in part, by their translations (Dussel 2014) of previous official ICT insertion programmes. As the
principal and a number of teachers mentioned, the computer-in-the-classroom model is based on
their Enciclomedia experience. They admit that when it was implemented in their school, this
programme helped keep students engaged during lessons and made their job easier because it
offered multimedia teaching resources. The school community adapted the Enciclomedia
programme and added connectivity to search for educational resources on the web and use them
in the classroom.
The school community has developed a range of ICT availability and access strategies. These
strategies resulted from the intersection of the school community’s interest, particularly the
principal’s interest, in promoting the use of digital technologies for teaching and learning; the
school’s and the surrounding community’s socioeconomic conditions, which are characterized by
marginality; the school’s institutional structure, which includes its rural school condition, its reduced
size in terms of the number of teachers and students, and the power to decide on the use of specific
financial resources with certain autonomy. The freedom to use financial resources provided as part
of the Full-Time Schools programme to suit the school’s needs and interests has been highly
significant to the community and the principal. Programme regulations allow the school community
to decide, within a framework of possibilities, what to do with the available funds. The possibility of
deciding on the use of economic resources has been influential in consolidating the computer in
the classroom as a relevant model for the school community.
Given the conditions of marginality in the school and among the student population, the way the
school has chosen to invest part of their financial resources in technological equipment and
connectivity, despite the elevated cost of Internet services in the context of the community, is
remarkable. A possible explanation is that in conditions of marginality such as those found in this
community, the availability of digital technology and connectivity at school, replaces in a practical
Local strategies and models for availability and access to ICT in a rural elementary school 47
way (González 2008), the lack of accessible technological infrastructure and cultural services such
as public libraries or community centres.
By subcontracting an Internet service, this school community has found an effective response to
connectivity shortcomings in the official programme and to the conditions under which the
telecommunication industry operates in rural areas of Mexico. On the other hand, the use of
economic resources generated by the school and parents’ voluntary contributions to buy computer
equipment and pay for an Internet service demonstrates the role of social relations when
establishing local agreements that eventually allow the consolidation of a model of availability of
technology that can be relevant to community contexts. It also represents an example of practices
that should be analysed in order to transform the verticality with which digital inclusion has
traditionally been designed and implemented in schools (Dussel 2014), and is a case for horizontal
designs that take peripheral practices in the use of ICT into account (González 2008).
The case of the rural school shows that access to ICT goes beyond the mere availability of devices
and connectivity. Literacy perspectives on ICT access (Kalman & Hernández 2018; Tripp & HerrStephenson 2009; Warschauer 2003), have been useful when analysing the articulation of
elements that enable school communities to use ICT in accordance with its interests, values, and
socioeconomic context. From a literacy perspective, key to understanding what makes ICT access
possible are the social practices and the constructed meanings in which technology is used. The
case of the rural school shows that, in each classroom, teachers do things with technology every
day. This includes teachers who consider themselves to be digitally illiterate, and it is possible
because teachers are certain that technology is a necessary tool for learning and motivation,
especially in a context of marginality where students often lack ICT and cultural resources at home
and in the community.
Theorists and policy makers must pay more attention to local ICT availability and access strategies,
which will provide greater evidence to support ICT access proposals in collaboration with school
communities, or as González (2014, 2008) points out: from the periphery to the centre and from
the bottom to the top. Finally, questions remain about the pedagogical sense of ICTs when
availability and access models are developed by the school community itself, without there being
any direct orientation on behalf of a governmental ICT insertion or digital inclusion programme.
Authors thank the PRODEP programme fellows: Adán Torres-Marín, Daniela Pilar-Silva and
Gabriela Díaz-Jardón for their collaboration in ordering and systematizing the data shown in this
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2020, VOL. 20, NO. 3, 316–333
Participatory visual methods and school-based responses to
HIV in rural South Africa: insights from youth, preservice and
inservice teachers
Katie MacEntee
Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada
This paper explores students’, preservice teachers’ and inservice
teachers’ perceptions of the contributions and challenges of using
participatory visual methodologies (PVM) to enhance HIV education
in rural schools. Drawing on findings from three research projects
conducted in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa, four positive contributions
are identified: 1) novelty, fun and engagement; 2) amplifying youth
voices; 3) the facilitation of teachers’ reflexive learning; and 4) the
production of local resources in under-resourced schools. Challenges
include: 1) limited technology access; 2) teacher discomfort; and 3)
resistance to PVM integration. Teachers and young people, especially
in under resourced rural settings, can benefit from integrating such
methodologies into their responses to HIV and AIDS. However, sustainable integration must rely on choosing the most appropriate
participatory visual methodologies given the technological resources
available in school. The paper concludes with recommendations to
optimise participatory visual methodologies integration into rural
school-based HIV responses.
Received 1 February 2019
Accepted 27 August 2019
HIV; participatory visual
methodology; sexual health
education; rural education
South Africa has the largest generalised HIV epidemic in the world. In 2016, an estimated
7.1 million South Africans were living with HIV (UNAIDS 2017). Black African young women
(aged 15–24) are four times more likely to be HIV positive than their male counterparts
(Shisana et al. 2014). This hypervulnerability is the result of gender inequalities. HIV prevention and treatment require engaging with gender-based violence and changing social
norms around male sexual entitlement (Harrison et al. 2015). HIV education should seek
to engage and support young people, especially young women and marginalised groups, as
active participants in social change (Haberland and Rogow 2015). However, more than
a decade of research shows that teachers struggle to educate their students in this manner
(Ahmed et al. 2009; Baxen 2010; Francis and Renée 2015; Smith and Harrison 2013).
Participatory visual methodologies (PVM) use different methods to engage individuals
in making and analysing visual media to explore, represent and disseminate their
understandings of a particular issue. In the course of the last two decades, PVM research
has utilised drawing, body mapping, photovoice, digital storytelling, participatory video
CONTACT Katie MacEntee
© 2019 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
and cellphilming (videos made on a cellphone) to address the HIV epidemic in rural
areas (Brooks et al. 2017; Lys et al. 2018). While much celebrated, there are few reports in
the academic literature that focus on research participants’ perspectives on the contributions and challenges of PVM to HIV-related research interventions in rural schools.
This paper presents findings from three research projects exploring learners’ and teachers’ experiences with PVM as part of HIV education1 research in rural KwaZulu Natal.
Comparing and contrasting the reflections of participants, my aim is to evaluate the use of
PVM in HIV education by asking (1) what are the contributions of PVM to HIV education, and
(2) what are the challenges to sustaining the contributions that PVM can make? To
contextualise the research findings, I review the literature on HIV education in rural South
Africa that supports the use of PVM as a research intervention. I also describe the projects
and their research design. I then identify contributions and challenges to using PVM in HIV
rural education.
HIV and AIDS education in Rural South Africa
Education is a fundamental component of South Africa’s national response to the HIV
epidemic. Educational policy stresses the importance of teachers educating young
people about the intersecting social and biological factors driving the epidemic (DBE
2012b; SANAC 2011). Sexual and reproductive health, gender, sexuality, HIV and AIDS,
and decision-making are all topics integrated into the national Life Orientation (LO)
curriculum, which starts in elementary school and develops in an age appropriate
manner throughout high school (DBE 2011a, 2011b, 2012a). Schools are excellently
situated in communities to implement a vital health curriculum.
However, LO is not always taught by teachers trained in this specialisation (Francis and
Renée 2014), and there is evidence that teachers tend towards highly moralistic, abstinencebased approaches that problematically reproduce gender inequalities and exclude potentially
lifesaving information (Baxen and Wood 2013). Scare tactics – focusing on the physical effects
of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), unplanned pregnancy, alcohol and drugs – are
similarly inappropriate and may actually promote HIV-related stigma (Chege 2006; Pattman
and Stuart 2011). The use of pejorative language (e.g. using ‘othering’ or binary ‘us and them’
language) can exclude and alienate people living with HIV (Wood and Rens 2014). Such
language can also promote the belief that LGBTQ sexualities are dangerous and wrong
(DePalma and Francis 2014). Women’s sexualities can also be negatively portrayed. As
Shefer and Ngabaza (2015) explain, HIV education ‘hail[s] women as responsible for not
only protecting themselves from desired or undesired sexual engagement, the consequences
and potential violence, but also for keeping larger social moralities in place’ (p. 72). Didactic
pedagogies and idealistic messages that are disconnected from young people’s lived experiences have contributed to AIDS fatigue, or apathy towards the ongoing epidemic (Shefer,
Strebel, and Jacobs 2012).
Rural areas in South Africa face additional challenges with respect to HIV. Rural communities experience ongoing effects from the country’s history of colonisation, segregation and
land dispossession under apartheid. Informal rural areas experience a high prevalence of HIV
(over 13%) (Shisana et al. 2014). Rural schools typically lack basic infrastructure and
resources (Gina 2015). National education policies and curricula do not adequately recognise the heterogeneity of rural communities (Hlalele 2014) and suggested classroom
activities for HIV education developed in and for urban settings may not make sense in rural
contexts (Masinire, Maringe, and Nkambule 2014). That said, rural areas have many positive
qualities, including their rich sense of community, resilience and connection to traditional
cultures, the land and family. Educational resources for HIV that are created and used locally
can reflect diversity and affirm rural attributes (Balfour, Mitchell, and Moletsane 2008). There
is an urgent need therefore to explore the unique characteristics of rural communities and
how rural schools can more effectively address HIV and AIDS.
Integrating participatory visual methods to address challenges in HIV
The use of PVM in HIV research in South Africa has attracted international attention. Women
have used body mapping and compiled a book that illustrated the social determinants of
health and HIV stigma (MacGregor 2009). Young people have used cellphilm to educate
their peers about safer sexual practices (Yang and MacEntee 2015). Young people have also
used participatory GIS mapping and photovoice to explore the intersections of adolescent
binge drinking and HIV risk behaviours (Letsela et al. 2019). These and other projects
illustrate the capacity of PVM to promote greater recognition of community knowledge
and context-specific responses to the social dynamics of HIV transmission and prevention.
PVM research on HIV actively intersects with pedagogy and activism to support teachers
and learners. Buthelezi et al. (2007) have proposed that the wider use of PVM ‘could help
break the silence around sex, health and sexuality’ and point the way to ‘developing further
interactive curricula’ (p. 456). Walsh (2007) has described PVM as an engaged pedagogy and
De Lange, Mitchell, and Stuart (2007) have described it as research for social change.
However, PVM also raises ethical concerns. Reliance on expensive and specialised
resources may compound community inequalities and inequalities between the facilitator
and participant (Walsh 2014). The public display of creative productions, especially when
dealing with sensitive topics such as gender-based violence (GBV) and HIV-related stigma,
heightens concerns around personal disclosure and anonymity (Shaw 2015). Thus, the
emancipatory potential of PVM in education is exciting, but brings with it concern.
Research setting
The research described here involved preservice teachers, inservice teachers and learners
associated with two rural schools (1. grades 8–12; 2. R-12) in the Vulindlela region of KwaZulu
Natal province. The region is traditional Zulu territory. The school populations were majority
Black and spoke isiZulu as their first language. Many of the learners were raised by extended
family members who are dependent on government aid. Employment opportunities in the
region are low, especially for youth, while the HIV prevalence rate is high. Young women
under 20 years of age have a prevalence rate of 17% (Kharsany et al. 2015). Addressing the
impact of the HIV epidemic on learners and the wider community was therefore critical.
The perspectives of inservice teachers, preservice teachers and learners were collected in
the course of three separate but interrelated projects connected to the Centre for Visual
Methodologies for Social Change (CVMSC) at UKZN and the Participatory Cultures Lab
(PCL) at McGill University, Canada. In-depth analysis of the individual projects, methods
and findings are documented elsewhere (MacEntee 2016a, 2016b, MacEntee and
Mandrona 2015). In summary:
The digital storytelling project
This pilot project tested the use of photography as assessment method for PVM in HIV
education research. A workshop was conducted in under two weeks and attended by 11
learners in grade 9 (age 14 years). Lukas Labacher (a colleague) and I introduced the
prompt: ‘Youth and HIV and AIDS in my community,’ to guide participants’ collaborative
creation of three digital stories. We discussed each story for its intended meaning and
significance in the local context. Participants then used photovoice method to assess the
workshop. They took photographs depicting what they enjoyed and what they found
challenging about the workshop and the digital storytelling method. Two female participants presented one of the digital stories at a World AIDS Day event in the Vulindlela area.
Preservice teacher PVM training
The Youth as Knowledge Producers (YAKP) project provided preservice teachers with
practical training in PVM for HIV education in rural schools (Stuart 2010). Photo-elicitation
interviews and photovoice method were used with three YAKP participants two years after
the project’s conclusion to assess their perceptions of the programme’s impact2.
Teacher cellphilm screenings
To explore inservice teachers’ use of cellphilms as teaching resources, a link was made
with the Digital Voices Project. Teachers had already produced cellphilms and I worked
closely with them to prepare screenings. In three groups, the participants planned and
facilitated three separate cellphilm screenings. Audiences included a Catholic youth
group, a high school Peace Club, and a cohort of Grade 6 (ages not recorded) learners.
To document teachers’ reflections and experiences, participant observation took place
during the screenings and pre- and post-event focus groups with each teacher-group.
Systems of power
Previous connection3 with the projects enhanced the ability to reflect on their strengths and
challenges (Holderness 2012; Khobzi and Flicker 2010). It also assisted in recruitment and
helped build comfort and trust with participants. However, these prior links may also have
limited participants’ critiques. Some participants may have refrained from pointing out
challenges fearing these would be interpreted as personal criticism. Participants chose to
conduct the research in English, which may also have limited some freedom of expression
(Ndimande 2012)4.
Other systems of inequality further shaped the research interactions. South Africa
emerged from apartheid with a flourish of democratic ideals in 1994, and the country has
made great strides in creating a more just society. Nevertheless, racial and class segregation
in people’s everyday lives remains. Inequality was pronounced in the rural area and evident
in the urban university setting as well. Being a White, English-speaking academic from
Canada, my identity as a researcher is overwritten by a history of colonial privilege. Some
participants – especially, Black and Coloured participants, younger participants, or participants with less education – may have felt inhibited speaking with me due to intersecting
inequalities. In addition, my White, western privilege prevented me from fully understanding certain nuances of living in KwaZulu Natal. The research process and outcomes are
therefore shaped – strengthened and limited – by the complexities of my relationships with
participants and the overarching systems of power.
The study engaged twenty-three participants (Table 1). Data collection methods, including photovoice, photo-elicitation, one-to-one interviews, focus groups and participant
observation, were chosen to help mitigate language barriers, enhance participant
expression and provide data that was relevant to the individual project under study.
Research approval for each project was granted from McGill Research Ethics Board and
Humanities and Social Science Research Ethics Committee at UKZN. Informed consent
from a legal guardian and assent was required for participants under 18 years. Informed
consent was required of all participants 18 years or older. Participants were never asked
to disclose their HIV status. All digital data was stored on the principal investigator’s
computer and hard copy consent forms were locked at the CVMSC. Participants volunteered and are referred to here using pseudonyms.
Photovoice was used with learners and with preservice teachers. Photovoice method
helps democratise the research process by allowing participants more control over the
creation, analysis and representation of data (Milligan 2016). It assumes participants are
experts on the topic under study based on their lived experiences (Pauwels 2015). The
method involves participants taking photographs in response to a research prompt and
writing short captions explaining the significance of the photos (Wang 2003). The photographs and captions are analysed alongside qualitative data – transcripts of group discussions and participant observation notes (Mitchell, De Lange, and Moletsane 2017).
Participants used cameras provided by the research project. Prior to engaging in data
collection we reviewed how the photographs would be used, strategies participants
Table 1. Project participants.
My methods
Project 1
Project 2
Digital Storytelling with
Impact of preservice teacher
PVM training
11 Grade 9 learners (seven 3 preservice teachers (two female,
female and two male, all
ages 22 and 25, and one male
14 years old)
age undisclosed)
Digital storytelling
Photovoice, Collage, Participatory
Rural youths’ communityExperiences getting and
based responses to the
implementing PVM training.
AIDS epidemic
Participant observation
Participant observation,
Interviews, Photo-elicitation,
Project 3
Inservice teacher cellphilm
9 inservice teachers
(one male and eight
female, ages not recorded)
How teachers use cellphilms
they made as HIV
educational resources
Participant observation,
Focus Groups
could use to not identify themselves (or others) in photographs, and the possible
implications if participants chose to identifying themselves in the data. Some participants chose to remain anonymous while others chose to identify themselves.
The learners completed the photovoice activity on the last day of the digital storytelling workshop, before presenting at the World AIDS Day event. They worked in pairs,
helping each other to take 2–4 photographs each about what they enjoyed and what
they found challenging about the workshop and then individually wrote captions. The
visual data was paired with participant observation, which was documented in notes
directly following the workshop and the World AIDS Day event.
I met with preservice teachers one-to-one for photo-elicitation interviews (Harper 1986).
Participants responded to a set of photographs taken during the YAKP activities. The
photographs sparked participants’ memories of the YAKP events and, alongside semistructured interview questions, helped facilitate an interpretative analysis of how the
events continued to shape their ideas about HIV education (Mitchell et al. 2018). Directly
following the interviews, participants conducted photovoice. They took photographs in
response to the prompt: ‘What does it mean to engage with youth in making art to address
HIV and AIDS?’ They then wrote short captions that described what their photos meant.
I did not use photovoice during the cellphilm screening project. With the three
groups of inservice teachers I conducted pre- and post-screening focus groups. During
the focus groups we discussed the teachers’ anticipation and reflections on the screenings, audience interactions and the cellphilm method. I also conducted participant
observation during the screening events.
I used an intertextual approach to data analysis that was guided by Fiske (1992), Rose
(2001), and Mitchell (2011). Visual (photographs) and textual (transcripts and participant
observations notes) data was triangulated for thematic analysis. The photovoice, transcripts
and field notes are given equal significance as representations of participants’ understandings in this interpretative process. Moving between the different data types, participants’
ideas were compared and contrasted. Seven themes were identified. Four referred to the
contributions of PVM, while three themes addressed the challenges of integrating PVMs.
The four themes related to the contributions of PVM were: 1) novelty, fun and engagement; 2) amplifying youth voices; 3) facilitating teachers’ reflexive learning; and 4) the
production of local resources in under-resourced schools. The three themes associated
with challenges of integrating PVM were: 1) limited technology access; 2) teachers’
discomfort; and 3) resistance to PVM integration.
Contributions of PVM
Novelty, fun and engagement
Preservice teachers and learners were disenchanted with didactic prevention interventions
and excited by the novel, engaging PVM activities. Participants were familiar with didactic
pedagogies in HIV education. Sarah, a preservice teacher, said, ‘we are used to people who
do these things, who just come and stand in front of you and just talk talk, talk, talk.’ Gillian,
an inservice teacher, stated that before the cellphilm project ‘we wouldn’t know that we
could do anything other than stand in front of the learners talking’. For many participants,
the research projects were their first introduction to PVM for use in HIV education.
At first, I didn’t understand how the two came together. I was just like, ok, what are we
doing here? . . . And then once we got into it and we saw that art can be used in a way to
explain HIV and AIDS it became, wow! It opened my mind . . . there is not just one way of
learning about HIV and AIDS. There are a lot of ways you can do it and there are a lot of
exciting ways that you can do it (Monique, preservice teacher)
Through the research process teachers discovered the pedagogical potential of the PVM
approach. The photovoice data from the digital storytelling project illustrated how
young people enjoyed the creative process that centred on their contributions and
knowledge in the form of drawings and answering questions (Figure 1).
Alex, an inservice teacher, observed that cellphilm ‘draws [the learners’] attention. They
don’t get bored easily.’ David, a preservice teacher, expressed a similar sentiment in
reference to PVM more general through photovoice (Figure 2). The image evokes a sense
of play and the caption reiterating that ‘Art is fun’ and a productive educational technique.
PVM introduced student-centred, experiential, and creative alternatives to the didactic models and learners were engaged.
Yeah, I think that was something that was my favourite, by having them participate. And
showing interest and asking about whatever the person had said (Gillian, in service teacher).
Amplifying youth voices
PVM was used by young people to share their HIV-related knowledge, which helped
establish them as community leaders. At the AIDS Day event, two female participants
Figure 1. ‘It was nice to draw and answer the questions’ (Learner’s photovoice reflections on Digital
storytelling workshop).
Figure 2. ‘Art is fun. People often open up and learn more effectively when they are having fun.’
(Preservice teacher’s reflections on using PVM with youth to address HIV). Centre for the Book, 2003
In My Life: Youth Stories and Poems about HIV and AIDS, Cape Town: Centre for the Book.
addressed a large crowd of community leaders, teachers and peers about the research
and their thoughts on HIV prevention. These girls were the only young people at this
event given an unfettered platform to speak (Figure 3).
Reflecting on their experiences using PVM with youth, teachers described a growing
appreciation of learners as leaders in the community response to the epidemic. Joan, an
inservice teacher, described learners as, ‘eloquent . . . they could really express themselves so well! So it was exciting for me.’ Preservice teachers also expressed an appreciation of learner’s ideas and perspectives:
their minds are still young, and you think they are innocent, but really they do understand
what is happening around them. So that was something that was really shocking for me.
(Monique, preservice teacher)
Inservice teachers were influenced by what students had to say when discussing the
cellphilms. Bongile reflected, ‘Yes. She did change my mind. I see that I have to bend in
order to make her achieve what I want her to achieve, because she can dialogue with
me.’ Lundiwe stated: ‘The bravery of these learners to speak about such things. I thought
they were going to be very shy, very contained. But they talked.’ Based on their
interaction during the screenings, teachers were interested in organising future cellphilms workshops for learners to explore ‘challenges they face and their views about
different issues’ (Alex, inservice teacher).
Facilitating teachers’ reflexive learning
Facilitating PVM with learners stimulated reflexive growth among the participating
teachers.5 Training and support in reflexive learning is argued to create stronger HIV
Figure 3. Learner participant introducing digital storytelling at World AIDS Day event.
educators (Baxen 2010). Two years after participating in the YAKP, preservice teachers
vividly recalled their interactions with learners. One participant recounted a question
posed to her by a learner about HIV transmission through casual contact. The question
led the teacher to consider her personal experience living with an HIV positive family
member and to connect more deeply with the learner.
A learner’s visual media made another preservice teacher more aware of her own
sheltered childhood and the complexities of the social drivers of the epidemic. In the
following quotation, Monique remembered her response to a student’s collage. She
reflected on the differences between her own experiences growing up in an urban area
compared to what the learner was illustrating about life in the rural community and how
some learners trade sex for clothes, cellphones or a ride to school:
I was just shocked, cause from where I come from it is very different. Like you know, small
things don’t amuse us. Like clothes and stuff, we get these things. So, there is nothing that
would draw me towards wanting that or giving something from myself in order to get that.
This particular participant’s shock and comparisons reveal the types of personal judgements
teachers confront when using PVM with learners, or what Baxen (2010) refers to as
temporary troubling or ruptures in teacher identity that are markers of reflexive learning.
The production of local resources in under-resourced schools
Participants illustrated and discussed how PVM produced visual texts that could be used as
educational resources that reflected community strengths. One preservice teacher’s photovoice celebrated PVM because it makes use of accessible materials (Figure 4). Another
preservice teacher noted PVM could be used to create and display messages that ‘speak
out when others don’t want to’ (Figure 5). The learners’ screening of their digital story, which
portrayed what local youth could do to address HIV and AIDS in their communities,
demonstrated how PVM could be used for community engagement. Similarly, inservice
teachers demonstrated how cellphilms can be used in schools to generate lively debates
with learners on topics such as local marriage practices, accessing pornography, genderbased violence, alcohol consumption and the appropriate age to initiate sexual activity. The
impact of the cellphilms screenings ‘opened a platform for [learners] to approach us as
parents, as guidance teachers, and also as support if they need this support as well’ (Ntombi,
Inservice Teacher). These different examples articulate the ways that PVM visual outputs are
local resources that generate dialogue. They also suggest that the process of disseminating
the outputs also identifies the participants, themselves, as local champions in addressing
the HIV epidemic.
Challenges to integrating and sustaining participatory visual methods
Limited technology access
Using PVM that require digital technology may be inappropriate when schools have limited
resources and the result can increase the burden of HIV education for teachers. The digital
work in all three projects was dependent on cameras or cellphones, computers, and projectors
Figure 4. ‘Using materials that are accessible’ (Preservice teacher’s reflections on using PVM with
youth to address HIV).
Figure 5. ‘Display Message- Speaking out when others do not want to and making sure you come
across with the best possible message to reach all’ (Preservice teacher’s reflections on using PVM
with youth to address HIV).
being provided by the research. Some participants required extensive training on how to use
the digital technologies. While learners quickly picked up the use of cameras, they struggled
to use the project’s laptop to construct their digital stories. David, a preservice teacher, stated ‘I
have such a hard time with the laptop’ and wished the YAKP had provided further training on
the technical aspects of video production. PVM projects that rely on technology that is
unfamiliar to participants should set aside ample time for participants to become proficient
in visual production.
Cellphilming is a digitally-based method that relies on cellphones, which were
relatively accessible to teachers and learners in rural areas. However, other resources
are also required. One inservice teacher lamented:
with the cellphilms, to show them we would probably need the overhead projector, yeah,
a laptop, maybe, yeah. And all the stationary that we used – the chart paper. (Thabasile)
In some rural schools, resource needs may extend beyond digital technology to include
even the most basic tools, such as pencils and paper.
The culture of the school can also limit the feasibility of digitally-reliant PVM. For
example, there was a computer lab at the school were the digital storytelling workshop
took place, but students reported having very restricted access to it. During the cellphilm project, inservice teachers declined the research team’s offer to purchase an LCD
projector. They felt the school would not be capable of keeping the equipment secure
and functional over the long term. They also worried that managing control and access
to the projector would create tension between staff. In resource limited contexts,
introducing new technology may hinder, rather than support HIV education efforts.
Teacher discomfort
PVM has the potential to evoke the personal disclosure of trauma by revealing links between
the HIV epidemic and other issues such as gender-based violence, sexual coercion, poverty
and normative gender roles. This is considered a strength of the approach, but it can also
cause teachers discomfort. Inservice teachers were observed fielding some difficult, and
occasionally personal, questions from their student audiences. For example, one female
teacher was asked how old she was when she started dating. Participants later explained,
this was a thinly veiled question about her past and present sexual activity. If teachers feel
personally exposed when using PVM, they may be less motivated to use the approach in
their teaching.
Another example of teacher discomfort was provided by Monique, a preservice teacher,
who worried about her inability to respond in the moment to a student’s collages about
sexual behaviour:
I think at that point in time when I came across this stuff, I was more shocked than anything.
I won’t even lie to you. To be honest, I don’t know if I really dealt with it at that time.
Because I had no response to what he was saying.
The risk of teachers leaving students’ questions about HIV and sexuality unaddressed are
multiple. Silence can, for example, perpetuate misinformation around sexual health,
reinforce HIV-related stigma and solidify damaging gender norms. If teachers are not
prepared to deal with their discomfort and students’ questions or disclosures, PVM may
become a liability rather than a contribution to HIV education.
Resistance to PVM integration
Outside the support of the research intervention projects, participants experienced
resistance to PVM integration in schools. The Digital Storytelling Project was a pilot
and a limitation of its design was the lack of support for learners’ independent engagement with PVM once the project came to a close. It is unknown whether participants
continued to use digital storytelling or if the workshop inspired further engagement in
HIV activism. The project would likely have benefited from the involvement of a school
faculty member, ideally trained in PVM, who could have provided ongoing facilitation
and support accessing the school resources.
For the most part, teacher participants expressed enthusiasm about integrating PVM
into their teaching practice, but their attempts were not necessarily supported by
colleagues or the school culture. One preservice teacher encountered resistance to
PVM from practicum mentors, and thus hesitated to use the techniques they had
learned during YAKP for fear it would impact their final grade. Another preservice
teacher reported being mocked by teachers at her practicum school who described
her use of PVM as just getting learners to ‘play games.’ It was beyond the scope of YAKP
to transform school cultures, and this led David to question the overall positive impact
of being involved in the research. He explained: ‘Sometimes being part of YAKP might
not be such a good thing if you don’t know how to negotiate with the culture that exists
in schools and in communities. Because, you could be ostracised for talking about things
that are taboo. You could be challenged for bringing new techniques.’ Inservice teacher
participants also doubted their ability to organise cellphilm screenings without researchers’ support: ‘because we are always busy . . . also the fact that management is also not
really willing with the time’ (Nandi, inservice teacher). While the research intervention
succeeded in creating supportive community for teachers to learn and try out new
methods, individual teachers can encounter resistance from colleagues and administration that make it difficult to integrate PVM into their teaching practice.
Study limitations
Given the small participant cohort and the manner of their selection, findings from this
research are not generalisable and my relationship to the projects and some of the
participants may have contributed to response bias. To the best of my knowledge, however,
this is the first study to analyse PVM in HIV education with a focus on rural schooling. Thus,
study findings provide a starting point on which to build future analyses. Follow up research
and longitudinal assessment of PVM in HIV education are required.
In this collection of studies, young people, preservice and inservice teachers reported PVM as
contributing to meaningful engagement in HIV education initiatives in rural schools. Teachers
can use the non-didactic, youth-centred approach to combat ‘AIDS fatigue’ and the creative
outputs from PVM activities help amplify youth’s voices. They can also establish opportunities
for teachers to learn from their students, and to develop their own reflexive understandings of
the epidemic, making them better HIV educators and more receptive to youth leadership
(Pithouse-Morgan et al. 2013). Furthermore, PVM encourages teachers and learners to come
together and explore sensitive topics in a way that provides tangible resources in underresourced rural community (Balfour 2012). These findings help lay the groundwork for the
more robust integration of PVM into HIV-related pedagogy, teacher education and professional development in order to support more genuine engagement with youth and teachers’
abilities to address the social drivers of the AIDS epidemic in rural schools.
However, to establish and sustain the contributions of PVM in HIV education, challenges and barriers must be addressed. First, limited access to technology in many rural
schools makes certain digitally-based methods impractical without additional structural
support and funding in place. Bringing in new technology must be assessed to ensure it
does not increase or establish new power inequalities (Walsh 2014). Research teams and
teachers considering to use PVM need to carefully consider which methods are welcome
and makes sense given the culture and technology access of the particular community
and school (MacEntee and Flicker 2018). There are also several ‘low-tech’ PVM methods
(e.g. participatory mapping and drawing), not examined by this study, that could also be
explored (Theron et al. 2011; Lys et al. 2018). The widespread use of cellphones by
young people and teachers suggests that cellphilm method may be an especially
promising digital method that uses local and culturally relevant technology (MacEntee
2015; Mitchell and Naydene 2013). Sharing cellphilms online or phone-to-phone can
circumvent the need for additional viewing technology (e.g. a projector), increasing the
feasibility of this method in resource limited schools.
Second, the participatory visual aspects of PVM for HIV education raises safety
concerns that teachers and learners must be prepared to negotiate. PVM can highlight
sensitive and unexpected topics. Discomfort with HIV-related topics or the potential of
turning the spot light on teachers’ personal lives can lead some teachers to avoid HIV
education altogether (DePalma and Francis 2014). Stuart (2011) argues, when teachers
are unable to respond to learners’ comments or when they respond in a way that
reinforces gender normative behaviour they risk reinforcing these behaviours. This
reaction can have life or death consequences, especially for young women in contexts
with high rates of gender-based violence. It is imperative that teachers are prepared and
learn how to productively facilitate PVM with diverse youth populations. This should
include becoming familiar with where, how and from whom to access assistance should
they or their students need additional support outside of the classroom.
Third, resistance to PVM integration post research intervention must be overcome. To date,
PVM have primarily been integrated into HIV education through small-scale research projects
and interventions (Mitchell et al. 2009). The Centre for Visual Methodologies for Social Change
and Participatory Cultures Lab is dedicated to community-based research and continues to
partner with rural schools in Vulindlela (and elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa and globally) to
address HIV. Nevertheless, individual research intervention projects, such as the ones examined here, have limited funding and relatively short timeframes. The capacity of these types of
project, alone or in concert, to support teachers and learners to implement PVM for HIV
education in rural schools over the long term is inadequate. The magnitude of transformation
required must likely include increasing the awareness and support of mentor teachers on the
contributions of PVM. School administration and inservice professional training in PVM for HIV
education will likely support new and established inservice teachers integrate PVM into their
teaching practice. This, ultimately, is a call for the increased recognition of PVM not just as
a research method but also as a pedagogy. Existing networks of teacher educators and PVM
experts6 are central to recognising this change in perspective. Funding for longitudinal
research that follows the adaptation and implementation of PVM with teachers and learners
for the purpose of systematic integration into HIV education is also essential. With adequate
preparation and support, teachers and learners can use PVM to make important communitybased, youth-centred responses to the AIDS epidemic
1. In this paper, the term HIV education includes both curricular and more ‘informal’ in-school
strategies to address the social and biological factors associated with the HIV epidemic.
2. This reported data is part of a larger study that consulted with YAKP research team
members and high school learners.
3. Two years before this research took place, I worked as an intern on part of the Rural Teacher
Education Project (RTEP) – a project out of UKZN working in Vulindlela schools to prepare
preservice teachers for rural teaching. As an intern, I met preservice teachers and learners
who participated in the follow-up projects reported on here. I did not work with the
inservice teachers in this project at this time but their school was in the same area as the
schools I had worked with during the RTEP.
4. I discussed hiring a translator to assist participants who were less comfortable in English,
but everyone chose to work in English. The participants who had lower proficiency saw the
research as an opportunity to practice the language with a native speaker.
5. Reflexivity can be a vague and sometimes overused term in academic discourse. I follow
a definition that is specific to HIV teaching: namely, that reflexivity is the process of
identifying one’s assumptions about the virus (HIV) and sexuality and considering how
these influence one’s attitudes towards the epidemic and teacher practice (HEAIDS 2010).
6. See, for example, the Higher Education and Training Health, Wellness and Development
Centre (HEAIDS) HIV/AIDS Education Community of Practice:
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.
This research was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
(SSHRC) Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship and the Michael Smith Foreign
Study Supplement. Additional support was provided the SSHRC-funded project Digital Voices of
Rural Teachers: Participatory analysis, ‘being a teacher in the age of AIDS’ and social action
through cellphilms (2011-2014, PI: Claudia Mitchell).
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African Schools: the Dilemma and Conflicts of Educators.” Scandinavian Journal of Public Health
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Balfour, R. 2012. “Rurality Research and Rural Education: Exploratory and Explanatory Power.”
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