Sidestepping the Elephant in the Classroom: Using Culturally Localized Technology To Teach Around Taboos

Cultural taboos can restrict student learning on topics of critical importance. In India, such taboos have led multiple states to ban materials intended to educate youth about HIV, putting millions at risk. We present the design of TeachAIDS, a software application that leverages cultural insights, learning science, and affordances of technology to provide comprehensive HIV education while circumventing taboos. Using a mixed-methods evaluation, we demonstrate that this software leaves students with significantly increased knowledge about HIV and reduced stigma toward individuals infected with the virus. Validating the effectiveness of TeachAIDS in circumventing taboos, students report comfort in learning from the software, and it has since been deployed in tens of thousands of schools throughout India. The methodology presented here has broader implications for the design and implementation of interactive technologies for providing education on sensitive topics in health and other areas.