Adult basic education and training or “ABET” in South Africa has evolved over many years. It is now even more relevant than before. This is considering the country’s exceptionally high levels of unemployment, especially among the youth, women and low skilled people.
The country’s very low skills base is just one of the legacies of a previous system that restricted education and training for a large portion of the population. This ensured a sizeable pool of cheap low skilled employees for labour intensive industries, such as mining.
Quality adult literacy training for economic growth
Adult basic education and training or ABET for urgent upskilling
However, the situation has also been exacerbated by the rapid transformation of the South African economy after 1994. Led by a new democratically elected government, South Africa joined the global economy. However, the country’s ability to compete effectively at this level has relied heavily upon highly skilled jobs. This has been at the expense of low skilled employees, many of whom do not even have basic literacy and basic numeracy skills. These, combined with science and technical competencies, are essential to increase business productivity and competitiveness on the global platform.
The critical role that adult basic education and training or ABET can play in helping to alleviate the skills crisis has long been acknowledged by enterprising companies. They, therefore, prefer partnering with the country’s foremost accredited provider of adult basic education and training or ABET to help them improve efficiencies and productivity in the workplace. Importantly, these high impact training interventions for low skilled employees by Triple E Training and its many clients are also making a significant contribution to the growth and transformation of the South African economy.
Comparison of basket of export goods and services, 2005 to 2016
|Country||High-technology exports (% of manufactured exports)||Insurance and financial services (% of commercial service exports)||Manufacturing exports (% of merchandise exports)||Food exports (% of merchandise exports)||Ores and metals exports (% of merchandise exports)||Agricultural raw materials exports (% of merchandise exports)|
[Source:] World Bank (2018) and DHET calculations
Jobs deficit: Gap between working age population and employed population (million), 2010 to 2017
[Source:] DHET calculations based on Labour Market Dynamics data (2017)
A long road travelled towards professional adult literacy training
Literacy for colonisation and conversion
While adult basic education and training or ABET started to emerge and take shape during the 20th century, adult literacy training’s roots in South Africa can be traced as far back as the early 1650s. However, it then served a completely opposite purpose by focusing on “westernising” indigenous Africans in newly acquired European colonies. It was only much later in the 1920s and onwards that adult literacy training would evolve into an important means of empowering people and become an essential component of the struggle for freedom. Adult education and training or “AET” continues to proudly fulfil this role by providing low skilled employees and unemployed people with skills they need to improve their circumstances by meaningfully participating in the modern South African economy.
Adult literacy training to understand and communicate in a foreign language
Adult literacy training plants firm roots in the Western Cape
Dutch settlers in the Western Cape were the first Europeans to use adult literacy training in the country to support their colonialist aspirations. There are even documented accounts of the first Dutch governor of the Cape, Jan van Riebeeck, teaching indigenous people in his employment how to understand and communicate in his native language.
This will always remain a dark stain on the history of adult literacy training in Africa, especially at a time when the decolonialisation of the educational system has become a fiercely debated topic. University students in South Africa, England and the United States have argued that it is time for nations to acquire their own knowledge skills, values, beliefs and habits. This is a very noble ideal and should be championed by any nation. However, it can be reasonably argued that the concept is often poorly represented among university students in the country.
Adult literacy training for Christendom
Basic literacy training for conversion
The use of adult literacy training to further the cause of the imperialist ambitions of European countries on the continent would continue well into the late 19th century. By this time, Christian missionaries from Britain, Germany, France, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and North America had become the main providers of adult literacy training in Africa. Adult literacy training was widely viewed by European countries as an effective means of converting many indigenous populations to Christianity. Teaching indigenous populations how to read the scriptures with understanding helped spread the western concept of “Christendom” in Africa.
In South Africa, many missionaries also eventually located in Kimberley and Johannesburg to train the numerous southern African migrants who were employed in the country’s growing diamond and gold mining industries. These low skilled workers were considered susceptible to conversion by missionaries as they had broken their close ties to strict customs and traditions when they left their home communities to work in the mines. Adult literacy training was provided at dedicated centres in the two cities and facilitated by the missionaries or other literate migrant workers.
Adult literacy training empowers low skilled employees
Workers unite for adult literacy training
A significant turning point in the history of adult literacy training in South Africa occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. This was when the South African Communist Party or “SACP” focused on teaching migrant workers, including Africans and Europeans, in the then rapidly industrialising Johannesburg how to read and write English. Attending evening classes, low skilled employees also received instruction in politics, including Marxist communist doctrine, before the efforts of the party were quickly brought to a grinding halt by the National Party government.
By this time, education, including adult literacy training, had started to assume a central role in South African politics. The basic right to quality education that people were being denied would later help ignite major events in the history. Until then, adult literacy training continuously struggled against the powers that be for survival.
When the National Party government came into power in 1948, it undermined all efforts to establish a formal South African adult literacy training system. It also blatantly refused to subsidise those existing adult literacy training programmes that were funded by the previous government, while outright banning the SACP and its adult training initiatives, the African National Congress or “ANC” and the Pan African Congress or “PAC”. It also implemented legislation that severely restricted the movement of people of colour and a host of other oppressive measures until the late 1980s.
Adult education and training or AET scuppered by politics
Adult literacy training outlawed
These first attempts at developing a modern adult literacy training system were also undermined by a large drive to establish Afrikaans as the official South African language by a powerful partnership between Afrikaner political, financial and intellectual interests.
Notably, plans to establish a state Committee on Adult Education were also undermined during this dark period in the country’s history. These were mooted in 1945 and accepted by the then United Party government. The planning for the proposed state led adult literacy training programme is still considered to be sensible and well-informed, although the terminology used at that time to articulate adult education and training or AET content extremely outdated. Such a plan would only be implemented 50 years later under a new democratically elected government.
Interestingly, at that time, the African Congress Alliance also encouraged its members to resist adult literacy programmes. This is considering their previous deep connections to colonialism and oppressive white rule, which included providing an inferior quality of education for people of colour.
The African Congress Alliance consisted of the African National Congress and its allies; the South African Indian Congress; the South African Congress of Democrats; and the Coloured People’s Congress. Its stance on education, including adult literacy training programmes, was clearly enshrined in the Freedom Charter, which was adopted in Kliptown in June 1955. A similar mantra would again be echoed in the Soweto uprisings in 1976. In the 1980s, “Liberation Now! Education Later!” was a phrase that could also be heard chanted nationwide during the school boycotts of 1985.
Adult basic education and training goes underground
Adult literacy training in the shadows
By the 1960s, it was almost impossible to continue to provide adult literacy training in the townships. Evening classes were, therefore, secretly moved to areas that would not be harassed by state forces. A case in point is the adult literacy training that was illegally provided to black grownups on a university campus in Pietermartizburg at the time. While these evening classes were fortunate to survive for a period, others were found and systematically closed by the apartheid government.
However, there were a few notable developments that would help to ensure that adult literacy training continued to develop and evolve over the years.
This includes the government of the day granting the Institute of Race Relations or “IRR” approval to register the Bureau of Literacy and Literature or “BLL” as a non-profit organisation or “NPO” in 1964. The outcome of painstaking work undertaken by the IRR since the 1940s, the BLL focused on training literacy teachers and providing the necessary course content. This is in addition to distributing literature to adults who wanted to learn how to read and write English.
One of its most notable achievements was a campaign to provide literacy training to mine workers, claiming to have reached about 60 000 low skilled employees in its best years. Interestingly, this was a very basic version of the adult education and training or AET that the mining industry continues to provide after 1994 as part of its obligations under the Mining Charter and to meet its scorecard requirements. These workplace training and community training projects are now mainly being undertaken on behalf of mining companies by private accredited providers of adult basic education and training or ABET. This is considering their ability to adapt and respond swiftly to the workplace training demands of modern industries. Private accredited providers eventually surpassed government, non-governmental organisations or “NGOs” and universities as suppliers and innovators in the field of adult basic education and training or ABET.
A disguised triumph for Adult basic education and training or AET
Adult education and training or AET receive a small nod of approval from government
Two years later, Operation Upgrade was established to further adult literacy in the country. However, this fiercely Christian movement later aligned itself with the government of the day as a means of fighting the spread of communism and African socialism among black workers in South Africa. This severely tarnished its reputation among progressive adult literacy activists that were fighting for an inclusive adult education and training or AET system in the country. However, a positive outcome of this alliance was the use of Operation Upgrade’s high quality training material in a few night schools that were granted permission by the National Party government to operate in 1977. This included primers and readers in numerous African languages, as well as texts that were easy to read.
Seeds of adult literacy sprout in the 1970s
NGOs build foundations for adult basic education and training or ABET
In the 1970s, further developments would help shape the adult basic education and training or ABET to which businesses have become accustomed. Notably, these were driven by enterprising NGOs and literacy activists who were determined to provide all South African citizens with access to a basic education, including literacy and numeracy training.
In the Western Cape, young labour activists in Cape Town started teaching literacy to adults. Their efforts were complemented by the stellar work undertaken by the Literacy Project that was established in the city in 1974.
Backed by the Catholic Church, Learn and Teach also provided adult literacy training in Johannesburg.
In the former Bantustans, education departments in Lebowa and Gazankulu used the BLL to provide training and materials.
It is estimated that there were more than 700 of these organisations involved in informal adult literacy training by the mid to late 1970s.
At the same time, the University of Cape Town commenced its own community education programmes. This was the first step taken by institutions of higher learning into adult education and training. Under their guidance, adult literacy training would make significant strides in the country in subsequent years.
Soweto – the epicentre of change
Government under pressure to reform education, including basic literacy training
However, it was the Soweto uprising and the succeeding massacre of many school children that would become a major thrust in the struggle for freedom. This came to a head in the 1980s. One of the notable outcomes of this devastating event in the history of South Africa was a major reconsideration of existing educational policies by the National Party government. After this tragedy, for example, it decided to establish government driven night schools where black people who were deprived of an education in the past were now able to learn basic literacy and numeracy skills. These evening schools started operating in 1978 under the close and careful watch of the Department of Bantu Education.
Universities take centre stage in Adult Basic Education and Training or ABET
Many firsts for South African adult literacy under institutions of higher learning
In 1980, the University of Cape Town appointed its first professor of adult education in the country. Offering the first postgraduate diploma programme for educators and adults, the university retained its status as the foremost thinktank for adult education and training or AET throughout the 1980s. Among its many accomplishments in the field of adult basic education and training or ABET was publishing a survey on literacy and illiteracy in 1984 that served as a blueprint for other such projects in the country.
In 1984, the University of Natal offered the country’s first Advanced Diploma in adult education. Notably, its Centre for Adult Education can also lay claim to being one of the first to research and popularise adult basic education and training or ABET in South Africa.
A year later, the Centre for Adult and Continuing Education or “CACE” was set up at the University of the Western Cape. CACE can be credited for launching the first certificated adult educator training courses for learners at a pre-university level in 1988.
Another triumph for adult literacy training in the country during this period was the establishment of a Department of Adult Education at the University of the Transkei in 1986.
Three years later, the University of the Witwatersrand launched its Adult Literacy Unit, which played a large part in disseminating information about adult literacy and basic education, as well as easy reading material for grownups.
Adult education and training or AET reconceptualised
Adult literacy training due for a reform
Notably, by this time, the National Party government had relaxed its stance towards adult education and training or AET. This provided a window of opportunity in which to innovate adult literacy training in the country.
The government of the day was heavily influenced by the findings of an investigation undertaken by the Human Sciences Research Council or “HSRC” into adult basic education and training or ABET in 1981. It encouraged the implementation of a type of non-formal education that would preferably be financed by employers. This was viewed as a potential solution to a growing problem caused by government’s education policies that were built on racial inequality, segregation and African inferiority.
In a way, it could be described as a forerunner of the very successful workplace training initiatives that companies now use to significantly raise the skills and competencies of their low skilled employees. This has long been the domain of leading accredited providers of adult education and training or AET.
Based on the findings of the HSRC report, the Urban Foundation, together with the Universities of Cape Town and Natal, presented a proposed plan for the implementation of such a system to the government the following year. While it was rejected outright for being too premature by a still very conservative National Party, the HSRC was granted permission to establish a Non-Formal Education Work Committee in 1983.
It was a step forward for workplace training, encompassing literacy training and numeracy training, in the country.
Policy for key areas of adult education and training or AET
Empowering adult literacy training
The following year, the General Education Affairs Act was also passed to empower the Minister of General Education Affairs to decide on policy for key areas of informal Education. It also made provision for a South African Council of Education to advise the Minister on informal education.
Moreover, the government of the day financed the establishment of a Foundation for Rural Development to uplift rural agricultural workers. This workplace training and community training, including basic literacy training, would be undertaken in collaboration with farmers and community development workers. In more recent years, this has also become a major focus of specialist private accredited providers of adult basic education and training or ABET. Work undertaken in the field since 1994 has helped to raise the efficiencies and productivity in an industry that continues to grapple with very low skilled employees. This is at a time when the agricultural sector in other countries have increasingly mechanised to improve productivity.
Meanwhile, investments made into community training programmes in outlying areas of the country also continue to demonstrate the importance of adult basic education and training or ABET. The mining and construction industries remain major drivers of these adult literacy programmes that are helping to transform and develop a more inclusive economy.
Cooperating for adult literacy training
Progressive steps forward for adult literacy and numeracy training
Another positive development regarding adult literacy training in the country during the 1980s was the partnering of literacy agencies to establish the National Literacy Cooperation or NLC in Cape Town. Also consisting of very progressive literacy activists, this united force was able to effectively withstand harassment from the government of the day as part of its drive to develop adult literacy training in the country.
Established in 1986, the NLC facilitated communication about approaches, methods and materials for adult basic education and training or ABET. This led to innovations in African language and family literacy, as well as simple reading for grownups. The NLC can also be credited for developing early models for adult literacy training in outlying communities and a bridge to English for migrant workers. Unfortunately, very little of this body of knowledge was adopted by the new Democratic government when it identified the immense role that adult education and training or AET could play in transformation.
Two more important developments with regards to non-government organisation involvement in adult education and training or AET followed in 1988.
This includes the establishment of the Independent Examinations Board or “IEB” to develop and manage a new system of examination and accreditation of schools. It also later set up a division dedicated to adult education, including basic literacy training. Another one of its legacies was piloting and operating the first adult basic education and training or ABET examinations in 1993.
This was followed by the establishment of the Forum for the Advancement of Adult Education or “FAAE” in Johannesburg. Importantly, this was the first effective association of adult educators, before the establishment of other regional bodies and a national body, known as the Adult Educators and Trainers Association, in 1994.
Teaching people how to read and write English on the agenda
Literacy training for the masses
By this time, adult basic education and training or ABET had planted firm roots in the country and was primed to play an even greater role in the transformation of South Africa in these final years of apartheid.
Among the many successful projects that helped teach people how to read and write English by this time were those driven by agencies aligned to the ANC, the black consciousness movement and churches.
Meanwhile, the Read Educational Trust played a large part in encouraging library development in black schools to help teach people how to read and write English. It also later participated in adult education, including basic literacy training.
The South African Committee for Higher Education or “SACHED” launched Learning Nation, a supplement that was distributed with various newspapers to help many disadvantaged South Africans to learn to read and write English.
Meanwhile, Johannesburg-based Learn and Teach supported numerous isolated adult literacy projects in the country and published Learn and Teach, a magazine for workers that was easy to read.
The Speak and Write English project taught English to adult workers and the English Literacy Project produced reading materials for migrant workers that dealt with problems associated with urban life. Notably, this was one of the earliest connections made between adult literacy training and knowledge that could be applied in daily life. This remains a cornerstone of successful modern adult literacy training projects. Triple E Training’s workplace training and community training programmes ensure that the learning provided has a profound impact on all aspects of learners’ lives. This has helped instil a passion for learning – a fundamental outcome of adult literacy training and adult numeracy training.
More adults learn how to read and write English
Adult basic education and training or ABET makes an impact
Moreover, the New Readers Project based at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban produced many publications in English and Zulu for newly literate grownups.
An English and Zulu educational supplement for adult learners was also distributed with the Natal Witness. Known as Learn with Echo, it was produced by the Centre for Adult Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Pietermaritzburg.
Many isolated young mothers and their children in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands also received adult literacy training from the Family Literacy Project. This is just one example of an early community training programme that enriched the lives of many people by helping them to read and write English.
Moreover, the Lembede Mda Literacy Foundation focused on providing literacy training to adults residing in hostels in Soweto. These facilitators often worked in dangerous circumstances to teach grownups how to read and write English and their stellar work in the field needs to be commended for advancing adult education and training or AET in the country.
This work was supported by literacy activists from Rising Sun, African Independent Churches and LUCPO based in the then Vaal Triangle.
Meanwhile, the ERA Initiative dedicated its time and resources to making reading material accessible to adults.
State departments help drive adult basic education and training or ABET
Courses for adults to learn how to read and write English
At the same time, many South African adults were being educated by state departments as the National Party government started to reconsider its previous policies regarding adult basic education and training or ABET. This included the Department of Education and Training, which designed and implemented its own basic literacy programme curriculum for grownups. Launched in 1983, it was called Course for Adults to Read and Write.
The other government departments that also provided some form of adult literacy training included the Department of National Health and Population Development, as well as the Department of Manpower. This is in addition to the South African Defence Force and the South African Prisons Service. Most adult learners who were enrolled in these programmes in the 1990s were completing their secondary schooling, including second chance matriculation.
There was also a marked increase in the number of business led adult education and training or AET projects. This trend would continue for many years, considering the important role that adult education and training or AET has and continues to play in raising the proficiencies of workers.
According to the BLL, about 40 000 adults participated in adult basic education and training or AET by the mid-1980s. Two years later, more than 42 000 grownups were enrolled in basic literacy training to learn how to read and write English.
Formalising adult basic education and training or ABET
Emphasis on empowering the worker through basic literacy training
In the mid-1990s, discussions commenced around formalising adult basic education and training or ABET. The intention was to replace non-formal education in which the term literacy was dominant. Mainly encouraged by the then Universities of Natal and Cape Town, this discourse around the concept of adult basic education and training or ABET would continue over the next two decades. It also eventually influenced the establishment of public adult learning centres, programmes, qualifications, curriculum and materials used for adult literacy training.
This was a notable development considering that, prior to the mid-1990s, the government of the day was unwilling to debate the potential of transforming its cumbersome and seriously flawed state adult literacy training system. It was modelled on a conventional school syllabus-based system. The Department of Education and Training and its counterparts in the previous homelands operated it and provided the literacy, primary and secondary courses, as well as the content for the training programmes.
By this time, significant political changes were underway in the country. The government of the day was very aware of an urgent need for a large-scale adult education initiative, including basic literacy and numeracy training, to help correct decades of exclusionary and discriminatory policies. It was a looming catastrophe that could no longer be ignored. The sheer immensity of the challenge that lay ahead would only be fully realised after the free and fair elections were held in 1994, by which time many black South Africans had been deprived of a basic education.
Unions take centre stage in fight for high impact adult literacy training
Training in adult basic education and training or ABET under the spotlight
Adult basic education and training or ABET was placed high on the agenda in the early 1990s as South Africa prepared to take its first steps into a new political era.
The National Education Policy Investigation or “NEPI”, which was established by the anti-apartheid National Education Co-Ordinating Investigation or “NECC” in 1992, compiled three reports on literacy and adult basic education. They were entitled Adult Education, Adult Basic Education and the other Human Resources Development.
An influential presence within the NECC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions or “COSATU”, which had been invested in the concept of adult basic education and training or ABET since the 1980s, wanted a complete overhaul of industrial training. This ideal was backed by its own research mechanism, known as the Participatory Research Project or “PRP”, that motivated the integration of adult basic education and skills training.
Its views were clearly articulated in reports compiled by the National Training Board in 1991 and 1994 to inform the development of a new industrial training system for South Africa.
An alliance between state, business, labour and service providers then developed a framework for qualifications and adult basic education and training or ABET. It stressed the close link between education and training, as well as outcomes-based education.
Encouraging research into adult basic education and training or ABET
Regional support for adult literacy training mooted
In 1992, the Joint Education Trust or “JET”, which comprised of companies, political movements and unions, commissioned a report on adult basic education and training or ABET. It recommended that the trust continue to back NGOs involved in adult literacy training in the interim and encouraged continued research into adult basic education and training or ABET. Moreover, it urged the promotion and development of regional support agencies for adult basic education and training or ABET.
Consequently, two large JET funded research projects were launched in 1994. They were undertaken by the Universities of Cape Town and the Western Cape. This is in addition to an investigation undertaken by the University of Natal’s Centre for Adult Education into existing adult basic education and training or ABET capacity in the country.
Another noteworthy development in the early 1990s was the establishment of the Centre for Education Policy Development or “CEPD”, which included a working group for adult education and training or AET, to serve the needs of the democratic movement. It was commissioned by the ANC in 1994 to prepare a strategy for the implementation of adult basic education and training or ABET in South Africa.
This is in addition to the brief work undertaken by the South African Committee on Adult Basic Education or “SACABE”, representing wide political, trade union, academic and community-based organisations. It ceased operating after its first conference at the end of 1993.
Planned important adult basic education and training or ABET policies prior to 1994
|National||· Strong national department of (adult) education
· National Qualifications Framework
· National certification
· National (core) curriculum
· National Council/National Stakeholders Forum
· National programme
· Regional support agencies
|Planning||· Capacity for systematic planning|
|Financial||· Assumption of future state funding
· Interim NGO funding body
· Bigger portion of the education budget
· Mechanism for receiving money from ministries
|Human resource development||· Guidelines for teacher training
· Capacity for training teachers
· Training at all levels
|Research development and information||· Capacity for system design
· Capacity for curriculum development
· Capacity for research in regions
· Audit of skills and infrastructure
· Comprehensive information base
· Identification of priority groupings
|Existing infrastructure||· Enhancement of state night schools
· Existing facilities
|Partnerships||· Partnerships with Reconstruction and Development Programme|
|Advocacy||· Strengthen advocacy|
|Material development||· Strengthen materials development capacity|
A slow start for adult literacy training in a new democratic dispensation
High expectations and major let downs for adult literacy training
Despite the intense work undertaken over many years in the field of adult literacy training, disappointingly, very little was done by the new government to establish a robust adult education and training or AET system in the country after it was elected in 1994. This has been the case for many years now with the state led adult basic education and training or ABET system in a total disarray and on the brink of collapse. Essentially, the enormous burden of helping alleviate the high illiteracy level in the country is currently mainly being shouldered by a few private accredited training providers and their clients which continue to see the relevance of adult literacy training.
The national Adult Basic Education and Training or ABET Task Team that was established in September 1994 was replaced by the National Stakeholder’s Forum or “NSF”, which tabled no legislation regarding adult education and training or AET. This is considering that it had not been sufficiently staffed with people with the necessary skills and experience in adult basic education and training or ABET.
Also receiving very little financial support from government, the new national Department of Education’s plans to establish nationwide adult basic education and training or ABET campaigns also staggered. This is despite the limited impact of its Ithuteng campaign in mainly KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
Adult education and training or AET also received limited backing from the National Literacy Co-operation, with consultants sometimes paid for their services with grants obtained from the USAID.
Moreover, only a few provincial educational departments established implementable adult education and training or AET councils or stakeholder forums.
Other than the JET funded Natal ABE Support Agency, no additional support agencies were established in South Africa during this early period of South Africa’s democracy.
Ongoing formalisation of adult basic education and training or ABET
Assessment takes centre stage in adult literacy training
While state led adult basic education and training or ABET was in dire straits during this period, there were some developments worth noting.
A case in point is the focus that the Independent Examinations Board placed on matters relating to the assessment of adult basic education and training or ABET. The process was heavily influenced by international experience and learning in the field of competency-based training standards and qualifications.
Many documents were produced on the subject between 1995 and 1997.
They include the Department of Education’s Education White Paper and A national adult basic education and training framework: Interim guidelines. The department also released its Policy Document on Adult Basic Education and Training and A National Multi-year implementation plan for Adult Education and Training: Provision and Accreditation.
A research project report entitled Adult Basic Education and Development was also released. It was compiled by representatives from the Department of Education, COSATU, the Development Bank of Southern Africa and National Literacy Co-operation. Notably, it tries to reassert the role of literacy training and adult education and training or AET in the provision of formal education. Unfortunately, due to poor implementation, it had very little impact.
Meanwhile, the Department of Arts, Culture, Science and Technology’s Language Plan Task Group also released a report entitled Towards a national language plan for South Africa.
More role players support literacy in South Africa
Adult literacy broadcasted to the masses to teach South Africans how to read and write English
During this period, many new role players pledged their support to the development of a vibrant adult education and training or AET system in the country.
The South African Broadcasting Company started taking a keen interest in adult basic education and training or ABET as a means of uplifting the skills of South Africans. In 1994, it started broadcasting television and radio shows such as Literacy Alive, The struggle for literacy, Adult Basic Education in the workplace, Basic skills in English and Mochochonono. It reaffirmed its commitment to the field at a conference on educational broadcasting that was held in 1998. During the event, the state broadcaster also announced a large investment into content on adult education and training or AET for television and radio moving forward.
Provincial library services also supported literacy and the provision of material that was easy to read. This initiative also helped many adults learn to read and write English.
Moreover, community colleges tried to become more involved in adult education and training or AET. However, their attempts were limited considering the very slow development of policy relating to the development of Further Education and Training or “FET” in South Africa. This was a situation that would persist until the end of 2001. In the interim, the Department of Education released a Green paper on Further Education and Training and enacted the FET Act.
NGO adult basic education and training or ABET in troubled waters
A vital pillar of adult literacy training or AET programmes collapses
The end of the 1990s were marked by the collapse of NGOs that worked extensively in the field of adult basic education and training or ABET in previous years. This was largely due to poor administration, as well as the loss of skills and expertise in adult literacy training. Certainly, the lack of political will to drive a formal and workable adult literacy programme in the country also contributed to the decline of these NGOs.
In 1998, the National Literacy Co-operation collapsed, which resulted in the disablement and eventual shutdown of the World University Service South Africa.
This was followed by the closing of Uswe in Cape Town and the English Literacy Project in Johannesburg by the end of the year.
In 1999, the English Resource Unit and Operation Upgrade, two NGOs that had become synonymous with adult basic education and training or ABET in KwaZulu-Natal, were also experiencing financial challenges and close to tipping point.
The Adult Educators and Trainers Association of South Africa was liquidated in 2001.
Efficacy of state adult basic education and training or ABET programmes questioned
National adult literacy training scrutinised
During the late 1990s, there were real attempts made by the national Directorate for Adult Education to ensure that provincial education departments develop variants of the national multi-year implementation plan.
However, it only received very limited financial support for this cause in the Eastern Cape and Northern Province and this was from foreign funders.
It also attempted to build capacity in areas, such as training in outcomes-based education with very little success.
A series of draft reports released by the University of Natal in 1998 highlighted the lacklustre approach taken by the government since 1994 in terms of establishing a strong adult literacy training system in the country.
This was also brought to the fore at a conference in 2000 where participants questioned government’s ability to manage, plan, innovate, monitor, evaluate and deliver basic literacy training to adults.
Another staunch proponent of adult literacy training lost
University adult education and training teeters on the edge
The 1990s also saw the eventual decimation of departments of universities that helped drive the uptake of adult basic education and training to ABET throughout the 1980s. Under financial pressure during this period due to the significant restructuring of the higher education sector and a decline in student numbers, adult education and training or AET departments that were no longer considered feasible were quickly closed. Those that survived would have to repeatedly justify their existence moving forward.
A significant loss for adult literacy training during this period was the renowned Department of Adult Education at the University of Cape Town, which had worked painstakingly for many years to develop adult basic education and training or ABET in South Africa.
By 2003, the adult education and training or AET departments at the University of the Western Cape, the University of the Witwatersrand and the University of Natal were also teetering on the verge of collapse.
Acknowledgement of an educational crisis
A call to action for basic literacy training
By the late 1990s, government acknowledged that there was a serious education crisis in the country and pledged to make a significant impact on low literacy levels in the country within the next five years.
However, it recognised that it would be unable to achieve this ambitious goal alone, considering serious resource and capacity constraints that would also hinder the expansion of its provincial adult education and training or AET programmes. It, therefore, mooted greater participation in this large literacy drive by private adult education and training or AET specialists, as well as state-owned entities.
An Adult Basic Education and Training Act was later passed in March 2000 to regulate public and private adult learning centres, while also establishing governing bodies for adult literacy training in South Africa.
Moreover, a South African Literacy Initiative or “SALI” was also set up to mobilise voluntary services in support of a nationwide literacy initiative, as well as to develop training programmes and support for volunteer educators. It was also tasked with establishing organisations to operate the initiative at a local level, as well as developing the institutional capacity required to support, monitor and evaluate the project.
SALI eventually became a new Directorate under the Department of Education, opening many provincial offices that claimed to reach numerous illiterates via the University of South Africa’s Adult Basic Education and Training or ABET Institute. However, experts are sceptical about these assertions, considering the dire state of education, including adult literacy training, in the country by that time.
Adult education and training or AET in the new millennium
Focus required to develop adult literacy training in South Africa
Despite these and later interventions, government led adult literacy programmes have largely failed with many having also been marred by controversy. There are very legitimate concerns that they will eventually collapse.
It is doubtful whether the NGOs and universities will be able to reassume the large role that they played in providing this critical service to citizens of the country in the past.
Private sector participants, such as Triple E Training, now lead in the field. Over the years, these accredited providers of adult basic education and training or ABET have helped to drive the uptake of literacy and numeracy training in business to raise their global competitiveness. They have also given many people a second chance in life by helping them to complete their basic education, including quality literacy and numeracy training.
However, the industry cannot shoulder the immense responsibility of raising the low literacy levels in the country on its own. A robust government led system is imperative to help “break the back” of illiteracy in the country. This was a term that was often used by the Kader Asmal, a previous Minister of Department of Higher Education and Training, to describe government’s fight against illiteracy.
Planned important adult basic education and training or ABET policies after 1994
|National||· Strong national department of education
· National Qualifications Framework
· National certification
· National (core) curriculum
· National Council/National Stakeholders Forum
· National programme
· Professional directorate for ABET in the Department of
Education to undertake or sponsor research into structures and methods; develop norms and standards; as well as liaising with the RDP office, the Department of Labour and provincial departments of education
· Primary responsibility for provision rests with government
|Planning||· Capacity for systematic planning (via national ABET task team (1994/95) or multi-year implementation plans at national and provincial levels (1997/98)
· Well-planned literacy campaigns
|Financial||· Very little information available|
|· Guidelines for teacher training
· Capacity for training teachers
· Training at all levels (particularly in outcomes-based education)
|Research, development and information||· Capacity for system design
· Capacity for curriculum development
· Capacity for research in regions
· Audit of skills and infrastructure
· Comprehensive information base
· Identification of priority groupings
|Existing infrastructure||· Enhancement of state night schools into community
· learning centres
· Existing facilities
|Partnerships||· Partnerships between government and organised labour and business, women’s and youth organisations, civics, churches, specialist NGOs, learner associations, media and other stakeholders|
|Advocacy||· General silence about community empowerment
· Greater stress on the African languages and South
· African second languages
|Materials development||· Possible state involvement in materials development
· Audit of materials
Positive developments in the 2000s for adult basic education and training or ABET
A potential new dawn for adult literacy training?
There have been some notable developments in the 2000s that point to a potential revival of government adult basic education and training or ABET in the country.
These include the publishing of the White Paper for Post-School Education in 2013; the reappealing of the Adult Education and Training or AET act of 2000; and the enactment of the Colleges Amendment Act of 2013.
The direction of adult basic education and training or ABET has also since been moved from the provincial departments. This was previously the responsibility of the Department of Basic Education to the Department of Higher Education and Training or “DHET”.
Moreover, the provision of adult education and training or AET to learners has been located to Community Colleges and Adult Education Training Centres from Public Adult Learning Centres or “Pulcs”. These were significant failures, despite representing a significant investment made into adult basic education and training or ABET by government over the years.
There is also a new plan to strengthen Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges, as well as adult basic education and training or ABET at universities. This is a five-year plan that will be funded by the European Union.
Adult education and training statistics in KwaZulu-Natal, 2016
|Number of centres||934|
|Number of educators||6 522 (average 7 per centre)|
|Number of learners||53 790 (average 57.5 per centre)
Male: 12 012
Female: 41 733
[Source:] DHET: KwaZulu-Natal Community Education and Training College Performance 2015/2016
A wish list for adult basic education and training or ABET?
Action speaks louder than words
However, there are still many problems that government will have to solve before it will be able to establish a robust and sustainable adult basic education and training or ABET system in the country.
Chief among these include a lack of funding for adult basic education and training or ABET and weak support structures.
There were also notable challenges in the transitioning of adult education and training or AET to the DHET, pointing to shortfalls in the planning and implementation phases.
Meanwhile, adult learners and adult educators remain confused and demotivated. This is counterproductive and threatens the implementation and development of government led adult literacy projects in the country. It also undermines the hard work by private accredited training providers in developing adult literacy training in the country.
To succeed, this plan requires political will – a critical factor that has sadly been lacking in government adult literacy programmes for many years.
This can be evidenced by the ongoing absence of capacity, in terms of managers and educators in the government adult education and training or AET system.
Centres of learning also need to urgently receive suitable training materials, equipment and facilities so that they are able to provide a quality adult literacy training experience for learners.
Government also needs to give due attention to process, planning, piloting and consultation, as well as monitoring and evaluation of its adult literacy programmes.
Importantly, the adult education and training provided by state also needs to be meaningful and this can only be achieved by linking it to learners’ life projects. The relevance of the adult literacy training provided by government has often been questioned by learners. This has contributed to the very high dropout rate from its adult literacy training programmes.
Is adult basic education and training or AET still relevant?
Adult literacy training as relevant today as ever
Triple E Training believes that adult basic education and training or ABET will remain relevant for many more years to come.
Bear in mind that there are about 3.2-million young South Africans that are not in education, training or employment.
Adult basic education and training or ABET provides a solution to this problem. This is by helping to raise the very low literacy and numeracy levels among citizens, which is among the lead causes of high inequalities in the country.
There are many studies that have demonstrated the close connections among education, poverty, unemployment, income inequality and economic growth in developing countries.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in the country and the measures deployed to curtail the spread of the virus has aggravated the situation. In developing countries, such as South Africa, the hard lockdowns that were implemented by governments and the very tight restrictions on the movement and gathering of people that followed again revealed just how unequal the country is more than years after democracy.
According to the World Bank, the divide between rich and poor is wider here than in any other country where comparable data exist.
Adult basic education and training or ABET for empowerment and transformation
Adult education and training or AET drives broad-based black economic empowerment or B-BBEE
By equipping people with the skills they need to participate in the economy, adult basic education and training or ABET, remains an important means of transformation. This is exactly why an investment into adult basic education and training or ABET makes a significant contribution to Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment or the “B-BBEE” scorecard.
Notably, adult education and training or AET falls under Category B in the Skills Matrix. This means that companies that invest in adult literacy training and adult numeracy training earn extra points for the skills development element of the B-BBEE scorecard. Moreover, any amount that they spend on adult basic education and training or ABET results in an enhanced claim of 125%. This means that the actual spend on workplace training is less than the value claimed on the B-BBEE scorecard.
Triple E Training also provides adult education and training or AET Bursaries. These are in line with the Department of Trade & Industry’s or “dti’s” amended-BBEE Codes of Good Practice that came into effect at the end of 2019. They require large companies to invest 2,5% of their yearly payroll on bursaries for indigenous South Africans, Coloureds and Indians at institutions of higher education. Earning companies up to four points on the scorecard, these amendments also allow for funding programmes at schools and adult basic education training or ABET, or Adult Education Training or AET.
Adult basic education and training or ABET as a safety net
Adult literacy and adult numeracy training drives up quality of skills
Notably, adult literacy training also provides a second chance for the many young South Africans who are prematurely leaving a dysfunctional government school system that has continued to deteriorate over the years. Essentially, adult education and training or AET can be viewed as a “safety net” for these people who are “slipping through the cracks”.
Importantly, it is also serving as a safeguard for employers. This is considering the questionable level of skills of many new South African matriculants who are entering the economy.
While the 2020 matric pass rate exceeded the 80% mark for the first time since 1994, many of these learners did not write difficult subjects, including maths and English as a first additional language. This has been a continuous trend since 2015. Combined with an extremely low pass rate even in “easier” subjects, it has contributed to the major skills challenge with which local industry currently grapples.
Companies also use adult literacy training and adult numeracy training to enhance existing employees’ English and maths skills. This training intervention is especially relevant for those employees who matriculated many years ago and have not regularly or sufficiently practiced their English and maths skills. Adult education and training or AET assists in refining and honing these competencies to ensure that employees continue to add value in modern workplaces that are evolving at a rapid pace due to technological advancements.
Adult basic education and training or ABET for productivity and efficiency gains
Adult literacy training develops South Africa’s human capital
Enterprising companies the world over have long viewed adult basic education and training or “ABET”, including basic literacy and basic numeracy training, as a strategic investment.
This is considering that educated workers improve efficiencies and productivity by contributing higher skills, enhanced capabilities and, importantly, ideas to an organisation.
Certainly, it is also important to acknowledge the immense role that workplace training programmes, including adult literacy training and adult numeracy training, play in motivating workers. This, in turn, contributes to enhanced performance in the workplace.
It is not only companies and policymakers that hold the view that training will help to kickstart an ailing economy that has been struggling for many years. Workplace training, including adult education and training or AET, also continues to receive significant encouragement from the unions, including COSATU. Bear in mind the important role that it played in helping to shape the modern adult literacy training that we know today.
Adult literacy and numeracy training supplied by accredited training providers, such as Triple E Training, also receives immense encouragement from the National Union of Mineworkers. This affiliate of COSATU represents about 300 000 workers, including many low skilled employees in the mining industry.
Adult basic education and training or ABET for mining
Mines continue to drive adult education and training or AET
As an industry, mining remains a significant driver of adult basic education and training or ABET in the country.
The Mining Charter obliges all mining companies to devote 5% of their annual payroll into skills development, such as adult literacy training and adult numeracy training.
Triple E Training continues to provide high quality adult basic education and training or ABET to the mining industry.
These include adult literacy and adult numeracy training for the employed as part of mines’ workplace training initiatives.
This is in addition to adult literacy and adult numeracy training for the unemployed. These adult literacy and adult numeracy training projects are associated with community training initiatives that mines need to undertake as part of their obligations under social and labour plans or SLPs. This is in addition to meeting the requirements of the B-BBEE scorecard.
These programmes continue to play an important part in developing among the lowest skilled workers in the country.
They are also having a large impact on communities in poor rural areas of the country. The poverty rate in these outlying areas remain the highest. In 2015, 16,7% percent of the rural population lived in poverty. This is compared with 13% and 10,8% of the population living in poverty in urban and suburban areas outside of South Africa’s main cities, respectively.
Literacy and maths instruction for lifelong learning
Adults learn how to read and write English and to do maths
Triple E Training’s adult education and training or AET programmes are tailored according to the specific requirements of its clients. Accordingly, this ensures that employees develop literacy and numeracy skills that they need to excel in their specific roles in the workplace.
This accredited training provider has also developed instructional units and assessments that are ready to be implemented immediately. Comprehensive assessments are also undertaken once learners have completed their training to ensure that they can apply their new literacy and numeracy skills in “real world” situations.
Adult literacy training and adult numeracy training are important components of adult education and training or AET because they form the foundations of further learning.
In addition to ensuring increased participation in the workplace and larger economy, literacy and numeracy skills are used in just about every aspect of life outside of work.
For example, the ability to read, write and listen enables people to communicate efficiently with various audiences and, thus, gain a greater understanding of the modern world.
Meanwhile, an understanding of basic numeracy permits people to think logically and reason in their everyday activities. They also help in solving problems and provide a sense of time, patterns and shapes.
The future of adult literacy and numeracy training
Adult basic education and training or ABET evolves
Accredited training providers and their clients are continuously exploring new and innovative ways of raising literacy and numeracy levels in the workplace.
Constant innovation in the field enabled them to swiftly respond to the “new normal” to ensure that important adult basic education and training or ABET programmes could continue unhindered. This is despite the implementation of severe restrictions on the movement and gathering of people to avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Virtual and other digital technologies that were successfully deployed by enterprising adult literacy and adult numeracy training to provide instruction during this period point to the future of adult basic education and training or ABET. These, combined with traditional face-to-face tuition, have the potential of becoming very important tools in the fight against illiteracy and to help the more than 3.3 million adults who are living in severe hardship and economic exclusion.
Clearly, adult basic education and training or ABET is here to stay and, under the leadership of accredited training providers and their clients, will continue to adapt and evolve to meet the training needs of a changing economy.
Triple E Training looks forward to assisting you with your adult education and training or AET needs.