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ABET develops literacy and numeracy

ABET or AET develops both the literacy and numeracy skills of employees. The two subjects complement one another. Maths is, in fact, a form of literacy, in which critical thinking plays a fundamental role. People with numeracy skills can make sense of information that contains maths-related concepts and expressions. They also understand connections with other ideas and contexts and can create meaning and gain knowledge.

Meanwhile, language development plays an important role in teaching and learning maths. Over the years, a lot of research has been undertaken into the close correlation between literacy and numeracy as subjects. Language-responsive maths teaching, which is a growing international trend, was born out of this research. It advocates for the development of the necessary knowledge and practices to integrate maths content and language learning in a mathematics-specific way. Adult literacy and numeracy training has long understood the close connection between maths and language skills. Refer to

Renowned educational psychologist, Paul Riccomini, and his peers best describe the strong connection between literacy and numeracy. They have stated that the study of maths requires “a robust vocabulary knowledge base.” This is in addition to “flexibility, fluency and proficiency with numbers, symbols, words and diagrams.” They also emphasised the importance of reading “comprehension skills” to succeed in maths. Refer to Dr. Paul J. Riccomini – College of Education at Penn State (

Four ABET levels

Many South Africans who complete all four ABET or AET levels master basic maths. This is because the course develops both literacy and numeracy skills simultaneously.

Zenex Foundation recently undertook a study into the role that language proficiency plays in the teaching and learning of early-grade maths. The foundation wanted to better understand why so many South African non-native English speakers struggled with maths at school. Refer to Zenex A Learning Brief 1576_12 October.indd (

As the foundation notes, literacy skills are a prerequisite for maths learning and teaching because language facilitates cognitive development and mathematical thinking.

It refers to many studies that demonstrate a significant advantage to learning in a home language in the early grades. Notably, many of these were undertaken on the continent. Refer to pdact621.pdf ( as one example.

Both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the World Bank advocate for this approach. Refer to and They are informed by a longitudinal quantitative study on a large scale that revealed very similar results. It focused on learning in a home language in the foundation phase of Grades R to 3. According to the research, this had a positive effect on achievement in the Intermediate Phase of Grades 4 to 6. Refer to

Zenex Foundation is also concerned that the principle of home language instruction is not being taken seriously by government. Of the intervention programmes that it assessed, five do not provide materials in learners’ home languages.

Therefore, more learners will forego studying maths as a matric subject, often taking Maths Lit as an easier alternative to pass matric. Others will matriculate with the bare minimum in terms of numeracy skills to add real value in the workplace. Some will drop out of school because they struggle to learn.

ABET integrates literacy and numeracy

ABET or AET integrates English literacy and numeracy training. For learners to excel in maths, it is important to bridge adult literacy and numeracy training.

The focus is on developing higher order literacy and thinking skills across the two subjects.

As a language, maths is used to predict and hypothesise; interpret and analyse; and describe and clarify. The subject also entails the ability to reason and explain and to solve problems.

These competencies are also required for reading and developing learners’ verbal communication and critical-thinking skills. These support the teaching of robust reading and writing skills in adult literacy training.

Therefore, quality ABET or AET strongly focuses on teaching oral language skills and how to think deeply about reading, writing and maths-related ideas.

Both subjects are structured to encourage learners to think for themselves; make connections with prior knowledge; and transfer skills across subject areas. This is in addition to developing their problem-solving capabilities.

ABET addresses shortcomings


In this way, quality ABET or AET addresses the shortcomings in literacy and numeracy training in many of our schools.

The study by the Zenex Foundation highlights the extent of the teaching dilemma in our basic education system. Learners are not only matriculating with poor maths skills. They also cannot read for meaning.

The research shows that, in general, neither South African teachers nor learners have achieved cognitive academic language proficiency in English. Many local teachers and learners only have basic interpersonal communication skills. This is insufficient to teach or master school subjects, such as maths, at a conceptual level.

Worryingly, many South African primary school maths teachers lack both content knowledge and conceptual understanding. They are, thus, not fit to teach maths. It is a concern that so many South African teachers and learners still unit count and do not understand cardinality or ordinality. Ordinality refers to the capacity to place numbers in sequence. Someone with this ability knows that 4 comes before 5 and after 3 in the sequence of natural numbers, for example. Cardinality refers to the capacity to link numbers to collections. For instance, people with this ability know that the symbol “4” correctly expresses a group of four objects.

In many maths lessons observed by the foundation, there were inaccuracies and ambiguities relating to maths ideas.

The foundation also refers to the findings of an investigation by the Department of Basic Education in 2014. Refer to The department was concerned about “uneven implementation” of effective language education. There has thus been an increase in “semi-lingual” matriculants who are not adequately proficient in any language. This is opposed to being multilingual in listening, speaking, reading and writing in English and another language or other dialects.

ABET teaches literacy

ABET or AET teaches the literacy skills that employees use to understand the unique vocabulary of maths. Students who are unfamiliar with the terms used in numeracy will struggle to solve technical problems. For instance, answering algebraic equations entails understanding words such as “factor”, “coefficient”, “variable” and “integer”. Language then enables the effective communication of solutions to others.

Maths can be viewed as a simpler, as well as more consistent and regular language – even more so than English. Numbers represent nouns and operational signs denote verbs. A mathematical equation can be described as a sentence – even one as simple as “2 x 3 = 6”.

Similar to English, maths is based on the correct grammar and syntax. A maths equation can only be written in a specific way to be understood. One cannot write “5 + 6 = 11” as “5 6 + = 11” as it loses its meaning.

The language of maths has limitlessness nouns or numbers and only has five verbs or operational signs, namely “+, -, /, x and =”. Refer to Microsoft Word – WJE Vol 21 Issue 2 merged 2016.doc for more interesting reading on the topic.

However, it is a language that can be more accurately defined and strongly abstracted than conventional thought and expression. Maths also differs from ordinary languages in another critical way. When a statement is changed in a mathematical form, it can be manipulated according to the rules. Every configuration of symbols represents facts in harmony depending on those of the original statement.

To support the development of mathematical language, ABET or AET facilitators introduce and reinforce key vocabulary through explicit teaching; examples; and practice. They also use visual aids, including diagrams, graphs and charts, to help learners to better understand the meaning of new words.

ABET teaches how to communicate

ABET or AET teaches your employees how to communicate maths-related concepts to others. This is yet another example of how adult literacy and numeracy training are connected. These subjects are not compartmentalised, but rather viewed holistically.

It is not enough to merely understand maths vocabulary. We also need to be able to communicate technical ideas clearly and concisely to others. This requires precision in both language use and notation. For example, geometry uses accurate language to describe the properties of geometric shapes. To excel in algebra, people also need to be able to write the equations that accurately represent the relationships between variables.

ABET or AET facilitators ask learners to explain their thinking and reasoning as part of adult numeracy training to support maths language development. They also encourage learners to use precise language and correct maths-related notation in their explanations. Learners are also urged to work together in small groups to discuss their ideas. This so that they receive constructive feedback from learners on their maths communication skills.

ABET imparts language skills

ABET or AET imparts English literacy skills that employees need to understand abstract concepts as part of their adult numeracy training.

Learners must have a sound grasp of abstract concepts and be able to apply them to real-world problems to succeed in maths. To fully comprehend the idea of fractions, for example, learners must know the meaning of a variety of terms. These include “numerator”, “denominator”, “equivalent” and “simplify”.

Therefore, ABET or AET facilitators use real-world examples to help learners to better understand abstract concepts. They use graphic organisers, such as Venn diagrams and concept maps, to assist learners in organising and categorising information. Adult numeracy training facilitators also encourage learners to use multiple representations to better comprehend maths-related concepts. These include pictures, diagrams and symbols.

ABET develops metacognitive skills

The English literacy training component of ABET or AET develops metacognitive skills. This is the ability to “think about our own thinking”, an indispensable skill to learn basic numeracy.

Someone who cannot read for meaning by implication does not have metacognitive skills. We think critically about our own understanding of the text that we are reading. For example, we ask ourselves if we have gained sufficient knowledge about what we are reading. This will determine whether we proceed reading or reread prior paragraphs or chapters so that the subject that we are studying becomes clearer. Depending on the outcome, we will also know if we are ready to apply the knowledge. The first part of metacognition is knowledge of cognition. This is followed by the regulation of cognition to maximise learning.

Metacognitive abilities enable learners of maths to monitor their own progress. They also use this skill to recognise where they need help and to develop strategies for problem solving.

To support metacognitive development, adult numeracy training facilitators provide opportunities for learners to reflect on their learning. They ask learners to explain how they solved a problem and identify where they struggled. Moreover, they are encouraged to describe the strategies they used to overcome challenges.

ABET is a learning journey

ABET or AET, including adult literacy and numeracy training, is the start of a lifelong learning journey for your employees.

Of course, there will be challenges along the way, considering the cognitive load involved in learning maths and literacy. Mastering these subjects takes time, especially when learning the maths register, which places additional demands on learning. Therefore, adult numeracy training strives to reduce ambiguity and improve confidence in the use of essential vocabulary. This is supported by quality adult literacy training.

As is the case with English literacy, learning the language of numeracy involves a lot of uncertainty. Learners will become confused as their vocabulary of maths-related words becomes larger. For example, they will encounter the same words in different contexts that do not have the same meaning. Joan Kenney accurately articulates this challenge in her book Literacy Strategies for Improving Maths Instruction. She says that maths consists of many “confusing terms, formats and symbols.” Refer to

ABET or AET clarifies the ambiguities and double meanings in maths communication. In this way, quality adult literacy and numeracy training bridges the discourse of maths and that which learners use in English language. It is this divide that is holding so many young learners back when, in fact, they too have the ability to learn maths.

An ABET leader

Triple E Training is an ABET or AET leader. We have been providing adult literacy and numeracy training to industry for more than 30 years. This is used by companies in a broad range of industries for both workplace and community training.

In today’s technologically advanced society, basic maths skills are a prerequisite to effectively navigate all aspects of life. Our adult literacy and numeracy training programmes are developing better reasoners and thinkers who can overcome most challenges encountered in modern life.

The Italian astronomer, Galileo Galilei, summed up the importance of understanding the language maths. He said “[the universe] cannot be read until we have learned the language.” We also need to become “familiar with the characters in which it is written. It is written in mathematical language.” Learn more about Triple E Training and our quality adult literacy and numeracy training.

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Unlock the Full Potential of Your Employees. Leave your details & our team get back to you.

Note: Please be assured that all personal data submitted is handled with the utmost confidentiality & will only be used for the purpose of addressing your inquiries.