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ABET has evolved with literacy

ABET or AET has evolved with literacy over the years.

Therefore, ABET is no longer just about teaching adults how to decode written information. Rather, adult literacy training teaches the range of more complex and diverse skills and understandings that encompass literacy in the modern age.

As early as 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [] identified a need to redefine literacy. The new definition had to also consider multiple literacies, “which are diverse; have many dimensions; and are learnt in different ways.”

Multiple literacies are not restricted to printed or written forms of language. Instead, the concept involves many modes of representation, such as music, gestures and pictures. In this modern age, printed and written literacy is important. However, it is only one kind of literacy that makes meaning in a narrowed area.

As noted by UNESCO, literacy had evolved significantly as a concept since it was first defined by the organisation in the 1950s. Then, literacy was simply considered as “knowledge and skills in reading and writing.” This enabled people to “engage effectively in all those activities in which literacy is normally assumed in a culture or group.”

UNESCO now defines literacy as an “ability to identify, understand, interpret, communicate and compute, using written materials associated with varying contexts. It expounds that “literacy involves a continuum of learning.” This “enables individuals to achieve their goals; develop knowledge and potential; and to participate fully in their community and wider society.” Refer to PowerPoint Presentation (

Notably, UNESCO no longer defines literacy in terms of individual skills aimed at increasing national productivity. Rather, its new definition emphasises the role that literacy also plays in developing sustainable literate communities.

ABET will continue to advance

ABET or AET will continue to advance with literacy over the years to come. Literacy is still expanding and evolving as people engage more with information and learn via digital technology.

There are other definitions of modern literacy that complement that of UNESCO. They also shape our understanding of this ever-evolving skill.

The European Literacy Policy Network [] assesses literacy based on a multi-layered approach. It encompasses baseline literacy through to functional and multiple literacy. Refer to

ELINET, defines literacy as the “ability to read and write.” However, this skill must be “at a level whereby individuals can effectively understand and use written communication in all media (print or electronic).” The definition, therefore, also includes “digital literacy.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [] has also defined modern literacy. The OECD’s assessment of literacy is based on adults’ proficiency in key information-processing skills in technology-rich environments. These include literacy, numeracy and problem solving. Refer to,to%20complex%20information%2Dprocessing%20tasks.

It defines literacy as a skill that involves “understanding, evaluating, using and engaging with written text.” This is “to participate in society; to achieve one’s goals; and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.”

The World Bank [] assesses literacy based on cognitive, technical and non-cognitive proficiencies of adults in urban areas. Its assessment is similar in scale to that of the OECD’s. Refer to

According to the World Bank, cognitive skills are “the ability to understand complex ideas; adapt effectively to the environment; and engage in various forms of reasoning.” People with this skill also have an ability “to overcome obstacles by taking thought.”

ABET imparts skills people need

ABET or AET imparts the skills people need to communicate and make meaning in rich, complex and diverse ways.

By expanding the concept of literacy, we are better able to understand the system of skills that encompass traditional reading and writing. This is in addition to the other ways that we interact with the world. These also affect how we make sense of ourselves, others and society at large.

Meaning making happens through a variety of ways.

This includes via socially produced and understood practices. These have been normalised by social and cultural interactions. A case in point is using writing skills to complete a form.

Meaning making also occurs via multiple modes. These include language, gestures, written symbols, images, sounds and movements. In many instances, comprehension is enhanced depending on how modes are orchestrated and navigated. Examples of multiple modes include illustrations that have been combined with text and digital production that integrates sound, images and virtual experience.

Meaning making is also felt or experienced in unseen ways. They influence one’s thought process, communication and intellect.

The process of understanding also involves thinking about the world at a local, global and civic level. Moreover, it entails constructively questioning problematic commonplace things. Among others, these include racism, systematic injustices, oppression, poverty and human trafficking. This is considering the negative impact that these have on our own lives and those of others.

Modern ABET programmes

Modern ABET or AET programmes teach literacy skills that are needed to navigate an increasingly sophisticated society. Humanity has undergone profound economic, social, political, economic and cultural change over the years. This, in turn, has shaped the concept of literacy. And it will continue to progress as society advances.

For example, new technologies have dramatically changed the world. The internet, email and text messaging have enabled communications to be undertaken instantaneously over large distances.

One of the many outcomes of the technological revolution is globalisation. The increasing interdependence of nations brings greater strength, but also vulnerability. More than ever, a country’s survival is based on its ability to compete at a global level. To maintain productivity and a competitive edge, countries need to develop the skills of their citizens. Literacy and numeracy form the basis of these critical proficiencies. There are very few jobs in this age that do not require at least a basic understanding of literacy and numeracy.

Meanwhile, we also need an ability to order, process and evaluate the proliferation of information, including print, electronic, audio and visual. This ability is simply referred to as digital and data literacy.

ABET for lifelong learning


ABET or AET lays the literacy foundations for lifelong learning.

Education is no longer confined to the period of formal schooling. It is now viewed as a lifelong experience. In the 1950s, employees had lifelong careers usually within one company. However, today, employees perform several jobs throughout their working life. Therefore, they need to be adaptable, multi-skilled and mobile. In the less hierarchical “postmodern” workplace, employees are also expected to be able to solve problems and make decisions. Moreover, they need to be team players and demonstrate initiative.

Under the influence of postmodern philosophies, old ways of thinking have been substantially challenged. Language is now viewed as subjective and vague. Concepts such as reality, sexuality, morality and truth are no longer considered in fundamental terms. Rather, they are now thought of as relative and interrelated. Therefore, literacy has become a social construction as opposed to an autonomous and universal given.

Previously fixed cultural categories have also been dismantled and replaced by a diversity of perspectives. For example, multiculturalism has replaced monoculturalism and multiple literacies have substituted the concept of single literacy. As a society, we pay more attention to the experiences of the marginalised and oppressed than we did in the past. Inclusiveness and diversity are now celebrated.

Discrete bodies of knowledge are also being broken down and replaced by interdisciplinary studies. For example, theoretical developments in literacy have been influenced by the work of anthropologists and linguists, historians and psychologists. Bodies of knowledge are still being broken down even further so that they can be viewed in terms of skills and processes that need to be acquired.

ABET has kept pace

Certainly, the delivery of ABET or AET has also kept pace with modern teaching and learning practices.

As literacy has evolved, so too has the way in which it is being taught at school and by enterprising adult literacy training practitioners.

Education has become more student-centred. Knowledge is no longer just imparted from training facilitators to learners or teachers to students. Today, learners are actively engaged in constructing their own learning. Success is measured according to outcome statements as opposed to formulated goals. The focus is on teaching how to learn as opposed to imparting facts that learners need to simply memorise as part of the learning process.

Learners are now encouraged to question texts and prevailing ideologies. Therefore, modern literacy skills have a strong critical dimension – whether conceptualised as “basic” reading or writing or as a range of diverse practices.

ABET provides “learning tools”

ABET or AET provides the “learning tools” that people need to hone and refine and develop their literacy skills. This is so that they can successfully navigate an era of accelerated change and uncertainty.

There are various so-called “critical” literacies that we need to master to function effectively in the 21st century.

We need to be able to find, evaluate and use information in any format, wherever it may reside. This is in addition to possessing an ability to recognise the intended audience and purpose of the information to understand bias and reliability. Moreover, we need knowledge of the form and format of the source. This is considering that it may influence our interpretation of what is being presented. For example, X only allows limited characters to convey information versus other social media platforms. There is, thus, very little opportunity to provide context in these posts. This needs to be considered by the audience when interpreting information that is disseminated via this platform. Wikipedia, for instance, allows multiple contributors. Readers need to be aware that information on this site is not peer reviewed for accuracy so that they can take the necessary precautionary measures.

Collaboration is another critical literacy in the 21st century. The skills of collaboration include communication, open-mindedness and conflict resolution, all of which enable us to work successfully with others. In this modern era, collaboration also requires an ability to use technology appropriately, effectively, efficiently and ethically.

Extend the reach of ABET

It is imperative that we extend the reach of ABET or AET in South Africa. About 4million functionally illiterate citizens of the country are being left behind as our economy and society advances. Meanwhile, many industries have already started undergoing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This will also eventually significantly reshape our societies.

To function optimally in this sophisticated environment, we will require generic “soft skills”, such as communication, creativity and problem solving. This is in addition to information literacy and “hard” skills, such as programming.

Without basic literacy skills, many citizens have already fallen behind. They experience poorer employment opportunities and outcomes and lower incomes. They, therefore, face welfare dependency; low self-esteem; and higher levels of crime. Without this fundamental skill, people are also unable to make informed decisions. They struggle with simple tasks, such as completing forms and applications and understanding government policies. Refer to TheEconomicSocialCostofIlliteracy-2.pdf (

Illiteracy also leads to a cycle of disadvantage through generations. Research has shown that children of parents who do not complete primary school are more likely to drop out. Their parents prioritise work before education and, thus, have low expectations with regards to their children’s schooling.

They are also more likely to have low levels of health literacy. This is connected to higher hospital admission rates. There is also a lack of engagement with health services, such as cancer screening, and understanding of and adherence to medical advice. Refer to

Notably, there is also a close link between illiteracy and the child mortality rate. When a woman can read and write, her children have a 36% higher chance of living past the age of five. Refer to Estimating the Impact of Women’s Education on Fertility, Child Mortality, and Empowerment When Schooling Ain’t Learning | Harvard Kennedy School.

The benchmark in ABET

Triple E Training continues to establish the benchmark in ABET or AET.

Our adult literacy and numeracy training has evolved with the needs of industry – whether for workplace or community training programmes.

This has been an ongoing process for more than 30 years while working alongside our many clients, some of whom have been with the company since inception.

Together, we are making an impact on high illiteracy in the country that impedes our ability to reach our full potential as a nation.

Our quality ABET or AET empowers and liberates people. They transcend merely providing the right to education as enshrined in our constitution. Refer to Our adult literacy training programmes equip individuals with the skills that they need to improve their lives by expanding their capabilities. This, in turn, reduces poverty; increases participation in the labour market; and has positive effects on health and sustainable development.

As Kofi Annan is quoted as saying, “literacy is the road to human progress.” It is also the “means through which every man, women and child can realise his or her full potential.”

Learn more about Triple E Training and our quality adult literacy and numeracy training programmes.

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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.