Adult Basic Education and Training is a fundamental driver of transformation

Adult Basic Education and Training is a fundamental driver

Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) entails more than just teaching people how to work with numbers, as well as read and write English. ABET also provides people with dignity and self-esteem by helping them to complete their basic education. ABET provides people with important knowledge that they need to navigate life’s many transitions and make better-informed decisions to improve their livelihoods. Many adults who have worked with accredited providers of ABET also discover the joy and importance of learning and, in so doing, often study further to improve their circumstances. Adult Education & Training (AET) is, therefore, a fundamental driver of social change and equality in a country that is still grappling with the entrenched legacy of a previous education system that was based on exclusionary policies.

Triple E Training, a leading South African accredited training provider, has helped thousands of individuals gain numeracy and basic literacy skills over the years. It also remains the preferred partner for workplace training and community training for many businesses and state actors, considering the very high quality of its adult learning.

However, despite the huge difference that basic English and Maths training has already made to the lives of so many adults, the attention that it once enjoyed from government has waned within the larger education and training industry over the years. It is now often assigned an inferior rank in the larger education value chain.

An essential driver of change

Government recognised the major role that adult learning and adult training had to play in driving realtransformation very early on in South Africa’s democracy. This follows years of neglect under the previous regime, despite the limited attention it received in the 1970s and 1980s.

In 2000, government passed the ABET Act which facilitated the establishment of public and private adult learning centres in South Africa. The act also regulates AET by facilitating the establishment, governance and funding of public adult learning centres. This is in addition to providing for, among others, the registration of private adult learning centres, as well as quality assurance and promotion in the industry.

There are many factors that have since diluted this initial intense focus on developing adult learning and adult training programmes in the country, including economic and political volatility.

The globaleconomic crisis in 2008, for example, had a profound negative impact on budgets for adult training.

Another event that also impacted the funding of ABET programmes and other facets of education, including the public school system, was the #FeesMustFall campaign. Following the campaign, political attention almost exclusively turned to free higher education for citizens of South Africa. While a noble cause, it has placed enormous strain on stretched government budgets for basic services, including other types of education that rely heavily or entirelyon state funding.

This is evidenced by the marked decline in community training programmes that are geared at reducing the high illiteracy levels in South Africa. According to studies undertaken by government in 2004 and 2005, more than a third of the country’s population aged 16 and older was illiterate.

There has also been a noticeable decline in the number of public sector providers of adult literacy training and basic numbers skills over the years as funding from the National Skills Development Fund dwindles.

It stands to reason that there will be further casualties as government redirects more of its limited resources from education to the high costs involved in fighting the spread of the COVID-19 virus. This is as Treasury buckles under the strain of an embattled economy and a tax base that has been severely eroded.

The situation will further undermine the planning and implementation of policies for ABET, especially AET for unemployed people in the country at a time when joblessness has reached new levels. Worryingly, AET has long been without strong political leadership that is able to devise robust and implementable policies to help solve an array of challenges. This includes the need to adapt qualifications to the rapidly evolving profiles of AET learners.

Provincial spending on ABET from 2003 to 2007


Amount (R/millime)% of educational budgetAmount (R/millime)% of educational budgetAmount (R/millime)% of educational budgetAmount (R/millime)% of educational budget
Eastern Cape136.31,31,261,2136,31,2155,81,2
Free State70,91,745,8193,21,965,41,2
Northern Cape21,61,719,61,4201,323,51,4
North West54,21,144,30,963,61,183,31,2
Western Cape18,50,421,20,423,10,423,50,3
National treasury, 2007. Provincial Budgets and Expenditure Review, 2003/04 – 2009/10

Comparison by province of amount spent on potential adult learners

Revenue of the National Skills Fund

YearSkills development leviesOther revenue, such as interestTransfers receivedTotal revenue
2004/2005945.197,8381 080,9
2005/2006976.7102,840,31 119,7
2006/20071 10085,642,71 228,3
2007/20081 2007544,81 319,8
2008/20091 3006046,91 406,9
2009/20101 3654049,31 454,3
National Treasury, 2007a

Revenue and expenditure of the Sector Education & Training Authorities

YearRevenueExpenditureSurplus (deficit)
2003/20043 593,52 859735,5
2004/20054 451,54 270,2181,3
2005/20064 634,54 776,4(141,9)
2006/20074 778,35 060,1(281,8)
2007/20085171,55 730,8(559,3)
2008/20095 448,35 965,1(516,8)
2009/20105 727,86 233,3(505,5)
National Treasury, 2007a

Expenditure on training by enterprise size, 2003

Enterprise sizeTraining expenditure per trained employee in RandTraining expenditure per employee in Rand
Small (11 to 50)2 3981 070
Medium (51 to 100)2 4241 025
Large (+100)4 2471 864
Average3 6911 613

Time to release the brakes

The situation has delayed other important adult training initiatives that are expected to have a significant positive impact on the lives of many South Africans who are currently unemployed.

A case in point is the General Education and Training Certificate for Adults (GETCA). Intended to replace the Adult Basic Education Training qualification, GETCA will provide individuals with quick and easy access to further occupational and academic learning programmes that are registered at National Qualifications Framework (NQF) 2 to 4.

However, its implementation has been delayed due to funding constraints and a lack of political leadership. The first GETCA examinations are now only expected to be implemented in 2023 – almost 10 years after the qualification was approved and registered.

Meanwhile, a lack of political willand national shortage of educators has thwarted the execution of the National Senior Certificate for Adults (NASCA). Hopefully, it will be implemented this year or sometime in 2022 at the latest.

The proposed NQF4 qualification will benefit those adults who never completed their Grade 12 by enabling them to study academic and occupational fields at universities and colleges. With this qualification, many of South Africa’s unemployed youth will have the opportunity to apply for positions that are available in industries, such as childhood development and banking, as well as administration. This is in addition to pursuing vibrant careers in the public sector, including policing and nursing.

An important development that is aimed at providing people with the opportunity to complete their learnerships and to then further their academic studies in related occupational areas has also been placed on the backburner.

The Foundational Learning Competence is a requirement for occupational qualification and is registered at National Qualifications Framework NQF2-4 through to Quality Council For Trades & Occupations. It consists of Foundational Learning Communications in English and Foundational Learning Mathematical Literacy, forming the basis of essential occupational literacy skills that are required at the applicable NQF levels.

The qualification provides basic level skills and understanding that learners need to understand more complex context specific concepts and knowledge. It complements precise mathematical or language outcomes that must be covered within the occupational qualification.

Teamwork needed to advance AET

Triple E Training will continue to play its part in helping to advance AET in the country.This is considering the potentially large role that ABET has to play in helping to alleviate unemployment in the country. This is especially now when unemployment levels are at their highest at about 30,8%, exceeding the first quarter of 2020 figure of 30,1%. With the support of all stakeholders in the industry, including strong leadership and focus from the private sector,innovative ways can be found to ensure that all South Africans obtain valid and credible qualifications that will enable them to realise their full potential.

Changing Lives Together