Department of Higher Education and Training moots more adult basic education and training or “ABET”

Millions of South African grownups of working age are still illiterate or semi-illiterate. This is according to a recent Department of Higher Education and Training fact sheet. As a solution, the report motivates the implementation of more interventions, including adult basic education and training or “ABET”, to help solve this crisis. Triple E Training, a leading accredited training provider, welcomes the findings of the fact sheet and believes that the private sector has a large role to play in helping government to break the back of illiteracy in the country by providing quality workplace training. This includes basic English literacy and numeracy instruction.

A recent fact sheet published by the Department of Higher Educationand Training or “DHET” has again highlighted the extent of South Africa’s illiteracy challenge. Authored by MamphokhuKhuluvhe, Adult Illiteracy in South Africa also motivates the need for more interventions to address the significant adult illiteracy crisis that the country is facing. This includes Post School Education and Training or “PSET”to equip illiterate and semi-illiterate grownups with the English literacy and basic numbers skills they need to adapt to an “increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world”.PSET interventions being mooted by the DHET include adult basic education and training or ABET.

“The South African economy has evolved significantly over the years, and it will continue to do so as it increasingly transitions into a digital era. As the country’s economy becomes more sophisticated,which includes harnessing Fourth Industrial Revolution or “4IR” technologies, to compete at a global level, it will rely more heavily upon advanced skills.This will be at the expense of low-skilled employees who have already been increasingly side-lined over the years, compounding the high unemployment rate in the country. These are people who are unable to read and write English, the accepted language of business and learning, and who lack basic numbers skills. Among those who have been the most affected by ongoing ‘disruption’ to traditional industries because of technological innovationare young adults and women. They remain the most vulnerable members of society,” Marinda Clack of Triple E Training says.

Triple E Training is a leading private accredited training provider.It has a more than 30 year-long track record supplying high quality adult English literacy and numeracy training to industry as part of its adult basic education and training or “ABET” offering. The company’s basic English literacy and numeracy training is helping to improve productivity and efficiencies in the workplace by raising the communications and maths proficiencies of low skilled employees.

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” is needed to raise low literacy levels in South Africa

Millions of illiterate and semi-illiterate people require adult literacytraining

According to the fact sheet, South Africa’s adult illiteracy rate stood at 12% in 2019. While this is a significant improvement of 7,1 percentage points over the past decade, more than 4-million South African adults are still illiterate. Worryingly, about two third of these citizens of the country are below the age of 60 and a third under the age of 50. This means that they areof working age, yet they lack the Basic English literacy and basic numbers skills they need to meaningfullyparticipate in a modern economy.

Khuluvhe is also concerned that South Africa’s illiteracy rate does not lag far behind the global average of 14%. According to the United Nations Education, Science and Cultural Organisation or “UNESCO”, a minimum of 773-million youth and adults throughout the world still cannot read and write and 250-million children are struggling to acquire basic literacy skills. UNESCO points out that this lack of basic literacy and basic numbers skillsalso results in an exclusion of youth and adults from full participation in their communities and societies. They cannot be fully involved insocial and political discourse, as well as make informed decisions thathelp shape policies in their communities, UNESCO notes. This is over-and-above the impact that it has on the country’s economy. These illiterates are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They have no or very limited opportunities for employment to sustain a decent livelihood and, as such, many will suffer from poor health, turn to crime and become dependent on welfare.  

Lack of English literacy and numeracy skills impede economic growth

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” for growth and development

Clack says, “The country’s low literacy rate is of major concern, and it is very encouraging to note that the Department of Higher Education and Training intends using the findings contained in Adult Illiteracy in South Africa to inform its interventions. These will include extending adult basic education and training or “ABET” programmes in the country. However, bear in mind that state and non-government organisation or “NGO”-driven adult literacy and adult training programmes have not been as effective in combating illiteracy in the country as initially intended. They have been beset by an array of challenges that are yet to be resolved. This unfortunate situation has persisted since a few years before democracy when signs of collapse of the state, university and NGO-based adult basic education and training or ‘ABET’ system started becoming blatantly evident. This is opposed to those successful adult basic education and training or ‘ABET workplace programmes that are being driven by the private sector– either directly or through their accredited training providers. These efforts have already made a significant impactby equipping low skilled employees with basic English literacy and numeracy skills and should, therefore, continue to play a major role in government’s strategy to eradicate illiteracy. In fact, I believe that the private sector has an even larger role to playby having more companies invest in quality adult literacy training,” Clack says.

Triple E Training provides adult basic education and training or “ABET”, including basic English literacy and numeracy instruction, to participants in all the main economic sectors of the country. The accredited training provider’s many clients also continue to realise a return on their ongoing investment into adult basic education and training or “ABET”. This is through, among others, a reduction in mistakes and downtime due to employees being able to understand clear instructions from supervisors or to do basic calculations that are required as part of a job specification. Workers who have completed Triple E Training’sworkplace training programmes are also more engaged and aligned with the company’s vision, mission and ethos. Notably, there is also close correlation between Basic English literacy and numeracyskills in the workplace and regulatory compliance, including occupational health and safety. Companies that invest in workplace training, including basic English literacy and numeracy instruction, are also demonstrating their commitment to employees. This enables them to attract and retain talent to help grow their businesses.

Adult basic education and training or ABET for sustainable development

English literacy and numeracy is a basic human right

In Adult Illiteracy in South Africa, Khuluvhe also notes South Africa’s commitment to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals or “SDGs”. This includes SDG 6, which strives for inclusive and quality education for all the citizens of the world. Notably, this goalalso has a bearing on most of the SDGs and further motivates the need for more adult basic education and training or “ABET” in the country. This includes instruction in Basic English literacy and basic numbers skills.

In 2019, adult illiteracy remained the highest among indigenous South Africans compared to other race groups, although there has been an improvement in this regard over the past 10 years. Adult basic education and training or “ABET” is, therefore, an important means of addressing the very high inequality levels in the country. Bear in mind that illiteracy is also one of the legacies of the past regime, although it has been exacerbated by a rapidly deteriorating basic schooling system over the years. Adult basic education and training or “ABET” in the workplace, thus, also contributes towards economic transformation by empowering low skilled employees. The basic English literacy and basic numbers skills that they acquire through Triple E Training’s quality workplace training programmes enables them to meaningfully participate in a modern economy.Employees who complete their workplace training, including basic English literacy and numeracy instruction, often gain a newfound passion for learning, which unlocks further potential for growth and development. For this reason, Triple E Training’s quality adult basic education and training or “ABET” also contributes towards the black-economic empowerment scorecard.

Stats below indicate the numbers and percentage of persons in the population aged 20 and older who have not completed grade 7 and above by gender, 2009 and 2019. These people need adult basic education and training or “ABET”. This includes basic English and maths skills.

Gender200920092009201920192019

Number% shareIlliteracy rateNumber% shareIlliteracy rate
Male2 480 92343.2%17.4%2 046 12746.3%11.6%
Female3 265 77956.8%20.9%2 375 45753.7%12.5%
Total5 746 702100.0%19.2%4 421 584100.0%12.1%

[Source:] General Household Survey (GHS). Statistics South Africa

Stats below indicate the number and percentage of persons in the population aged 20 and above who have not completed grade 7 and above by population group, 2009 and 2019. These people need basic English literacy and maths training.

Population group200920092009201920192019

Number% shareIlliteracy rateNumber% shareIlliteracy rate
Black5 289 17792.0%23.4%4 037 32891.3%14.0%
Coloured399 3056.9%14.3%336 6377.6%10.3%
Indian46 7040.8%5.3%35 5020.8%3.3%
White11 5160.2%0.3%12 1170.3%0.3%
Total5 746 702100.0%19.2%4 421 585100.0%12.1%
General Household Survey (GHS). Statistics South Africa

States below indicate number and percentage of persons in the population aged 20 and above who have not completed grade 7 and above by province, 2009 and 2019. These people need adult literacy training. This includes basic English and maths skills.

Province200920092009201920192019

Number% shareIlliteracy rateNumber% shareIlliteracy rate
Western Cape420 4687.3%11.7%339 7147.7%7.4%
Eastern Cape933 88216.3%26.7%679 40015.4%18.2%
Northern Cape184 8523.2%28.1%123 9742.8%16.0%
Free State346 7826.0%21.0%271 1066.1%14.9%
KwaZulu-Natal1 262 453
22.0%22.4%979 592
22.2%14.5%
North West552 9259.6%27.0%437 7519.9%17.8%
Gauteng772 83713.4%9.8%579 66413.1%5.6%
Mpumalanga514 7009.0%23.7%428 0239.7%15.5%
Limpopo757 80213.2%27.8%582 36113.2%17.6%
Total5 746 701100.0%19.2%4 421 584100.0%12.1%
General Household Survey (GHS). Statistics South Africa

Statistics below indicate the number and percentage of persons in the population who have not completed grade 7 and above by age group, 2009 and 2019. These people need adult literacy training. This includes basic English and maths skills.

Age group200920092009201920192019
15-19yrs565 16511.2%10.8%273 7808.2%5.9%
20-24yrs327 6146.5%6.1%168 2645.0%3.5%
25-29yrs328 5316.5%6.9%190 1085.7%3.5%
30-34yrs360 3477.1%9.4%252 3757.5%4.6%
35-39yrs432 1548.5%13.1%305 2039.1%6.5%
40-44yrs560 88211.1%20.1%284 8018.5%7.9%
45-49yrs647 26812.8%26.3%360 40310.8%12.1%
50-54yrs686 48913.6%33.3%452 18113.5%18.5%
55-59yrs644 85212.7%38.7%540 38116.1%25.8%
60-64yrs511 76110.1%40.9%524 63315.7%31.1%
Total5 065 064100.0%15.5%3 352 128100.0%8.8%
General Household Survey (GHS). Statistics South Africa

Quality adult basic education and training or “ABET” for a competitive edge

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” improves bottom line performance

The fact sheet notes that the highest rates of illiteracy are in the Eastern Cape, North-West and Limpopo.

Meanwhile, Gauteng’s illiteracy rate is above the national average, with half a million people unable to read and write. They also lack basic numbers skills so they are unable to perform basic calculations as many job specifications require. The author expresses dismay at the high illiteracy rate in the province considering that Gauteng is the economic hub of the country.

“It is definitely a concern, and I am sure that many will also be surprised by the high illiteracy level in the province. It also stresses the need for a more coordinated approach to adult literacy training by government to complement those basic English literacy and maths instruction programmes that are being undertaken by the private sector and their accredited training providers,” Clack says. “Johannesburg, alone, generates 17% of South Africa’s gross domestic product or “GDP” mainly due to manufacturing, retail and services-based industries, with many of our clients based in-and-around the city or in other major economic hubs in the province, such as Tshwane, Midrand and Centurion. Moreover, the province hosts top multinationals, Africa’s largest stock exchange and all the major banking groups that all rely on people with high skills. This also shows that there is certainly immense scope for the private sector to become more involved in the DHET’s strategy to combat high illiteracy levels in the country by strengthening its workplace training programmes. This includes adult literacy and numeracy training.”

Khuluvhe says more needs to be done regarding adult basic education and training or “ABET programmes in all provinces. This includes KwaZulu-Natal, which is currently home to the largest number of illiterate South Africans.

However, she says that these adult basic education and training or “ABET” initiatives need to transcend the traditional approach of merely teaching adults how to read, write and count. Rather, she proposes that literature training also embrace identification, understanding, interpretation, creation and communication skills. This will better prepare illiterate and semi-literate adults for the modern workplace.

“There are many lessons that can be gleaned from the way in which the private sector equips adults with Basic English and basic numbers skills through their workplace training programmes. The private sector continues to lead the way in revolutionising adult basic education and training or ‘ABET’ to ensure that basic English literacy and numeracy training is in line with requirements of modern workplaces. This has ensured that workplace training is always relevant and will add value to both employers and employees,” Clack concludes.

Learn more about our quality adult literacy and numeracy training programmes at www.eee.co.za.

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