Get In Touch
277 Jorissen St, Paardeplaats
177 IQ, Krugersdorp
[email protected]
Ph: +27 11 668 4300

Extend the reach of ABET

We need to extend the reach of ABET or AET. More Black elderly citizens need to be included in adult literacy and numeracy training programmes. They were deprived an education under the previous regime. Therefore, sadly, many senior South Africans have had to persevere through life without foundational literacy and numeracy skills.

The need to ensure the wellbeing of older adults in the African context cannot be overstated. This is considering the important roles that they fulfil in our society. Grandparents often provide childcare so that parents can work away from home and support their families. Meanwhile, older African men are considered decision-makers among their communities. They also uphold values, beliefs and traditions.

Black South Africans over the age of 50 spent most of their productive lives under the previous system. As such, they experienced restrictions on employment, residence and other opportunities that were opposed on them by the government of the day. Therefore, inequality in education between and within races are greater among these citizens than they are for the youth. Young adults have had better opportunities since the advent of democracy. However, there are still glaring inequalities under the new dispensation. A skewed education system is but one example. It is often referred to as the Apartheid of the day as it has resulted in many young Black South Africans dropping out of school. If they do complete matric, their education is of a very poor quality.

Now, these senior citizens face a plethora of new pressures. These include the impact of HIV/AIDS and high unemployment among the next generation. This while having to navigate most of their life without basic skills.

ABET for the previously marginalised

We should never lose sight of the fact that ABET or AET is geared at all previously marginalised citizens, irrespective of their age. Adult literacy and numeracy training is the only way that these illiterate adults are able to complete their basic education.

Worryingly, many Black South Africans aged 60 and older have had no formal education. The vast majority of these citizens reside in the rural areas of the country or informal settlements.

In 2021, the illiteracy rate was 29,2% among those citizens aged between 60 and 64. The illiteracy rate among citizens of between 55 and 59 years of age was 22,9%. It was 16,3% among 50- to 54-year-old South Africans. Refer to

High levels of illiteracy are notably more prevalent among elderly Coloureds and Black Africans. In 2011, almost a third or 28,4% of elderly Whites had attained a higher education. This is compared to 8,2% of elderly Indians/Asians; 3,6% of Coloureds; and 2,5% of Black South Africans who had also done so. Refer to

This is an example of the stubborn legacy of a previous regime. It is being exacerbated by a failing education system. Characterised by crumbling infrastructure; overcrowded classrooms; and relatively poor educational outcomes, it is perpetuating inequality. It seems Bantu Education is alive and well. It has merely taken on another guise under democracy. Refer to

ABET geared at South Africans

Unfortunately, most ABET or AET programmes are mainly geared at South Africans of working age who have not completed their basic education. These young adults, therefore, do not possess workplace literacy skills, including literacy and numeracy. As a result, they are either stuck in low-wage jobs; working in the informal industries; or very likely unemployed. There are more than 221 000 citizens aged between 15 and 19 and 96 000 15- to 19-year-old South Africans who have not completed Grade 7. This Grade straddles marginal and functional literacy. Someone is considered functionally literate when they have completed Grade 9, which is at a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level 1. An ABET or AET Level 4 certificate denotes literacy and numeracy skills at NQF Level 1.

Refer to NQF Levels – What do they mean ( This is the absolute basic skill level required to participate meaningfully in the economy as a general or entry-level worker.

It is, therefore, important that this population demographic receive priority. However, this cannot be at the expense of the many senior citizens who cannot read and write, as well as do basic maths. The fact that there are still so many elderly South Africans who are illiterate is a concern. This is especially considering that we are fast approaching 30 years of democracy. At the same time, we have a constitution that enshrines the basic right of education for all citizens. Refer to

Unfortunately, it seems that the country pays lip service to this right. Indeed, government has extended the reach of education to children. However, the quality of teaching is a concern. Meanwhile, its ABET or AET programmes have been a resounding failure. They have been marred by ineptitude and a general lack of political will to address high illiteracy, especially among the elderly.

The right to ABET

The Bill of Rights in the Constitution enshrines the right of all citizens to basic education, including ABET or AET. It states further that government through reasonable measures, must make adult literacy and numeracy training progressively available and accessible.

Yet, the menacing spectre of Bantu Education still looms large. It has directly contributed to the many social ills with which we grapple today as a nation.

Private companies, together with their ABET or AET providers, are mainly supplying adult literacy and numeracy training. However, these programmes are primarily geared at employees and young unemployed adults. This is considering that the focus is on imparting 21st Century workplace literacy skills.

These should be complemented by government-driven adult literacy and numeracy programmes that also prioritise participation by senior citizens.

However, state’s adult literacy and numeracy training system has been largely ineffective. They continue to be plagued by a host of seemingly insurmountable challenges. According to the ABET Educators Union, they include low pay and non-payment of salaries to training facilitators. Training facilitators are also not consulted on curriculum development and their schools lack resources. The Federation of Unions of South Africa also claimed at a time that no government departments wanted to take responsibility for adult education workers. Therefore, many of these teachers are confused over whether to report to the basic or higher education departments for contract negotiations.

Generally, neither the provincial education departments nor the Department of Higher Education and Training have expended much energy in relation to ABET. Refer to Department of Higher Education and Training ( Pressing issues that have received scant attention include adult education qualifications; programmes; and the improvement of teaching approaches and methods. This is not to mention the need to develop and distribute materials for educators and learners.

Take ABET more seriously

It is critical that government take ABET or AET more seriously. This will enable more South Africans to access adult literacy and numeracy training.

Notably, it took an inordinate amount of time for authorities to approve qualifications and curriculum proposals for adults. This includes the General Education and Training Certificate that replaced the General Education and Training Certificate: ABET. Implementation of the National Senior Certificate for Adults was also delayed. For some time, the old Senior Certificate was used. However, this was eventually replaced by the “Amended Senior Certificate”.

Refer to Also reference

It seems that government may have forgotten the important role that adult literacy and numeracy training played in the liberation struggle. This is by providing marginalised people with the opportunity to gain an education. There was a period in our history when ABET or AET classes had to be provided in secret to avoid persecution. Now, despite our current democratic dispensation, many are being denied the opportunity to access adult literacy and numeracy training.

Quality ABET

Quality ABET or AET equips people with the skills that they need to improve their wellbeing.

For example, people with literacy and numeracy skills can access, understand and use health-related information and messages. This, inevitably, leads to improved household and personal health and hygiene and nutrition. In turn, this reduces the rate of disease, accidents and other health-related issues, placing additional pressure on already-stretched public health services. Notably, inequalities in access to medical aid – whether by sex or population group – exist among all South Africans, irrespective of their age. Only 23,8% and 23,3% of older South Africans were members of medical aid schemes or had private health insurance in 2017 and 2021, respectively.

Medical aid coverage was the highest for older White South Africans. 75% of this racial demographic have medical coverage. This is compared to only 5,4% of Black South Africans who could afford this service. In eight of the nine provinces, most older South Africans used public clinics for their healthcare needs. The Western Cape was the only province where senior citizens were more likely to use private hospitals, clinics or doctors.

There are other ways that literacy improves the health and wellbeing of a population.

In developing countries, a child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five. Illiteracy also increases the likelihood of high-risk sexual behaviour. This is due to a general lack of awareness about sexual and reproductive health, as well as the importance of contraception.

Literate women are also three times more likely to know that a person in seemingly good health can be infected with HIV. This is compared to illiterate females, according to the findings of at least one study.

People who have completed ABET

People who have completed ABET or AET possess the literacy and numeracy skills that they need to make informed decisions regarding their health. This is also referred to as “health literacy”.

Extensive research has been undertaken into the relationship between cognitive function, literacy and health. One in particular focused specifically on the correlation between cognitive function, literacy and HIV status knowledge among older South African adults.

While HIV prevalence is exceptionally high in South Africa, testing rates remain below targeted guidelines. Older adults living with the disease are substantially more likely to remain undiagnosed than younger South Africans. This has been attributed to a lack of cognitive function and literacy skills. These proficiencies facilitate sound decision making regarding the costs and benefits of testing. They are also important to navigate testing logistics and processing results. Refer to The relationships between cognitive function, literacy and HIV status knowledge among older adults in rural South Africa – PMC (

Meanwhile, the lack of various literacy skills among South Africans also prevents the implementation of e-health resources in the country. This is according to ZSQL ( E-health has provided many citizens of other countries with high quality healthcare that is also affordable. As we become older, we become more susceptible to age-related illnesses. The health conditions most common among elderly South Africans are high blood pressure, diabetes and asthma. These could be better managed with e-health resources.

ABET equips people with skills


ABET or AET equips people with literacy and numeracy skills, which are needed to navigate society.

They are among the most important life skills that are taught at school from a very young age. These skills enable people to develop fully as individuals; live satisfying lives; and to participate to their best potential in society. Ensuring that all citizens who were marginalised in the past acquire these skills is one of the greatest contributions that we can make to achieving social justice and equity.

The Nobel laureate, Prof Amartya Sen, identifies illiteracy as one of three factors most succinctly describing human deprivation at the most basic level. Refer to Literacy as Freedom, By Professor Amartya Sen | Literacy – UNESCO Multimedia Archives.

People who are unable to read may have low self-esteem or experience emotions, such as shame, fear and powerlessness. They feel ostracised from academia; avoid situations where their illiteracy will become apparent; and are unable to fully participate in society or government. People who cannot read struggle to know their rights, as well as to vote, find work, pay bills and secure public services.

Government has often been criticised for its attitude towards the elderly. For example, the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) and the Department of Social Development often serve the elderly in a cavalier manner. It is not uncommon for the SASSA system to be offline when pensions need to be collected. Pensioners also stand in long queues in the sun and office phones seldom work, leading to frustrated officials and beneficiaries. This is despite the work ethic promoted by the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Social Development members relating to the Older Persons’ Amendment Bill. 

Refer to Also reference

Increasing the availability of ABET

Increasing the availability of ABET or AET to the older generation will also help to break intergenerational illiteracy. The ultimate objective of adult literacy and numeracy training is to instil a newfound respect for education among learners. They then pass this onto their families and communities.

Illiteracy is transferred from one generation to the next, regardless of whether children attend school. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) best describes intergenerational illiteracy. “Many children around the world attend school but do not learn to read, write and calculate. These adults experienced such frustration as children that they deliberately avoid literacy-related activities in later life. When they have children of their own, they tend to communicate – often non-verbally – their negative feeling towards literacy and schooling to their children. They, thus, perpetuate an intergenerational cycle of illiteracy.”

Refer to Learning families: intergenerational approaches to literacy teaching and learning; selected case studies from – UNESCO Digital Library.

ABET can impact high illiteracy

Geared specifically at South African caregivers, ABET or AET, including adult literacy and numeracy training, can impact high illiteracy in the country. Bear in mind that many grandparents provide care to children while their parents work.

South African caregivers, especially those living in the rural areas, struggle to provide a healthy, nurturing and stimulating environment for children. This is important for a child’s motivation, achievements and well-being at school. In the rural areas, caregivers grapple with poverty, limited education and skills and social isolation.

Illiteracy limits caregivers’ ability to understand messages, negatively influencing health, hygiene and nutrition levels in households. Children from these households often drop out of schools. This is because illiterate caregivers tend to have lower educational expectations and work-related aspirations for themselves and their grandchildren.

UNESCO also found that illiterate people are often denied social recognition. Therefore, illiterate family members often have low self-esteem. As a result, they do not have the assertiveness that they need to encourage and inspire their children to attend and excel at school.

Thus, illiterate caregivers inadvertently create a home environment that hinders the development of children’s reading and writing skills.

ABET targeted at poor areas

ABET or AET, including adult literacy and numeracy training, should be targeted at the poor areas of the country.

This is considering that intergenerational illiteracy is often rife in very poor areas where caregivers have low literacy skills.

Children whose parents have not completed school are over five times as likely as children from literate families to drop out of school. This is according to prominent research.

Illiteracy also imposes a significant burden on family and/or external support systems. This is because illiterate adults may not have the knowledge and skills to deal with the challenges that they encounter in daily interactions with children. For example, they cannot assist them with homework. They also struggle to understand messages and notes from teachers. It is imperative that both caregivers and teachers participate in children’s academics. This ensures close coordination between the educational requirements of school and that of the learners’ communities.

Refer to (PDF) Illiteracy among Caregivers: Implications for Children’s Educational and Social Development ( for more reading on the topic.

A sound example of areas of the country where intergenerational illiteracy is rife is Mthatha and Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape. Of the total population, 57,8% are regarded as illiterate. Worse still 91% of these populations do not have electricity; 93,3% have no formal sanitation facilities; and 77% are unemployed. The Eastern Cape is known for its consistently low matriculation pass rates. It was UNESCO that once affirmed that illiteracy is the price we pay for a failed education system. This is a problem deeply rooted in the province.

ABET instils passion for learning

Quality ABET or AET, including adult literacy and numeracy training, instils a respect and passion for learning. Equipped with literacy and numeracy skills, caregivers can read to children and help them with their homework.

Children who are read to at least three times a week by a family member become good readers themselves. According to research, they are almost twice as likely to score in the top 25% in reading. This is compared to children who are read to less frequently. Refer to Children’s Reading and Mathematics Achievement in Kindergarten and First Grade Report (

Research has also demonstrated that children growing up in homes with many books receive three years more schooling. This is compared to those children who do not grow up around books, irrespective of their parents’ education, occupation and class. Refer to Research in Social Stratification and Mobility | Journal | by Elsevier.

A quote by Charlie Gozalez, a Former United States Representative, best describes the importance of ensuring the wellbeing of our elderly. He said, “After a lifetime of working, raising families and contributing to the success of this nation in countless other ways, senior citizens deserve to retire with dignity.” We agree! Importantly, ABET or AET restores a sense of worth to those who were deprived an important basic human right.

Learn more about Triple E Training and how we are working with industry to make quality ABET or AET available to more South Africans.

Book a Call

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.

Book a Call

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.