Private sector helps government tackle South Africa’s Adult Literacy Training dilemma

South Africa has a significant illiteracy challenge that government is not able to tackle alone. To “break the back of illiteracy”, government also requires support from the private sector. Companies from various industries are playing their part by providing quality adult basic education and training or “ABET” programmes. Supplied by private accredited training providers, these services complement adult literacy training and adult numeracy training of government, non-government organisations and universities. This quality instruction in English literacy and basic numbers skills is being targeted at low skilled employees and members of communities where illiteracy levels are notoriously high.

The private sector is helping government to address high illiteracy levels in South Africa. This is through continued investment into high-quality adult literacy training and adult numeracy training programmes that raise the proficiencies of low skilled employees so that they can play a more prominent role in the South African economy. Low skilled employees also take their English literacy and numeracy skills back to their families and communities to maximise the socio-economic impact of these workplace training programmes. This complements other initiatives by companies that focus specifically on raising the skills of unemployed people living in poor communities where illiteracy is rife. These community training programmes are usually part of companies’ corporate social investment or “CSI” initiatives. 

In 2019, the country’s adult illiteracy rate was 12%. While this is an improvement on previous years, more than 4,4 million South African adults are still illiterate and many of them are of a working age.In addition to the profound negative impact that it has on the economy of a country, illiteracy directly effects the quality of lives of countless South Africans. These citizens are unable to secure employment to earn a livelihood because they lack minimal proficiencies required by a modern economy that has become increasingly reliant on high-level skills to compete at a global level. This will continue as companies gradually embraces more advanced technologies to increase productivity and efficiencies by eliminating human error. Illiteracy and lack of basic numbers skills, therefore, traps people in poverty increasing their livelihood of being incarcerated because they have had to become involved in a life of crime to sustain themselves. It also affects their life expectancy considering that illiterate people cannot access adequate healthcare and health outcomes.

Adult literacy training for equality

Adult basic education and training helps bridge the divide

Because illiterate people are more likely to experience poorer employment opportunities and outcomes, as well as lower income, the situation is also fuelling inequality in the country. Worryingly, the divide between the rich and poor has not narrowed since apartheid, with only 3 500 adults owning more than the poorest 32-million people in a country consisting of 60-million citizens. Inequality can also be witnessed in the country’s basic education system. Children in the top 200 schools achieve more distinctions in maths than children in the next 6 600 schools combined. Meanwhile, well over three quarters of South African children aged nine cannot read for meaning because they lack English literacy skills. This is as high as 91% in Limpopo and 85% in the Eastern Cape. Of 100 learners that commence school, only between 50 and 60 will reach matric, 40 to 50 will complete their schooling and as little as 14 will study further at an institution of higher learning.Growing inequality in the country can be described as a ticking timebomb. The effects were recently again evidenced by the mass looting of shops and malls; the destruction of property; and the loss of lives. Although these incidences were initially politically motivated, they were later fuelled by increasing rates of poverty and inequality in the country. Among the participants were many of the country’s frustrated unemployed youth who do not believe that they have a future. This is despite promises of a better life for all citizens since 1994.

Youth unemployment rate from 1999 to 2019


Mines establish the benchmark in adult literacy training 

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” for employees and communities

Mining companies continue to establish the benchmark in terms of the role that the private sector is able to play in helping government solve high levels of illiteracy in the country. They invest in quality basic education and training or “ABET” as part of their Corporate Social Investment or “CSI” obligations and to achieve the socio-economic development element of the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) verification process. This is considering the important role that adult literacy training and numeracy training plays in empowering previously disadvantaged South Africans. 

Moreover, it is a means of honouring pledges that they have made in their Social Labour Plans or “SLPs”.This is in line with the requirements of the Mining Charter, one of the most important tools that the South African government uses to transform the mining industry. Based on the strength of their Social Labour Plans or “SLPs”, mining companies are granted mining rights by the Department of Mineral Resources or “DMR”. The Social Labour Plan or “SLP” is a binding agreement between the mine and the authorities and non-compliance will lead to the suspension of the mining right. 

The various commitments made in the Social Labour Plan or “SLP” must be honoured by the mine over a five-year-long cycle. Companies are, therefore, required to draft a new Social Labour Plan or“SLP” for the next cycle before the five years elapse. This process continues until the end of life of mine or “LOM”.

MQA interventions to address challenges at basic education level

Over the years, the Mining Qualifications Authority or “MQA” has been developing skills interventions to meet the skills needs of the sector at various levels of education. Employees with the highest level of education of between Grades 4 and 9 constitute 16% of the mining sector. This range includes adult education and training or “AET” Levels 1 through to 4, which focus on imparting, among others, English literacy and maths skills. Given the influence of technology in the sector, there is a need for reskilling some of the current and future employees in areas such as machine operations and maintenance. It is, therefore, important for stakeholders in the sector to prioritise funding for adult education and training or “AET”, including Level 4. Consideration must also be given to numeracy and literacy skills that were identified by experts as skills that need to be developed for elementary workers. This will help develop adequate literacy and numeracy levels for industry’s emerging new skills requirements. The MQA’s WSP/ATR submissions show that employers in the sector offer adult basic education and training or “ABET” or adult education and training or “AET” Levels 1 to 4 for their employees. In 2017 and 2018, a total of 2 891 employees received one or more levels of adult education and training or “AET”. This included instruction in English literacy and maths.

 [Source:] MQA

Social Labour Plans or SLPs in Context

Social Labour Plans or SLPs include the following:

  • Human Resource Development Programmes, including adult literacy training and adult numeracy training
  • An Employment Equity Plan (including Women in Mining requirements)
  • A Mine Community Development Plan
  • A Housing and Living Conditions Plan
  • Processes to save jobs and manage downscaling/closure

[Source:] Minerals Council South Africa

Governing skills in the mining industry

In the mining industry, skills development, including basic maths and basic English literacy training, is governed by the Skills Development Act 97 of 1988 and the Mine Health and Safety or “MHS” Act 29 of 1996. The Act also administers the National Skills Authority and Fund, the levy grant scheme, the Sector Education and Training Authorities or “SETAs”, labour centres and the Skills Development Planning Unit. 

The SETA that administers and develops learning programmes for the mining industry is the Mining Qualifications Authority or “MQA”. 

Designated as a SETA in March 2000, the MQA was initially established out of the MHS Act in January 1997.

Mining companies submit their skills development plans and annual training reports to the MQA and they pay 1% of their payroll as a skills-development levy. The MQA receives 80% of this levy and the National Skills Fund or “NSF” receives 20%.Legislated amounts of the portion of the skills-development levy received by the MQA are used for administration, Quality Council for Trades and Occupations or “QCTO”, as well as for mandatory and discretionary grants. In addition, mining companies can attract discretionary grants from the MQA for specific learning programmes.

Adult literacy training for employee empowerment

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” improve English literacy and numeracy skills of low skilled employees

One of the pledges that companies make in their Social Labour Plans or “SLPs” is that they will invest in developing their own human resources. This includes raising the proficiencies of low skilled employees who reside in poor communities located within the mine’s operational footprint. Adult education and training or “AET” is one of the ways in which mines improve the English literacy and basic numbers skills of these low skilled employees. 

Many of these low skilled employees did not have the opportunity to complete their basic education. This is one of the lasting legacies of a previous system that deprived certain citizens of the country of a basic education. In this way, the system ensured that industries had access to a large pool of cheap labour. This is a legacy that mining has been working hard to break by developing a more inclusive sector through its Corporate Social Investment or “CSI” and Social Labour Plans or “SLPs”. The situation has been exacerbated by extreme poverty that restricts people from accessing an education, despite it being considered a basic right for all the country’s citizens by the South African Constitution. People from poor communities may have to leave school prematurely to work to help sustain their families or relatives take care of siblings. Firmly entrenched traditions and cultures in these rural areas also contribute to high levels of illiteracy. Men are usually the sole earners in families. They work in the mines or urban areas while women are responsible for taking care of their families. In most instances, they have very little time for anything else and are, thus, extremely reliant on men for an income. The quality of education in many rural areas of the country is also aggravating the situation. Many learners in these areas do not have facilities that provide environments that are conducive to learning. They are also inadequately equipped with learning materials and, in certain instances, skilled and experienced educators. While these schools are legacies of a previous system, government has largely failed in effectively tackling the problem since the first democratic elections were held in 1994. Many schools in rural areas have remained under resourced, and this has contributed to the very poor performance and high dropout rate of learners in poor communities. This is fueling further poverty in the outlying areas of the country.

Human Resource Development or HRD in Context

The Human Resource Developmentor “HRD” Plan aims to ensure the development of requisite skills in respect of learnerships, bursaries, artisans, adult basic education and training or “ABET” and other training initiatives, for employees and community members. It considers the following:

  • Compliance with skills development legislation 
  • Number and education levels of the workforce  
  • Adult basic education and training or ABET/adult education and training or AET plan. This includes adult literacy training and adult numeracy training.
  • Core business training plan 
  • Difficult-to-fill vacancies
  • Career Progression (path) plan  
  • Mentorship plan  
  • Bursary plan 
  • Internship plan  
  • Learnership plan  
  • Artisans  
  • Portable skills plan

 [Source:] Minerals Council South Africa

Adult literacy training and adult numeracy training for community upliftment

Adult education and training helps to uplift poor communities

In their SLPs, mines also detail how they will use adult education and training or “AET” to uplift the skills of unemployed members of communities so that they can obtain jobs. Importantly, the English literacy and numeracy training also equip people with the basic skills they need to learn further. Adult basic education and training or “ABET” – if undertaken correctly – is intended to instil a passion for learning and education among learners. This is the ultimate measure of the success of these workplace training and community training programmes that entail instruction in English literacy and maths. Community members see for themselves how they are also able to apply English literacy and basic numbers skills in their everyday lives. Through community training programmes, they learn how to listen and talk, read and write. English literacy skills help hone personal, interpersonal and team-working abilities which are extremely important in life and in the world of work.Meanwhile, they use their basic numbers skills when shopping and budgeting, as well as when they observe and use timetables, calendars and clocks. Importantly, numbers skills help with financial planning.

Most notably, however, is the important role that these community training and workplace training programmes are helping to play in breaking the cycle of illiteracy in poor rural communities. After completing their adult basic education and training or “ABET”, parents can better assist their children with schoolwork. Because they now value education, they encourage their children and other members of their community to complete their schooling. People who have completed workplace training and community training are also able to teach other members of the community how to read and write English and basic numbers skills that they can use to improve their lives.

Mining companies invest heavily in skills development

In 2017, mining companies invested about R6-billion on skills development. The Mining Charter requires that all mining companies invest 5% of annual leviable payroll into skills development. This 5% is not inclusive of the 1% skills levy that companies are required to contribute. The Mining Charter skills development spend in the sector equated to more than R5-billion per annum over the last five years. This included English literacy training and maths training for low skilled employees and members of communities.

 [Source:] Minerals Council South Africa

Accredited training provider partners with industry to help people communicate

Triple E Training provides high quality workplace training and community training to the mining industry

Triple E Training, a leading accredited training provider, continues to assist mines with their adult basic education and training or “ABET” requirements. The company specialises in adult basic education and training or “ABET” for both workplace training and community training. These complement the adult literacy training and adult numeracy training provided by state entities, universities and non-governmental organisations. Notably, the English literacy training and numeracy training provided by these accredited training providers are closely aligned with the requirements of industry. The intention is to impart relevant skills that can be used inside and outside the workplace.

The quality English literacy training provided by Triple E Training teaches learners how to read, write, speak and listen in a manner that enables them to communicate effectively to various audiences and to make sense of the world. Valued aspects of English literacy in modern life include integrating speaking, listening and viewing, as well as critical thinking. Employees and community members who have completed Triple E Training’s adult basic education and training or “ABET” are, therefore, able to participate in society; achieve goals and ambitions; and develop knowledge and potential.

The numeracy component of the company’s training enables people to access, use and interpret, as well as communicate information and ideas that relate to maths. These basic numbers skills enable adults to engage in and manage the demands of different situations that entail the use of maths. Importantly, the basic numbers skills that Triple E Training imparts enables people to develop logical thinking and reasoning strategies in their daily activities and, therefore, solve problems and make sense of time, patterns and shapes for activities.

The fact that there has been a notable decline in the number of mine workers entering adult basic education and training or “ABET” programmes is testament to the success of the mining industry’s efforts in helping to raise theEnglish literacy and basic mathsskillsof its own employees. It also validates the efficacy of the adult basic education and training or “ABET” supplied by accredited training providers, such as Triple E Training, to the mining industry.

However, there is still much to be done in terms of raising the basic Maths skills and English literacy skills of unemployed people in poor areas of the country. This remains a major focus for the leading accredited provider of basic numeracy and basic English literacy skills and its mining clients.

English literacy training and numeracy training for Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment or “B-BBEE”

Adult basic education and training or “ABET” for transformation

Participants in other industries have been just as proactive in heeding government’s call to assist in raising the English literacy skills and basic numbers skills of South Africans. They also choose to work with Triple E Training as their preferred accredited training provider. The focus is also on workplace training and community training that imparts English literacy and basic maths skills to low skilled employees and the unemployed.

Some companies even undertake this training via Triple E Training’s adult education and training or “AET” bursaries. The initiative has helped participants in all industries earn points on the Skills Development component of the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment or “BBBEE” scorecard. This is considering the significant positive impact that the accredited training provider’s adult literacy training and adult numeracy training is having on the lives of previously disadvantaged South Africans and the meaningful contribution that they are making to transformation. 

This adult education and training or “AET” bursary is mainly geared at “generic entities”. These are large companies with an annual turnover of more than R50-million at which the Department of Trade & Industry’s amended- Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment or “BBBEE” Codes of Good Practice are directed. The adult literacy training and adult numeracy training contributes as much as four points to the scorecard.

Notably, the accredited training provider’s bursary programmes are ready for qualification. They also allow for multiple intakes a year and are immediately available. This is in addition to being the most affordable on the market. Included in the cost of the bursary are all training materials for learning, assessments and documentation required for submission. This is in addition to a final project report and comprehensive project management from start to completion of the adult literacy and numeracy training. 

Triple E Training remains industry’s preferred accredited provider of adult education and training or “AET”, including workplace training and community training. This is based upon more than 30 years of experience supplying adult Maths and English literacy training for both workplace and community training to many industries. We also have a nationwide footprint and are willing to travel to the remotest areas to conduct training.

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