• Adult Basic Education for Social Change

    Why is a large broad-based adult basic education programme not part of government’s ‘New Growth Path’? Are we content to merely provide pensions and grants to millions of adult South Africans who should be learning productive skills, entrepreneurship, basic health – and also about democracy?

    We are marginalising our people and keeping them dependent while we focus on those who have better education. And while we ignore the poorly educated, a seasoned adult-education NGO, Project Literacy, is retrenching skilled staff: as reported last month, this is because grants from the National Skills Fund have been suspended while government completes the formalities surrounding its new skills qualifcations.

    Adult basic education (ABE) can make dreams possible for thousands of adult South Africans who struggle daily for food and security. A strong South African ABE programme can offer education and training to help people make money, improve family health, share in community life, participate more in our democracy, take hold of their own human rights and extend these rights to others. It can help to build social justice and equity. 

    Take the story of a courageous rural literacy learner called Zanele, a member of an Operation Upgrade literacy class. She was the new wife in a polygamous family dominated by the first wife. In literacy lessons Zanele discovered that she had human rights and she questioned her role and status as a makoti (new bride, a newcomer to the family and a source of labour). She worried about HIV as well, after an alarming literacy discussion about how people get infected.

    Zanele decided to free herself from the marriage and from the danger of HIV infection by her town-dwelling husband. To get this freedom, she needed to leave her husband’s homestead and make a living for herself. Her own family would not accept her return, for fear they would have to pay her lobola back to her husband. Zanele needed somewhere to live. She puzzled for weeks about finding a way out.

    During discussion in her Operation Upgrade literacy class about a nearby low-cost rural housing scheme, Zanele said, “I am going to get a house!” She did. She and her little daughter now live in a simple two-room house where she can lock the door at night, grow her own vegetables and keep her own livestock. She does not have to cook and wash clothes for two other women and their families any more.

    She had problems getting the house – completing the application form in English (with the help of her literacy educator), being threatened by the wives and the induna, and being beaten by her husband – but she managed in the end. She makes traditional Zulu wear to sell. “I have freedom!” she says.

    Zanele’s story is common in adult basic education work. An adult literacy programme should cover human rights, HIV and AIDS, and solve social and economic problems relevant to the learners. It should include family health, gender issues, workplace issues and a host of other topics.

    Is this adult basic education? Yes it is, if you link the teaching of reading and writing and counting to a range of topics of concern to the learners.

    Operation Upgrade, a NGO in KwaZulu-Natal of which I am part, has ‘literacy and adult basic education for social change’ as its mission. In an isolated and neglected rural area north of Hluhluwe, the adult basic education programme teaches adult learners to understand and live with HIV and AIDS, write and read in isiZulu and English, calculate with money and run small businesses, grow vegetables and make and sell small crafts, including leather goods. Human rights – and gender issues – come as strong topics in the classes, and the learners make their own theatre sketches about life.

    How is literacy linked to a development topic in an ABE programme? A skilled adult literacy educator will start a lesson with a discussion on a key topic. The educator must have knowledge to share about the topic, or use a resource person, such as a nurse or an agricultural extension worker. After the discussion the educator and the class do literacy work based on the topic. Every literacy lesson should have both development and literacy objectives. It’s the development objectives that create full adult basic education.

    The premise underlying the Operation Upgrade programme is that combining adult literacy or adult basic education with HIV and AIDS education, family health education, livelihood development, food security support and human rights will help to break the cycle of poverty, poor family health and disease, and isolation – a cycle that makes up so much of the condition of disadvantaged adults in South Africa today. It is a model of integrated development education and support, using the literacy class as the vehicle for organising people and making inputs. 

    The content of the classes is negotiated with learners because the literacy experience must meet their needs. Learner needs for information or exposure to issues deepen as they go through literacy classes, developing greater critical consciousness about life in their community.

    We believe that literacy learning per se is not enough for learners: they are seeking ways to change their lives. It is wrong to lead learners to believe that literacy alone will improve their circumstances: a broad-based adult basic education programme is needed that reflects social and economic issues. Such a programme must change with changes in its social context.  Who would have thought to include HIV and AIDS in adult basic education 25 years ago?

    Huge funding is being spent on ABET (adult basic education and training) programmes in South Africa with little thought about the value of this education for adults or - which is worse – whether adults really want pieces of a school-equivalency paper.

    A look at the enrolment and examination numbers for Abet Level 4 across the provinces shows little interest in this learning. Some young people hope for ABET qualifications as alternatives to matric, but the numbers are small. And where are the mature adults studying at this level? Not many of those, either. Adult South Africans have real problems right now. They cannot wait for future generations to provide solutions.

    Nobody is decrying the efforts made by the various state ABET units to deliver a good education product – but the vision of adult basic education in national policy is very different from the ‘replacement schooling’ curriculum they offer. The ABET budgets are low and the programme gets little political support.

    The big question – How can adult basic education help people in South Africa to narrow the poverty gap? – has not yet been asked at a national level. Today’s adults are asking what is being done to improve their lives here and now.

    And the ‘T’ for training in ABET? No budget for low-level skills training in the ABET classes – the further education and training colleges are touted as the T component but they are largely inaccessible and their courses do not get people jobs ….. the truth is, the jobs are not there. 

    We are firmly convinced that employment for all will be the answer to poverty. More than half of South Africa’s working-age population are either unemployed or not economically active. What about training for adults for self-employment and self-reliance? Are we serious about being a developmental state?

    And then we spend billions on a nice-to-have mass adult literacy campaign, Masifundisane or Kha ri Gude, where adult learners in class for six months (part-time) learn to write in home their languages, speak and read a little English and do a little addition. It’s a quick dip in reading and writing. So what? “If you don’t use it you lose it”: there will be serious relapse from any minimum level of literacy reached in the mass campaign. When are we going to deliver useful education and training for adults?

    We have seen enough of ‘dumped’ classes after six months in Kha Ri Gude, classes of learners who cry, “What’s next for us? We want to learn projects!” Development NGOs, underfunded, are trying to cope with this problem.

    It’s time we stopped expecting traditional education to be the saviour of our disadvantaged adults. Plain literacy and school equivalency education will not put bread on the table tomorrow, nor will they teach a mother how to purify water from a river before her children drink.

    Let’s be honest. You and I communicate through literacy, so that’s what we think all people should have, but illiterate adults have more pressing needs. And the programmes offered to them depend on voluntary attendance, so we need to meet their needs, not design learning for them to meet alien or unrelated needs.

    The old role of the teacher-bestowing-knowledge merely serves to reinforce the status quo. There’s a vast, undereducated adult population which is not part of the economy and which has no involvement in developing our society. Is this what South Africa wants?

    We have the opportunity now to give adult learners an education that helps them develop a critical perspective on how they live and shows them ways to change their lives. Functional and problem-solving adult basic education and literacy is the best available means of developing our nation.

    - Pat Dean is the director of Operation Upgrade of South Africa, an NGO providing adult basic education with literacy. This article was first published in the Mail & Guardian and is republished here with the permission of the author.
    Pat Dean
  • Project Literacy Forced to Retrench Staff

    Project Literacy, the largest provider of adult basic education and training (ABET) in South Africa, has been forced to shut down its provincial offices and retrench more than half its staff after the government withdrew a major contract.

    Project Literacy chief executive, Andrew Miller, points out that the former director-general of the Department of Higher Education and Training, Mary Metcalfe, had awarded the contract, on behalf of the National Skills Fund (NSF), in September but that it had been withdrawn three weeks later.

    Miller, who states that the organisation trained 35 000 people in literacy and numeracy skills in the 2009 financial year, says that 47 out of the 78 staff members will be retrenched and that all seven regional offices will be closed.

    Meanwhile, acting national director for the Read Educational Trust, Bertus Matthee, describes the loss of Project Literacy national structure as a disaster for literacy in the country.

    To read the article titled, “Project Literacy forced to fire staff,” click here.
    Independent Online
  • A Culture in Crisis – Reading in Post-Apartheid South Africa

    It is now commonly accepted that there is a deep crisis regarding the ‘culture of reading” in South Africa. Only a very small section of the public reads and buys books, there is a virtual collapse of library services, and publishing in black languages continues to struggle 16 years after the end of apartheid.

    The indices of this crisis are equally well-known:
    • Only a very small section of the public reads and buys books – both for leisure (fiction) and self-education or self-advancement (non-fiction)
    • Public libraries have been in long-term decline, and school libraries are just about non-existent
    • Although a large part of young South Africans go through the schooling system, it is also commonly accepted that their reading and numeracy skills are very low – lagging behind that of their counterparts in the sub-region 
    Sources of the crisis

    In many discussions of the crisis of the ‘culture of reading’ one key explanatory factor stands out: the legacy of apartheid. Apartheid, quite rightly, is an important factor in accounting for the state of literature in black languages, in the literacy levels among the adult population of South Africa, and indeed in the class structure that still sees the majority of South Africans trapped in poverty. But it has been 16 years after the end of official apartheid and smaller countries in the South African Development Community (SADC) region, with much less resources, register better reading and numeracy skills than young people in South Africa. Cuba, with equally limited resources, was able to raise the standard of reading and wipe out illiteracy in a few years. So why does a crisis in the culture of reading persist so stubbornly 16 years after the end of apartheid?

    The GEAR

    Two other factors account for the persistence of this crisis.

    Firstly, the democratic government of the post-1994 period made a number of policy choices that have proved fatal for the development of a culture of reading. Basically, the fundamental policy choice made by the post-apartheid government was to choose a market-driven path to economic and social development in South Africa. This path was captured most dramatically by the adoption of the Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) policy in 1996, and the closure of the RDP office soon thereafter. GEAR, however, is not just an ‘economic’ policy: it is a holistic political, social and economic policy. Over the last 14-odd years, the consequences have been profound:
    • South Africa today is the most unequal society in the world. Markets reinforce, and do not overcome, inequality
    • Almost half the population lives below the poverty line, and about 40 percent of men and women of working age are unemployed. The majority of unemployed are youth, who are the natural target audience for a broad-based culture of reading
    • Starved of resources, the ‘social infrastructure of reading’ in many townships has been under severe stress and in most cases has virtually collapsed
    This ‘social infrastructure of reading’ refers to the quality of people’s general standard of living. This includes, among other items, libraries, schools, colleges, universities, book stores and spaces created for leisure. This includes well-resourced (with books and literacy promoting programmes) kindergartens during childhood, youth leisure and recreation centres, access to good lighting in the home (electricity) and adequate spacious housing. (For instance, an RDP house does not provide space for leisure.) A transport infrastructure that is extensive and cheap enough to encourage social interaction lies at the heart of a culture of reading. A transport infrastructure enables a township resident to attend a poetry reading, a book club, a literary festival in another part of the city or country, and so on.

    Given these conditions, it is no wonder that the majority of South African do not read, or cannot read. It is not difficult to see or to demonstrate the correlation between levels of inequality and a low culture of reading in a country. Countries with high levels of inequality have a low culture of reading, and vice versa: countries with a more equal society will show a higher culture of reading.

    Structure of Publishing

    The second factor that accounts for this crisis in the culture of reading is the structure of the publishing industry itself. In many debates on the culture of reading the publishing industry presents itself as the victim of this crisis. Of course, the publishing industry stands in a contradictory relationship to a culture of reading in any country. On the one hand, it has an interest in the expansion of the reading market, and the more people who read the more it is a potential beneficiary. On the other hand, as an industry driven by the profit motive, it can only accept the expansion of reading if this protects and expands the proverbial bottom line (or the profit margin). In South Africa this contradiction is an acute one, and the publishing industry shares this contradiction with the majority of capitalist industry.

    The publishing industry in South Africa is highly concentrated, with a small number of publishers (estimated at less than 20) accounting for the major part of the country’s book trade. Further, in the last few years, global companies and distributors have made significant inroads into the industry. This industry has remained profitable because of market concentration, since it focuses on a small and predominantly white middle class for its market. This has also reinforced a (high) price structure that generally excludes the majority of the population from being able to afford books. Indeed, over the last five years the tendency has been that price increases outstrip growth in volumes sold, indicating the general price indifference of the primary market for publishers in South Africa.

    The structure of the industry acts a barrier to the development of a broad culture of reading in South Africa.

    Firstly, the tendencies towards concentration are accompanied by a tendency towards risk aversion, and so book titles that do not promise high returns are excluded. The impact on local stories and new writers is a negative one, and in turn this has a negative impact on a broad-based culture of reading. Secondly, small and independent publishing is the lifeblood of a strong culture of reading, especially in a developing country such as South Africa. The tendencies towards concentration inherent in capitalist industry destroy small publishers without maintaining the appetite for risk that small publishers have. Thirdly, the tendency is for profit-maximising publishers to treat readers as ‘customers’, and not as citizens with a right to reading. These corporations only see the ‘culture of reading’ as a philanthropic act, and therefore do not engage in broad-based and sustained activism that is needed to transform reading cultures in South Africa. Fourthly, although private large publishers cannot play the role of transforming reading cultures, they oppose (whether actively or passively) affording a central role for the state in the transformation of reading cultures. Fifthly, the tendency to risk aversion in the publishing industry has meant that the book distribution network is largely concentrated in the white middle class areas, with no willingness or strategy to create a distribution network in working class areas.


    An analysis that deepens our understanding of the sources of the crisis in the culture of reading is vital if we are to make significant inroads into transforming and expanding reading cultures. It is not enough for us to continue to blame the legacy of apartheid. We need to explore and deepen our understanding, our critique of how social, economic and political policy options affect the development of a culture of reading. We need to develop a critique of the publishing industry itself in order to explore the kind of changes (in the industrial structure) we need to transform and broaden reading cultures.

    - Oupa Lehulere works at Khanya College and is member of the editorial collective. This article first appeared in the Khanya Journal 24. It is republished here with the permission of Khanya College, a NGO assisting various constituencies within working class and poor communities to respond to the challenges posed by the forces of economic and political globalisation.
    Oupa Lehulere
  • Forum to Assess Kids’ Learning Skills

    The Uganda National NGO Forum will this month start assessing children’s learning skills.

    The forum’s country coordinator, Richard Ssewakiryanga, points out that the assessment will determine children’s competencies in reading and numerical skills.

    Ssewakiryanga argues that the project, codenamed Uwezo Uganda, assessment will also enable parents, leaders and the public to participate and promote children’s learning.

    The organisation says the first phase of the assessment for children aged between 6-16 years will be conducted in 27 districts.

    To read the article titled, “NGO body to assess kids' learning skills,” click here.
    New Vision
    Article link: 
  • Centre for Social Development

    The CSD facilitates the development of early childhood communities and imparts skills to Practitioners to strengthen community owned initiatives. Our Practice is based on a caring professionalism that builds relationships which affirm and support the ability of people to arrive at their own solutions.
  • Learners March to Demand Libraries

    More than 10 000 learners have gathered in Cape Town's Grand Parade on Human Rights Day to demand that the government provides libraries for every school in the country.

    Equal Education (EE) spokesperson, Yoliswa Dwane, whose organisation spearheaded the school library campaign nationally and coordinated the march, points out that Grand Parade was filled to capacity, adding that, "You couldn't even see a bare patch of ground -- the place was covered with learners in their school uniforms."

    Meanwhile, Congress of South African Trade Unions general-secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, told the learners who had gathered in the Grand Parade before marching on Parliament that inequalities in education provision are still affecting millions. Vavi further said that, "It is absolutely scandalous that only eight percent of public schools have adequate libraries, mostly in privileged former Model C schools."

    To read the article titled, “Library campaign for SA schools gains momentum,” click here.
  • Writing the Wrongs: International Benchmarks on Adult Literacy

    'Writing the Wrongs: International Benchmarks on Adult Literacy' argues that governments are not investing in programmes sufficiently to achieve the UN goal of reducing illiteracy by 50 percent by 2015. Published by the Global Campaign for Education, the study attempts to systematise experiences of what works in adult literacy by analysing 67 successful literacy programmes in 35 countries. The paper presents the results of these common features in benchmarks or guidelines for policy-makers which highlight the critical issues that need to be considered in designing an adult literacy programme.

    For more information, click here.
  • Trust for Community Outreach and Education Comments on the 2010/11 Budget

    The more things change the more they stay the same.

    Yesterday, as Finance Minister Gordhan prepared to deliver his maiden budget speech to Parliament, hundreds of rural and urban women from several grassroots organisations and NGOs gathered outside Parliament. Their demands were simple. They wanted jobs, increases in grants and pensions, especially for the aged and for the child support grant. Those from the rural areas focused on access to land, rural livelihoods, an end to farm evictions, security of tenure for farm workers and their families, and the speeding up of land reform.

    So how well has the budget fared to meet the needs of those protesting outside?

    The conservatism displayed in yesterday’s budget illustrates the fact that despite all the rhetoric of Polokwane and the “shift away from Mbeki’s neo-liberalism” we see a startling similarity. Thus Minister Gordhan vowed to; “maintain prudent macroeconomic policies that promote a favourable environment for investment and job recreation through low stable inflation and interest rates”. (The Times, 18/2/2010).

    He closed debate on the independence of the Reserve Bank and inflation targeting, confirming the current conservative monetary policy that has killed job creation while guaranteeing the value of inventors’ speculation. He also confirmed an exchange rate policy that will allow the country to be flooded by imports while putting our exports under pressure. Ultimately, this policy will make us more reliant on speculative hot money to fund growing current account deficits. One has to question whether tax reductions, even if it is for the middle class and not the very rich, is the best way to stimulate savings. COSATU sums this up well when they say Gordhan has, “poured old wine into new bottles.”

    Where Gordhan was innovative, for example, stimulating youth employment through subsidising their wages, he paves the way for a two-tier labour market – something the labour movement has been fighting against tooth and nail. In terms of support for a new growth plan and for stimulating industry (as part of government’s new industrial plan) we wonder why priority is not given to small-scale agriculture. In this regard, organisations like the Trust for Community Outreach and Education (TCOE) whose work focuses on rural development and land reform, saw yesterday’s budget as a major disappointment. The new Ministry for Rural Development and Land Reform was allocated a measly R860 million extra over three years. This is not to say that the R1,2 billion for on-site water and sanitation is not important, but it certainly is not equal for more resources for land redistribution and the development of small-scale agriculture.

    The Land Claims Commission was not allocated any additional funds. This level of budgetary allocation for rural development and land reform has been an important indicator over the past decade of the low priority government has towards land reform and restructuring of the rural economy.

    Now even the ANC’s limited promise of redistributing 30% of white-owned land to blacks by 2014, is a pipe dream. According to Business Day’s Stephan Hofstatter; “at this rate it will take more than 60 years for to reach the 30% target.”

    This level of fiscal conservatism has been the approach of our government over the past years, yet unemployment in the country continues to remain deep. The impact of the global recession on our economy has shed close to one million jobs, yet the budget does little to allocate resources that will create real jobs and livelihoods. Its emphasis on the expanded public works programme and job opportunities is closer to social welfare than job creation. Unfortunately the unemployment crisis will get deeper and we can expect more xenophobic explosions as the poor seek scapegoats amongst themselves. In this regard the increased expenditure for policing is probably justified.

    It is useful to point to the fact that the infrastructure expenditure of R787 billion, which has been associated with the preparation for the World Cup, has been increased to R846 billion of which a large percentage is earmarked for Eskom, Transnet and commuter railways, all intended to stimulate job creation. However, unless this extensive state investment is backed up by a procurement policy that favours local products and services, linked to skill development for young job seekers and monitored, the lion’s share will seep out of the country, go into company profits, consultants and salary packages of the corporate elite.

    Unless, there is a complete rethink in dealing with the structural nature of unemployment, very marginal amounts will trickle down to the poor.

    Mercia Andrews
    National Director
    Trust for Community Outreach and Education
    Mercia Andrews
  • SADTU Comments on the 2010/11 Budget

    SADTU welcomes Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s budget speech presented in Parliament this afternoon. We welcome the fact that education continues to be our government’s number one priority. The R165 billion given to education attests to this.

    We note the following on matters of education:
    • Adjustments to the Occupation Specific Dispensation: An additional R9 billion will be provided over the next three years for teacher salaries. There will be improved remuneration for longer service. We commend the minister for including OSD in his budget. We note that this is a change from the past budget speeches when there was no allocation for OSD. We will then work out how much this allocation will go towards fulfilling the objective of OSD of attracting and retaining new talent to the profession and improving the quality of education.
    • The shifting of the R12 billion budget for FET colleges, over the next three years, from provinces to the national department: This will ensure uniformity in spending priorities across all nine provinces which will lead to better and improved running of these institutions. This sector is very important in providing skills needed in achieving a democratic developmental state. Skills, knowledge and attitude are critical in building the state’s institutional capacity.
    • A further allocation of R1,3 billion to improve the salaries of FET college educators: Although it is not clear how much this will translate to an individual educator, we nevertheless welcome the allocation.
    • An amount of R2,7 billion for the roll-out of workbooks in all 11 official languages to help numeracy levels in Grades 3, 6, and 9: SADTU welcomes the roll-out but would like to see it implemented as a matter of urgency. We, on the same vein, call for more resources for teacher development and training – more especially for Language, Maths and Science teachers. As SADTU we will monitor that this initiative is not used to de-professionalise the teaching profession.
    • We note the non-commitment to the re-opening of colleges of education as declared in the Teacher Development Summit held in July last year, involving all stakeholders in education.
    SADTU therefore demands that the money, as allocated, be utilised for education only. Deviations by provinces should be firmly dealt with as we want uniformity in education throughout the country.

    Mugwena Maluleke
    General Secretary
    Mugwena Maluleke
  • Project Literacy Comments on the 2010/11 Budget

    Wow, another R2,7 billion for basic education. The more one watches the depressing matric results, the more one thinks that money is not our problem. Poor rural schools often out perform urban schools with better facilities. We need to refocus on the basics such as teaching and learning in a stable well managed environment.

    No real mention was made in the budget of ABET, the adult literacy campaign Gha Re Kude or the difficult work of the FET colleges in producing skilled people for the labour market.

    Whilst many comment on the size and allocations within the budget, the proof of the pudding remains in the eating.  

    How this huge colossal budget in Cape Town eventually hits the small school in Mount Frere is the real test. Does all this money lift the mood of teachers? Will it improve the level of skills to build the economy? It is up to the bureaucrats around the country to make it happen. Past experience suggests that many are not fit to carry out this important mandate.

    Therein lies our national challenge.

    Andrew Miller
    Chief Executive Officer
    Project Literacy
    Andrew Miller
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