"Let's join hands to expand community adult education in South Africa"

The ALE sector has for a long time been located on the bottom rung of the education ladder. Largely, the reason for this is its low resource base and therefore the marginal status it receives by the state and many in society as they undervalue the potential of good adult education.

Farrell Hunter: The average literacy rate is pitched at about 95% in South Africa.

In this interview, DVV International Communications Officer, Dyson Mthawanji, talks to DVV International Country Director for South Africa, Farrell Hunter, who gives us a picture of various developments in Adult Learning and Education (ALE) field in South Africa. Excerpts:


1. Tell us a brief background of Adult Learning and Education (ALE) in South Africa.

The history of adult education in South Africa is rooted in non-formal community education that was undertaken by community education activists who tried to support the majority of black South Africans who were denied education by the apartheid state. Post-apartheid, state adult education has taken the form of second-chance schooling for youth and adults being offered in what is now called Community Learning Centres (CLCs). These CLCs have a large percentage of youth trying to obtain a school-leaving certificate. The scope, via recent policy is to offer both formal and non-formal adult education at Community Learning Centres (CLCs). 

2. What is the extent of illiteracy in South Africa?

Officially the average literacy rate is pitched at about 95%. The males’ literacy rate is at 95.3 while that of females is at 94.4%. The literacy rate measures the percentage of people aged 15 and above who can read and write while there is no agreed definition for what counts as being literate and at what level. Often a narrow and limited definition of basic reading, writing and counting is applied.

3. Is South Africa making progress on Adult Learning and Education?

As is the case in many parts of the world, resourcing to the adult education sector is not significant which impacts the extent to which adult education is implemented. While there have been policy advances that would see a broader conception and implementation of community adult education, however, the system still requires much support to see these new expanded approaches translate into practice. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between DVV International and the national Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) endeavours to support the policy changes for the inclusion of non-formal education within the Community Education and Training (CET) system.

4. Does South Africa have a national policy for ALE? If yes, how is it contributing to the success of ALE in the country?

A Post-school Education and Training (PSET) policy framework and its related plan for implementation (2019 – 2030) is in place. As mentioned above, the policy framework and plan seek to make progressive advances to provide a more relevant and responsive adult education. Ideally, the new policy framework will offer both formal, non-formal education and to some extent, also skills training and development.

5. One of the ways to make ALE attractive is to go beyond literacy lessons by providing additional skills that will benefit participants in their everyday endeavours. What is DVV International in South Africa doing on this? Are there any Integrated Adult Education interventions?

The adult education offerings through the state provisioning includes basic adult literacy as well as higher levels of formal second-chance education via community learning centres. These courses, in some ways mimic the mainstream curriculum as it sees a large percentage of youth who dropped out from the school as well as adults attend those classes. A smattering of skill programmes is also offered in CLCs in an attempt to integrate what are often called hard skills, with soft skills. What is missing, and DVV has begun to support the system in this regard, is the provision of additional approaches to integrate non-formal community education programmes that speak to the very many socio-economic challenges that confront both youth and adults. With our partners, youth skills development programmes are included in a broader and integrated learning approach of social knowledge, practical skills with, for example, online learning skills.

6. What are some of DVV International’s milestones in South Africa?

The overall milestone is an improved and expanded the adult system that benefits youth and adults for an improved social transformation. To this end, as mentioned above, DVV International has become a leading partner with the DHET to improve the current community adult education context via community colleges and their “implementation arms” the CLCs. Our role is to provide a praxis that will expand and enhance the current context.  Via our NGO and academic partners, community adult education approaches and practices seek to respond to the difficult challenges that community members face in township and rural communities alike. At the root of these social challenges is extreme poverty and inequality that fuels unsafe living conditions, gender-based violence and very high levels of unemployment among youth and adults.

7. What is your take on the government's efforts to curb illiteracy in South Africa?

Since illiteracy, in its narrow conceptions, is not framed a major challenge it is not, in and of itself, regarded as the major challenge. Rather, after many years of advocacy and lobbying government has agreed that a new policy framework and the implementation is required to advance adult education in the country. In this sense, many practitioners in the adult education sector are pleased with this shift. Resourcing, in its many dimensions will play a significant role in achieving the new expanded approach, to address illiteracy and adult education broadly. It will also require all the structures of the Community Education and Training (CET) branch of DHET, in partnership with other sector players, to bring their part in and support the capacity of those required to effect the changes espoused.

8. Do you see illiteracy being eliminated in South Africa?

In its most basic conception of literacy meaning the ability to read, write and count at a low level, illiteracy might well be (mostly) eliminated in the future – most developing countries always seem to experience some degree of illiteracy. However, we have come to understand that achieving basic literacy is not sufficient to assist individuals to exist in society and play a meaningful role in shaping their communities and become active citizens, locally and globally. Therefore, as per Freire, reading the word and the world in order to act for change is what we should be striving to achieve.

9. Are there any challenges that ALE stakeholders face in South Africa? If yes, how is the country addressing these challenges?

The ALE sector has for a long time been located on the bottom rung of the education ladder. Largely, the reason for this is its low resource base and therefore the marginal status it receives by the state and many in society as they undervalue the potential of good adult education. A key factor at the root of the system’s challenges is the poor recognition and support to adult educators [in CLCs] who do not enjoy similar status as teachers do in mainstream education. This has destabilised the system for a long time and while we see small steps being taken by the state to address this it seems there is still a long way to go. The lack of resources exists also in the form of physical space as well as inadequate learning and teaching support material (LTSM) to provide a good quality education within the new framework. DVV attempts to alleviate some of these challenges where it is possible to support non-formal adult education development in the CET system.

10. What is your final message to ALE stakeholders in South Africa?

We need to continue our collective efforts if we are to advance and expand community adult education, at the official systems level as well as in Community Colleges and their CLCs. The community education development work via our NGOs and in partnership with social movements for change, and a just transformation, is required more than ever. The particular daunting challenges that face South Africa, as with many the world over, require us to ramp up our efforts.


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