On the ropes

The future of Adult Education and Training hangs in the balance

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Adult Education and Training is a crucial part of the reconstruction and transformation of South African society and a means to redress the educational injustices of the past.  It is a pivotal part of building a just and equitable society by providing good quality education and training to adult learners who wish to finish their basic education and achieve a nationally recognised qualification. 

Yet despite its importance, Adult Education and Training (AET) is often seen as the “distant relative” within the education and training sector as it does not receive the attention it so richly deserves.  The future of Adult Education and Training (AET) is at a crossroads in South Africa, heavily affected by the volatility in the political and economic environments and as such, requires focused attention if it is to survive.

The #FeesMustFall movement, while having a huge and probably positive impact on the plight of students in the tertiary education sector, had an immediate and detrimental impact on the AET sector. One of the key sources to fund students’ fees was diverted from funds within the National Skills Development Fund originally earmarked for AET learning programmes. Treasury also diverted funds from other education departments and related statutory bodies by cutting their budgets. This has resulted in the dramatic decrease of funded AET learning programmes and consequently, there has been a dramatic drop in numbers of adult learners offering AET courses at different levels.

Compounding the problem is the fact that nobody seems to be taking direct responsibility for this sector, resulting in the lack of a clearly laid out strategic plan that identifies the problems that need to be addressed and the possible solutions. Profiles of AET learners are also changing faster than the qualifications are adapting.  The few plans that have been put in place have been thwarted at the implementation phase due to a lack of funding.  The General Education and Training Certificate for Adults (GETCA) and the National Senior Certificate for Adults (NASCA) are two cases in point. 

The current General Education and Training Certificate: Adult Basic Education Training qualification is set to be replaced by the General Education and Training Certificate for Adults (GETCA). This qualification was approved and registered in 2014 already, after the IEB assisted with the development of its subject curricula. The IEB was very pleased to be able to participate in this process, contributing towards the costs of development. The purpose of this qualification is to ease the access of adult learners into further occupational and academic learning programmes registered at NQF 2-4. Lack of funding and clarity in direction between relevant authorities has delayed the implementation with no concrete indication of when it will be implemented – rumour has it that the implementation date for the first GETCA examinations is 2023.

A further qualification, the National Senior Certificate for Adults (NASCA) has been approved, developed and registered to provide opportunities for adults who never sat for their Grade 12 certificate.  Achievement of this NQF 4 qualification will open doors to further academic and occupational qualifications at universities and colleges. The IEB recognises the potential of the qualification to mitigate the unemployment statistics of the South African youth in particular. This qualification provides willing and able adults the opportunity to obtain a qualification that will open doors to them in the economic sector, especially in key careers areas of early childhood development, policing, nursing, administration, banking and many more. Implementation has also been delayed for similar reasons, primarily a lack of resources and appropriately qualified educators.   However, the corridor talk is that it will be implemented in 2021 with its first examinations in 2022.

The FLC is a part qualification that is registered at NQF 2 through the QCTO.  It is a requirement for occupational qualifications at NQF 3 and NQF 4. It consists of two learning programmes, Foundational Learning Communications in English and Foundational Learning Mathematical Literacy, which form the foundation to essential occupational literacy skills that are required at the applicable NQF levels. It is important to note that these two learning programmes do not replace the occupational specific mathematical or language outcomes that must still be covered within the occupational qualification. The FLC in contrast provides the basic level skills and understanding that allows learners to grasp the more complex context-specific concepts and knowledge. 

If the FLC is implemented as it was intended, it will enable learners to complete learnerships and following an occupational route, possibly enter tertiary studies to further their academic studies related to their occupational area. The FLC provides a stepping-stone for learners to progress into occupational qualifications that will assist them to increase their skills levels and hence their confidence which, in turn leads, to better employment opportunities. The IEB is the Assessment Quality Partner for this part qualification because it believes in the purpose and impact of this qualification on future opportunities for adult learners and the workforce of the country.

If focus is brought back to providing educational opportunities for marginalised adults within society, surely the opportunities for finding and creating jobs increases? This could provide some relief for the alarmingly high unemployment statistics and provide some hope for the learners themselves.

The IEB currently is the only accredited assessment agency for adult education qualifications – offering currently the Foundational Learning Competence (FLC) as the Assessment Quality Partner of the Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO) and the GETC under the auspices of Umalusi. Hence as soon as the new GETCA and NASCA qualifications come into being, the IEB hopes to assist adult learners in the private sector to access assessment of the qualification.

There are many organisations, including non-profit adult education providers such as Project Literacy (Prolit), the Catholic Institute of Education’s Thabiso Skills Institute and the IEB, who are committed to working with government and private institutions to find ways to reach the sector of our population in desperate need of opportunities to develop further and broaden their horizons by obtaining valid and credible qualifications.  To do that, however, requires a deep commitment from all stakeholders – government, statutory bodies, the private sector, training providers including assessment institutions – to take personal responsibility for advocating and implementing effective learning programmes that result in valid, reliable and credible qualifications.  

The AET Sector is desperately in need of the political will and innovative leadership across the public and private sectors who can work within the constrained financial environment to grow and serve this educationally marginalised sector in our society. Failure to do so condemns more than 3.3 million adults to lives devoid of hope, untold hardship and economic exclusion.

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