Adult Basic Education for Social Change
ABET adult basis education and training budget Civil society Education Governance and democracy Human rights literacy NGOs rights 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...