Adult education and training is a crucial part of the reconstruction and transformation of SA 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 adults who wish to finish their basic education and achieve a nationally recognised qualification. 

Yet, despite its importance, adult education and training is often seen as a poor cousin within the education and training sector and does not receive the attention it deserves. The future of adult education and training is at a crossroads in SA, 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 adult education and training sector.

One of the key sources of funds for student fees was resources diverted from within the National Skills Development Fund that were originally earmarked for adult learning programmes. The Treasury also diverted funds from other education departments and related statutory bodies by cutting their budgets. This has resulted in a dramatic decrease of funded adult learning programmes, and consequently there has been a dramatic drop in numbers of adult learners doing such courses.

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 possible solutions. Profiles of adult students 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.

If the FLC is implemented as it was intended, it will enable students to complete learnerships and, following an occupational route, possibly enter tertiary studies to further their academic studies related to their occupational area.

The current adult basic education training qualification is set to be replaced by the Getca, having been approved and registered in 2014 already after the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) assisted with the development of its subject curricula.

The IEB also contributed towards the costs of the development process for this qualification, the purpose of which is to ease access for adult students into further occupational and academic learning programmes registered at national qualifications framework (NQF) 2-4. However, lack of funding and clarity in direction between relevant authorities has delayed the implementation with no concrete indication of when it will be implemented, although rumour has it that the first Getca examinations are scheduled for 2023.

The Nasca qualification has been approved, developed and registered to provide opportunities for adults who never sat for their grade 12 certificates. Achievement of this NQF 4 qualification will open doors to further academic and occupational qualifications at universities and colleges and has the potential to mitigate the unemployment statistics of SA youth in particular.

Nasca provides willing and able adults the opportunity to obtain a qualification that will open doors to them in the economic sector, especially in key career areas of early childhood development, policing, nursing, administration and banking. 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.

Foundational learning competence (FLC) is a part qualification that is registered at NQF 2 through the Quality Council For Trades & Occupations (QCTO). It is a requirement for occupational qualifications at NQF 3 and NQF 4 and 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 students to grasp the more complex context-specific concepts and knowledge. 

If the FLC is implemented as it was intended, it will enable students 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 students to progress into occupational qualifications that will help them increase their skills levels and hence their confidence. This in turn leads to better employment opportunities. The IEB is the assessment quality partner for this part qualification because it believes in its purpose and impact on future opportunities for adult students 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 students themselves.

The IEB is the only accredited assessment agency for adult education qualifications, currently offering the FLC as the assessment quality partner of the QCTO and the Getca under the auspices of Umalusi. As soon as the new Getca and Nasca qualifications come into being the IEB hopes to assist adult students in the private sector to access assessment of the qualification.

There are many organisations, including nonprofit adult education providers such as Project Literacy, the Catholic Institute of Education’s Thabiso Skills Institute and the IEB, that are committed to working with the government and private institutions to find ways to reach a sector of our population that is in desperate need of opportunities to develop further and broaden their horizons by obtaining valid and credible qualifications.

However, to do that requires a deep commitment from all stakeholders — the government, statutory bodies, the private sector, and 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 adult education and training sector is desperately in need of political will and innovative leaders 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 and a future of untold hardship and economic exclusion.

• Oberholzer is IEB CEO.