False claims on adult literacy

The government has been accused of misleading the public for 10 years about its progress in combating adult illiteracy.

This is according to a paper by University of KwaZulu-Natal academics Professor John Aitchison and Anne Harley.

It says ‘misleading claims about [adult education] provision have become endemic” and

the Department of Education has often been guilty of ‘deliberate misinformation”.

‘Preposterous” figures ‘are now routinely bandied about by officials and inserted into the minister of education’s speeches to portray the national Department of Education’s Abet [adult basic education and training] work in a good light”, say Aitchison and Harley.

KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sibusiso Ndebele warned in March that the province should declare ‘a state of emergency” over illiteracy. It is conservatively estimated that 22% of adults in KwaZulu-Natal have little or no formal schooling, leaving 1,7-million illiterate.

Ndebele was launching KwaZulu-Natal’s Year of Adult Literacy.

Asked to comment on Aitchison and Harley’s claims, the Department of Education denied any campaign of ‘deliberate misinformation”: ‘There is no red under every bed. There is no conspiracy.”

Deputy Director General of Education Cassius Lubisi conceded that some official figures could be wrong. ‘Expenditure on Abet is lower than we would want it to be,” he said. ‘Efforts to remedy this situation continue.”

In July 2001, more than a third of South Africans of 16 years and older were illiterate.


Abet experts complain that government budgeting to fight illiteracy remains paltry. Delegates at KwaZulu-Natal’s Year of Adult Literacy conference told the same story: 10 years of democracy have done little to reduce illiteracy. They said the education department had been lying for years in official documents and speeches about the number of adults enrolled in Abet courses.

They question the department’s repeated claim that it has reached 1,6-million people through adult literacy programmes since 1999 – a figure that found its way into the Treasury’s Estimates of National Expenditure last year. Provincial education departments use central government money to fund adult learning programmes.

Lubisi admitted the figure ‘refers to more than just literacy”. He said the 2003 survey, commissioned by the department, that produced this figure ‘was not satisfactory”.

A 2001 national education department document, Building an Abet System, claimed that there were 85 219 Abet trainers in South Africa. The education sector education and training authority’s 2002 annual report gave a figure of only 10 848.

The department launched the South African National Literacy Initiative (Sanli) in June 2000, and in March last year then education minister Kader Asmal claimed that ‘departmental literacy projects have reached nearly two million learners”. Lubisi conceded that Sanli ‘has not reached two million adults”. Asmal’s comment ‘needs to be viewed in the context of this being one of Asmal’s last speeches as minister of education. The reference to literacy, in this instance, should not be limited solely to the Sanli programme”. It ‘needs to be seen to refer to the number of learners reached in both the Abet and Sanli programmes during [Asmal’s] term of office”.

Experts have criticised the education department for underfunding Sanli. Lubisi said its budget for 2005/06 is R10-million, R10-million for 2006/07, and R11-million for 2007/08. In all three years, 70% of the budget will be spent on personnel.

Lubisi said his department’s information systems are two years out of date, ‘a problem we are currently addressing”.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

David Macfarlane
Guest Author
Advertising

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday