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Adult Basic Education And Training (ABET)
September 16, 1999
Remarks By William Stacy Rhodes, USAID Mission Director
It is a glorious African "spring" day. Those of us from down south appreciate the sunshine of the beautiful Northern Province. Indeed your sunshine reminds me of President Mbeki's inspiring statement at his inauguration:
"As the sun continues to rise to banish the darkness . . . the new light over our land must show . . . a nation diligently at work to create a better life for itself."
These inspiring words are also a challenge. They reflect the strong will and determination of people all across South Africa to work hard to achieve change, to truly transform South African society to assure equal opportunity for all its citizens.
The "Electives Project" (or Ikwehlo) which is being launched today is the result of a dedicated partnership between the South African national and provincial Departments of Education (and especially, the Directorate for Adult Education), of Non-governmental organizations such as Project Literacy and the ABEL Project, and my own organization the United States Agency for International Development (known as USAID).
Resources from each of these partners have been combined to create this Electives pilot project so that adult learners can improve their reading and writing abilities and also better support their families using new knowledge and technical skills, in agriculture and small business development.
Wiping out illiteracy in South Africa is a high national priority. Minister Asmal has vowed to work diligently towards accomplishing this goal within five years. And he has made it clear, to me and to the public that Adult literacy has the top priority. I applaud the Minister and his staff for their commitment to this worthy objective and for placing the topic of adult literacy so high on the list of national priorities. The commitment of the Directorate for adult education -- and its director Gugu Nxwelo -- is clear and strong. Illiteracy has deprived today's adult learners from obtaining the full benefits of their newly-won political freedom, because they simply do not have the educational background to get-ahead. Jobs are hard to find because employers' demands for skills are increasing. The Electives Project -- Ikwehlo -- will empower adult learners not only with reading abilities, but with new business and agricultural skills that will equip them to be more competitive in the job market or to indeed and start and pursue their own independent businesses.
The Ikwehlo Project will be implemented in two provinces: here in the Northern Province and the Eastern Cape. Several factors led to the decision to introduce this project in the Northern Province:
First, the South African census shows that the Northern Province has the second highest "unemployment rate" in the country at 46% (almost half the entire workforce have no jobs), and of those who are employed, the Northern Province has the lowest average income. These statistics are even more serious when you take into account that almost 90% of the population of the Northern Province live in rural areas, and are therefore dependent on agriculture for income. That is why agriculture was chosen as one of the electives to begin this pilot project. Future electives that may be introduced by the Department of Education could include tourism, ancillary health, and food and fiber technology--all of which would have relevance to employment in the Northern Province.
Let me also state that a compelling reason for beginning in the Northern Province: There are a number of dynamic partners here, and people who have proved their desire to learn. This has become apparent in working with the Provincial DOE, and the Director for ABET Miranda Malele. This new approach to adult education in the Northern Province (and the Eastern Cape) is an important part of the strategy for redressing past imbalances of access to education.
Adult learners involved in Agriculture courses will learn methods for better crops. The training will assist them in making decisions about the most appropriate technologies to obtain higher yields and a good harvest. The skills courses will teach important principles of management and marketing, so that hard-working people can become thriving businessmen and women. They will learn how to assess the best areas and ways to buy and sell goods at a profit.
In this way learners' skills will be strengthened, and most importantly-their income-earning capacity will be enhanced.
Another relevant fact in starting the Ikwehlo program here is that the Northern Province, at 54%, has the highest percentage of women in its population of any province. The Ikwehlo program is committed to recruit women for at least 60% of the students in the Project. Women in this province have been particularly committed to finding creative ways to better support their children. Many women bear the brunt of subsistence farming and earning income. The small-enterprise and agriculture skills training will increase the chances of women and other adult learners to make a decent living for themselves and their families.
USAID has been involved to a significant extent in the Adult Learning sector in South Africa since the late 1980s. Since 1995 we've supported the efforts of the National Department of Education to develop a Policy Document and multi-year implementation plans to improve basic and Afult education. I would like to recognise the efforts of the Northern Province to translate new national policies and plans into the successful practice, through the development of proper provincial materials and programs. These dedicated efforts by National and Northern Provice education officials are a principal reason why we have allocated approximately R30 million rand to this national Adult education initiative.
Over the next three years, we will be monitoring the effect of this program on the economic lives of the learners. I am confident that the Ikwehlo Project will indeed bring about an improved quality of life for its participants. That means that the lives of approximately 3,000 prospective learners, plus their families, perhaps more than 10,000 people, in all will be significantly improved.
President Mbeki's "new dawn" Inauguration speech that so impressed me also spoke of the enormous talents of all South Africans. We will see evidence of that talent here today in wonderful cultural performances stemming from members of the local community. The people of Tsiyanda certainly seem to be ready and extraordinarily enthusiastic about this new learning opportunity.
To close, I just want to say that USAID and its staff are privileged to contribute in a concrete way to the ability of South African adult learners to improve their lives by obtaining skills that can increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods. The people of the Northern Province have best described the Ikwehlo program beautifully in the theme they have adopted: "Equipping Adult Learners with Life-Skills for the New Millennium". You have our full and continuing support for this key effort in South African adult education.