There is considerable controversy in the Adult Basic Education (ABE) field over its
aims, purposes and relationship to social change. ABE has played an important role in
South Africa in redressing past educational inequalities. During the period 1979 to
1990 ABE was particularly important for empowerment of women and youth. The
acquisition of basic literacy was considered to be one of the vehicles through which
'formerly excluded' adults could attain greater social, political and economic
empowerment. Such assumptions also form the foundation for adult education in postapartheid South Africa.
However, the changes in the sector, most notable after 1994, reflect the fonn of a
'new' Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) that underpins the policy of life¬
long learning. The latter aims to promote the acquisition of knowledge, skills and
attitudes required for social and economic transformation. This is relevant to, and
important in the current context of debates about the African Rennaissance, which is
recognised as a renewal of a vision for a changing nation.
Current debates over the 'new' ABET situate this study which seeks to present a
perspective on women's emancipation. Through critical analyses of issues connected
with gender and power over the past twenty years, it draws attention to adult
education as being concerned with universalism, collectivism and communal
relationships. The thesis attempts to establish parameters for evaluating the ABET
policy and its implementation. The research therefore focuses upon ABET policies to
delineate their relevance for women in the rural village of Moutse, in Mpumalanga.
Through a case study based upon observations and interviews, an analytical
foundation is laid for assessing the impact of adult education and training on female
adult learners in this rural community. The experience of Moutse learners has shown
that ABET has the potential to empower participants, particularly the female
population, by encouraging a sense of ownership and control over their lives and over
The conclusion which emerges is that Adult Basic Education was indeed part of a
radical social movement that emerged from and supported a socio-political struggle.
However, the 'new' ABET is criticised for focusing on outcomes and skills at the
expense of knowledge contained within cultural and traditional practices. The study
therefore takes into account not only the cultural forces that shape collective and
communal relationships, but also attends to the macro and micro economic and
political influences that impact upon educational programmes. Inevitably, these
forces and influences shape the public perceptions of the value placed upon ABET
It may be argued that current adult education policy might benefit from a greater
awareness of the potentialities of a relevant and transformative curriculum. South
African ABET policy-making could be enhanced by implementing its principles about
learner participation, in recognition that those most affected by adult education have
the most to contribute towards its development.