For official purposes, the Department of Education has defined ABET as follows:
Adult basic education and training is the general conceptual foundation towards lifelong learning and development, comprising of knowledge, skills and attitudes required for social, economic and political participation and transformation applicable to a range of contexts. ABET is flexible, developmental and targeted at the specific needs of particular audiences and, ideally, provides access to nationally recognised certificates.
The concept of ABET is uniquely South African. In the English-speaking world, ABE means Adult Basic Education. South Africa added the T, for Training in the policy initiatives of the early 1990s. The adoption of ABET was hotly contested for a time by those who believed in the power of the alternative, non-formal approaches to adult education. The reasons for adopting the term fell into two main groups.
One of the deepest critical perceptions of education (including adult education) in South Africa, especially on the part of labour unions and business, was that education had little application in life and work, while training meant drilling in routine jobs with no attention to underlying knowledge and values. Adding the T showed a commitment to the integration of education and training into ABET.
ABET grew out of adult literacy work. The adoption of ABET rather than adult literacy work was the result of political struggle informed by research. In spite of fine achievements of adult literacy work in the struggle, literacy alone was not considered adequate to support real social transformation. ABET was meant to offer an appropriately adult route to a general education aimed at making a significant improvement in quality of life.
This page on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group website also deals with the history of ABET in South Africa, who needs ABET, and success stories amongst others.
The kha ri gude website (Please note: unfortunately this website is currently unavailable - checked 14 January 2016) also delivers an in-depth account of the status of ABET in South Africa. Interesting statistics include the following:
Literacy and basic education levels of South Africans aged 15 and over
Level of education
1996 General Population Census
2001 General Population Census
Full general education (grade 9 and more)
13.1 million (50%)
15.8 million (52%)
Less than full general education (less than grade 9)
13.2 million (50%)
14.6 million (48%)
None to less than grade 7
8.5 million (32%)
9.6 million (32%)
4.2 million (16%)
4.7 million (16%)
The above table (taken from the kha ri gude website) shows that although the population amount achieving a full general education has increased, those receiving less than a full general education, less than grade 7 and no schooling, has increased since 1996.