ABET or Adult Basic Education and Training, is the term used to describe the education of adults when providing them with basic literacy and numeracy skills. It also describes the obtaining of further skills and education by adults. For writing the adult matric or Amended Senior Certificate (ASC), adults are defined as over 21 years of age. The term “lifelong learning” illustrates what ABET tries to achieve. Lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of information for personal or job-related reasons. As a result, it improves not just social inclusion, active citizenship, and personal growth, but also self-sufficiency, competitiveness, and employment.

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.

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death. ― Albert Einstein

Are you an OPSIMATH? An opsimath is someone who begins to learn or study only later in life.

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. Making the change to ABET was controversial for a time. It was believed that alternative, non-formal approaches to adult education were powerful ways to improve the education of the many . 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.

Source: Parliamentary Monitoring Group

(Please note that the page on the Parliamentary Monitoring Group website linked to above, also deals with the history of ABET in South Africa, who needs ABET, and success stories amongst others.

ABET and the National Qualifications Framework (NQF)

In South Africa there are three bands of education:

  1. General Education and Training: Training provided in primary and secondary schools from Grade R to grade 9. The ABET equivalent is levels 1 to 4.
  2. Further Education and Training: Training provided by high schools from Grade 10 to grade 12 and vocational qualifications at NQF levels 2 to 4.
  3. Higher Education: Post grade 12 and tertiry education.

ABET levels and their school equivalents are as follows

  • ABET Level 1: Grade 3
  • ABET Level 2: Grade 5
  • ABET Level 3: Grade 7
  • ABET Level 4: Grade 9 (or NQF level 1)

The NQF and their school equivalents are as follows

  • NQF Level 1: Grade 9 certificate or equivalent (also equates with ABET Level 4)
  • NQF Level 2: Grade 10 certificate or equivalent
  • NQF Level 3: Grade 11 certificate or equivalent
  • NQF Level 4: Grade 12 certificate or equivalent
  • NQF Level 5: Higher Certificate
  • NQF Level 6: Diploma
  • NQF Level 7: Bachelor’s Degree
  • NQF Level 8: Honours Degree
  • NQF Level 9: Master’s Degree
  • NQF Level 10: Doctorate Degree


StatsSA in their a recent General Household Survey, noted that while literacy rates were decreasing, results of their nationwide survey indicate a consistently high number. Women were more likely to be functionally illiterate than men (functional literacy refers to individuals who have either received no schooling or who have not completed Grade 7) and the older the population, the higher the illiteracy rate.

Types of ABET

ABET has been called several names with subtly different meanings.

AET: Adult Education and Training. This term is often used interchangeably with that of ABET and is mostly used overseas.

FET: Further Education and Training. Most often used n the context of vocational training. The term used mostly nowadays is TVET

TVET: Technical and Vocational Education and Training. This name took over from that of FET.

CET: Continuing Education and Training. This refers mainly to higher education training.