Wolfgang Leumer

The following text is a revised version of the paper given by the author at Pretoria in January 2003 at a conference of the UNESCO Institute for Education and UNISA (University of South Africa) about „The potential of distance and open learning in the training of adult educators and grassroots workers involved in literacy and non-formal education“. The paper focuses on the networking efforts of the Southern African office of the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association (IIZ/DVV) and introduces a range of initiatives that highlight how networking can strengthen the provision of adult education and training in the region: Regional network of REFLECT practitioners, training the trainers, the African textbook development project, the Adult Learning Network, and networking towards an HIV/AIDS learnership. Wolfgang Leumer is Head of the IIZ/DVV Project Office for Southern Africa.

In Unity Lies Strength: Networking for Adult Education in Southern Africa

Networks have a vital role to play in stimulating critical debate and information sharing, in promoting innovative approaches to adult learning and in driving advocacy campaigns to raise the profile of our sector.

In a region where adult education continues to be marginalized and under-resourced, we deplore the inability of individuals and institutions to come together and identify the commonality of their interests and the need to work together towards an adult learning movement.

The SADC conference held recently in Pietermaritzburg on Adult Basic Literacy Education was a notable exception and we hope that the recommendations adopted by this conference will lead to more networking in the region on urgent issues such as the quality of training, HIV/AIDS and other areas where it makes sense to join hands and put pressure on governments and institutions to meet their commitments outlined in the Hamburg Declaration and Dakar Objectives.

Regional Network of REFLECT Practitioners

IIZ/DVV is interested in exploring the benefits of literacy second approaches, in which adult learning is driven by the action and development plans of our target groups: poor adults in poverty stricken, rural areas of Africa (Angola, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa).

We cooperate with ActionAid in five pilot projects that use the REFLECT approach in South Africa:

  • IDASA and Fair share focus on economic literacy and integrated development planning at local government level, where literacy and numeracy facilitate local participation in the understanding and shaping of local budgets;

  • Women for Peace working in Alexandra and Mid-Rand focus on handicraft production, urban agriculture, domestic violence and urban renewal (hostels);

  • Kruger to Canyons is a project for rural communities adjacent to the Kruger park, that explores how these communities can benefit from resource streams generated by tourism in the region through the production of handicrafts and improvement of services in their own communities; and

  • Learning for Development in Koffiefontein in the Free State uses REFLECT as a training approach for agriculture and small business development.

Two more pilots will be added to the South African programme in 2003, one focused on family literacy in KwaZulu-Natal and the other in Casablanca informal settlement in the Western Cape.

The main objective of our pilots is to explore the role of Participatory Rural Appraisal methods in helping communities identify and develop their own programme of action (empowerment). Literacy comes in as and when learning circles have seen the need for it for themselves and start to practise it in their attempts to improve their livelihoods.

With the support of ActionAid these experiences are linked with ongoing larger projects of REFLECT application in Angola, Zambia, Le sotho, Malawi and Swaziland. Yearly meetings are held by protaganists of this approach in order to improve best practice and help develop a common understanding of strengths and weaknesses of existing practice. This regional initiative is further linked to a worldwide circle of REFLECT practitioners through CIRAC (Circle of International REFLECT ACTION circles).

Training of Adult Educators in South Africa

IIZ/DVV supports, at present, the training of close to 100 practitioners in adult education via stipends and scholarships at four institutions (at a cost of not more than 32,000 euros):

  • University of Cape Town: 12 Students – Diploma in Adult Education

  • Peninsula Technicon: 15 Students – National Diploma in Adult Education

  • Centre for Adult Education, University of Natal: 34 students – Diploma in Participatory Development in Education

  • Centre for Adult Continuing Education, University of the Western Cape: 37 students – Higher Certificate and Higher Diploma in Adult Education

We are planning a workshop for these training partners in 2003 to facilitate the sharing of experiences. The following extracts provide a clear indication of the vital need to support the training of adult educators throughout the region, and of the importance of educator training at national and community levels:

The impact of illiteracy

We still believe that there is a great demand for adult educator qualifications in South Africa, because the problem of high illiteracy still exists. More than six million South Africans cannot access information through reading. There are new policies, new laws in this country which are being developed and designed to redress the imbalances of the past, but the majority of citizens cannot access these documents because these citizens are illiterate. Through IIZ/DVV support CACE and other institutions of learning train facilitators, trainers and educators who work in communities as Education, Training, and Development field Practitioners (ETDPs) 


Centre for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE) University of the Western Cape


Student profiles

The profile of students has remained fairly constant over the past seven years: most participants are “mature students” (with the average age ranging between 35 and 50 years), and are culturally diverse. In 2000–2001, three-quarters of the class were women, and over 70% of the class were first-language Xhosa speakers, with most of the remainder being drawn from historically-classified “coloured” communities. Participants are drawn from a wide variety of education, training and development organisations and projects, including health promotion, trade union education, small business skills development, educare, arts and culture and media training. Many of these organi sations, while supportive of the programme, are unable to find the funding to pay student fees.


UCT Diploma in Education


Active citizenship

These groups of learners are highly involved in civil society work, actions and movements. Adult education knowledge and skills are needed in community-based development and organizations, and therefore continuous support creates the layers of cadres needed at grass-roots, middle and upper middle levels.


Centre for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE) University of the Western Cape


Addressing critical issues through participatory development

Education for All targets become a dim hope without a strong, welltrained cadre of adult educators, particularly those trained within a participatory development paradigm. The Participatory Development Certificate in Education (PDCE) programme aims to build the capacity of rural and disadvantaged communities through producing qualified community development practitioners who understand and are equipped to plan and implement basic participatory, holistic and sustainable development projects at the community level.

KwaZulu-Natal has the largest proportion of South Africans who are infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. The pandemic poses the single largest challenge to development in the region and has highlighted the need for skilled educators who can work in non-formal and community settings.

In a similar vein the Land Care course within the PDCE addresses another critical need within the province and the rest of the country. The Land Care course concentrates on developing institutional support for smallholder farmers by training development workers in the area of environmental management and small-scale, low-input food produc tion. A Peace Education course will be piloted during 2003 within the Human Rights, Democracy and Development (HRDD) project.


Centre for Adult Education
University of Natal


Tuition fees

With a high unemployment rate in South Africa many students are unable to pay for their tuition fees. From our experience there are only a handful of students whose fees are paid by their employers and very few of them can pay their own fees. CACE would like to continue building the capacity of under-resourced and rurally based practitioners, and for us to do this, students need financial support. IIZ/DVV scholarships have benefited students from as far as the Eastern Cape and Springbok who were registered in the Certificate and course, and prepared to travel.


Centre for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE)
University of the Western Cape



While a significant grouping of Diploma students in 2002-3 will have their fees covered by a training grant drawn from new skills funds available to employers, our “regular” grouping of students drawn mainly from smaller training organisations and community-based NGOs in the Cape Town area are more than ever dependent on bursary assistance if they are going to complete the programme.

Long term, some of the money to support students from under-re- sourced organisations could well come from the ETDP sector itself through its Sectoral Education and Training Authority (SETA). Through the SETA, organisations will in future be able to access Skills Levy funding for staff training and development. In the short term however, it is precisely the organisations from which our students are drawn which lack the capacity to access this funding, given their limited capacity and stretched resources.


UCT Diploma in Education


Measuring the impact

The services of these Adult Educators, Trainers and Development Practitioners is crucial, particularly at the grassroots community level. Many of these graduates continue working in non-governmental and community-based organizations. Adult educators are employed in several fields, while some move to positions of power in local government authorities and a few enter government provincial legislature, trade union organizations, political and religious organizations.


Centre for Adult and Continuing Education (CACE)
University of the Western Cape


Broader impacts

DVV has supported the ABET educator programme at Peninsula Technikon since 1996. The bursary programme provided the backbone for continued and sustained development work in the National Diploma programme and later the B Tech degree in ABET. The positive influence of the programme and materials development, which cascaded throughout the national ABET sector, through the contribution of the Peninsula Technikon players in national and provincial policy formulation, curriculum development and materials development initiatives, was largely thanks to the DVV partnership.


Peninsula Technikon
ABET Educator Training


Student profile: Rose Qalaba

Rose Qalaba is a committed second year student at the Centre for Adult Education in Pietermaritzburg. She is a 51-year-old, primary health nurse in the rural Eastern Cape. She is a single parent with four sons, all of them at different tertiary institutions around the country.

For Rose to get to the University for her weekly lecture, she has to spend five and half hours on the road each way, jumping from one taxi to the next. “From my rural area to my town (Flagstaff), I get into a taxi and I have to pay R8. I have to be on this kombi for one and a half hours. From Flagstaff to Durban takes three hours, and costs me R40.

My next taxi ride is from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. This trip takes an hour and R20 of my cash. Once in town, I get into the Scottsville taxi which costs me R2.50”. Rose has thus been paying about R140 each week for the last eighteen months just to attend lectures.

Since joining the PDCE Rose has initiated an adult literacy project in her area. The inkosi and induna in her area are very supportive of her ideas and her project, so much so that the inkosi has encouraged people in the area who have passed matric to register for the course. The Centre for Adult Education received about 15 applications from this area for 2002. However, the Centre is reluctant to require of these students the significant investment that Rose has had to make. Plans are therefore underway to establish a satellite centre in the area, thus fulfilling the aim of the PDCE to offer the course off-campus.


Centre for Adult Education,
University of Natal, South Africa


Textbook Series: African Perspectives in Adult Learning

IIZ/DVV has been supporting the professional training of adult educators at numerous African universities. A key recommendation of the 1995 evaluation by Paul Fordham and Lalage Bown, was the need to improve the quality and relevance of study materials for Diploma and Bachelor’s degree students. In 2001, IIZ/DVV took the initiative to bring together African scholars, heads of departments and other interested institutions to start a project to improve teaching and learning materials for students in adult education in Africa.

This project is carried at present by the Department of Adult Education of the University of Botswana, the Institute for International Cooperation of the German Adult Education Association, the UNESCO Institute for Education and Pearson Education. The project aims to develop a series of textbooks entitled African Perspectives in Adult Learning. The purpose of the series is to provide accessible and relevant textbooks to students in Africa studying adult education, especially at the Diploma and Bachelor’s degree level. The books will be co-published by Pearson Education and the UNESCO Institute for Education.

Initially, there will be five titles in the series.


  • The Psychology of Adult Learning in Africa

  • Research Methods in African Adult Education

  • Foundations of Adult Education in Africa

  • Programme Development in African Adult Education

  • The Social Context of Adult Education in Africa

The first 5 books in the series are planned for publication in March 2004.

Each book will be between 200 and 250 pages long, and it will be expected to provide an overview of the topic, introduce appropriate theory, provide discussion and examples rooted in professional practice, actual policies and empirical research, and indicate further areas of inquiry and reading. A key principle is that the textbooks will reflect African social realities, theoretical and cultural perspectives, policies and modes of practice.

Writers’ workshops

Writers’ workshops were held in April and August 2002 and attended by all commissioned authors. The workshops helped to develop a clearer vision of the nature of the Series, which will not only provide up-to-date Afrocentric textbooks for students of adult education in Africa, but also promote recognition around the world of a distinctive African perspective on adult learning. The workshops developed a strong sense of joint involvement and commitment by all involved, and provided important intellectual direction as well as induction into professional textbook publishing.

Writers’ support

The project is now at the stage where the writers are busy working on their manuscripts according to design criteria and deadlines agreed in the Workshops. This is a critical phase of the project in which the capability and commitment of the writers is paramount. A number of writer support strategies are in place including the establishment of the APAL listserve, which provides a vehicle for sharing information amongst both writers and the Series Editorial Board.

Adult Learning Network (South Africa)

Another networking attempt supported by IIZ/DVV aims to rejuvenate a once vibrant adult educators and practitioners sector in South Africa. The sector has gone through many crises and despite a progressive Bill of Rights, adult education continues to be marginalised. Of the several hundred NGOs and CBOs working in the field of adult education in 1994, only 50 organisations remain and are still working on the ground today.

The Adult Learning Network is an attempt to remedy this state of affairs and to develop a national “voice” for the sector. The ALN brings together eight provincial bodies engaged in advocacy and lobbying at provincial level.

Forging new relationships

ALN activity in 2001 and 2002 focused on the Adult Learners Week campaign that showcases adult education in South Africa. These efforts culminated in a national conference and awards ceremony that drew over 500 adult learners and practitioners to Kimberley in September 2002. This was also the first time that this event was supported by the Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), which committed financial resources to support the campaign at national and provincial level. The Network hopes to continue to build links with the SETAs and to offer advocacy and capacity building services to the SETAs as a national Adult Learning Network (ALN). The ALN has also been able to get the trade unions (before 1994 a staunch supporter of adult education) back on board. Links have also been forged with broader civil society structures through the Global Campaign for Education. A notable feature of this new network is that the concept of adult learning is starting to be understood more holistically, extending beyond ABET, to embrace all fields in which adult learning takes place.

The ALN also produces a quarterly newsletter, “Talking Adult Learning”, with a national distribution of 6000 copies. The newsletter keeps practitioners up to date with recent policy developments and campaigns as well as showcasing innovative approaches and projects from around the country.

The Learning Cape Festival

Another notable innovation is the link between Adult Learners Week and a provincial initiative called the Learning Cape Festival – an advocacy campaign designed to promote a culture of lifelong learning amongst all sectors of Western Cape society.

The Learning Cape Festival aims to:


  • create viable partnerships between government, business and civil society that support integrated approaches to learning and development

  • expose people of all ages to a wide range of learning opportunities

  • showcase innovative projects and programmes

  • celebrate learners’ achievements, and

  • develop a tradition of an annual Learning Cape Festival

The Festival aims to build on current initiatives such as National Women’s Day, Small Business Development Week and Adult Learners Week with the aim of strengthening these campaigns and promoting the links between them through a common focus on lifelong learning. The Festival thus celebrates learning in a variety of contexts: from for mal institutions of learning through to skills training in the workplace and community development programmes.

The Festival is seen as a catalyst for a process of ongoing collaboration between government, business and civil society. The initiative originated out of the collaboration between the Department of Business Promotion and Tourism and the University of the Western Cape, and has now broadened to include participation by higher education institutions, the Adult Learning Forum, Cape Online, Unicity, COSATU, Departments of Education, Labour and Correctional Services, the SETAs, the Provincial Development Council, the Chamber of Commerce, NGOs and the media.

Networking for HIV/AIDS

With funding from the Poverty Reduction Programme of the German Government, IIZ/DVV has started to develop a formally accredited training programme to strengthen the capacity of communities living with HIV/AIDS.

It is vital to link education campaigns with activities that empower people to take action. Informed debate is not happening in the communities most severely affected by HIV/AIDS: the poor, marginalized and illiterate. Neither is there any strategic planning taking place at community or local government level.

This development-centred programme draws on participatory approaches to address the impact of HIV/AIDS in a holistic way. Moving beyond preventative and palliative care, the programme aims to develop a cadre of community-based caregivers who will strengthen the capacity of local communities to design and implement their own care, education and support programmes, as well as engaging with local government structures to ensure the impact of AIDS is addressed as part of local integrated development strategies.


St. John Ambulance estimates there are about 100,000 to 120,000 volunteers active in South Africa. These volunteers have a wealth of experience and commitment to offer yet they often lack sufficient training, have inadequate support structures, are unemployed, unpaid and without recognition. In the long run it is hoped to get accreditation for the training programme at National Qualification Framework Level 1 and to register it as a Learnership so that local funding through the National Skills Fund and Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) can carry the cost of training. With a formal qualification in place, it is also hoped that local government and health hierarchies will employ these intermediary facilitators at local level.

Progress to date

Learners’ Materials and Facilitators’ Manuals have been developed and are currently being tested in three provinces in South Africa. On the basis of the initial results of this project we have also started to build a consortium of interested providers / partners in this important domain of adult education. A funding proposal has been submitted to the Global Fund and an expression of interest has been presented by a regional consortium to the European Union.

Building partnerships

The learnership programme was initiated by three key players in the fields of adult education, community development and public health: IIZ/DVV, the Trust for Community Outreach and Education, and the Media and Training Centre for Health. The success of the programme depends on building effective partnerships with adult education institutions, NGOs and CBOs and local government at community level. We are also engaged in lobbying SAQA, the SETAs and the National Departments of Health, Education, Social Services and Labour to ensure that the programme is formally accredited and can access sustainable funding and support.


Harbans Bhola argued during the Conference that if we are to meet the challenges of poverty reduction and the Education for All objectives, we need to develop diverse programmes that are responsive to local conditions:

“In the education of adults, one single more or less tightly packaged programme such as ABE (Adult Basic Education), ABET (Adult Basic Education and Training), ABLE (Adult Basic and Literacy Education), or ALE (Adult and Life Long Education) will not do. Appropriate adult education packages will have to be designed and delivered in particular contexts to suit groups of individuals, clusters of families and communities for overall community development.”

Facilitation and training need to happen in the light of diverse contexts and livelihoods. Forging links between adult education, literacy and development will not be easy, as long as we only offer training in the nuts and bolts of ABET. The daunting challenge of making adult education instrumental in the reduction of poverty requires more indepth and quality training, as well as lobbying for political support to make this happen. More networking and exchange around existing innovative practice have a vital role to play in enriching and enhancing current delivery.

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