ABET making a difference

Monday, October 25, 2010

Durban - Ernst Michael Savery is 70-years-old and experienced a difficult life during his younger days. His determination to survive in the face of poverty and help his family is a trait that has become omnipresent in his life writes Kemantha Govender.

Savery, an enthusiastic runner, did not have an opportunity to go to school and is now taking the opportunity to be educated with gusto.

He is now one of thousands of people in KwaZulu-Natal participating in Adult Basic Education Training (ABET). The programme seeks to empower South Africans through basic education and build confidence in the lives of thousands of people every day.

Focus is placed on literacy and mathematics which are taught up to four levels and progress to each level is dependent entirely on the individual. The education department runs the programme across the country at various centres.

Faced with a life in daunting and poor circumstances, Savery found himself looking for employment at a clothing factory, to help supplement the family income. He then worked for Transnet for over 20 years and spent the last six years of his working life as a scholar patrol at a primary school in Phoenix.

"My family is very happy and very proud of all that I am doing," said Savery.

With pride he hands over an assessment card which shows a 96 percent pass in Maths and English. He is on level two of the programme.

"I always wanted to finish school. I saw the ABET programme on TV and decided to find one close to where I work. I went to a school in the area and enquired about the course and have been here since 2008," said Savery.

KwaZulu-Natal had a staggering 1.2 million people who could not read or write when the programme started.

That number has dropped significantly due to the success of the programme. Many people like Savery endured economic hardships during the apartheid era and schooling was hardly an option.

"Things were very hard when I was growing up. I worked in factories trying to get by. Jobs were tight and you had to stick with whatever you got," he explains.

But now the great-grand father is making great progress with his education. He spends a lot of his time practising what he learns during his classes but also enjoys quality family time with his six children and ten grandchildren.

"The teacher is very good. I understand what I am being taught quite easily. I try to use what I learn in everyday life. I love reading the bible and other spiritual books," he says.

Savery also has a great interest in the arts and culture and is glad that he has the time to appreciate music, films and books. "I play the guitar and like listening to the Shadows, Radars and Latin American music".

After Savery completes the four levels, he has set his sights on becoming acquainted with the computer.

"I want to learn about computer and how to use them, so I am hoping that is the next step for me. I want to go as far as I can go," he added.

While Savery doesn't struggle too much in learning new concepts at his age, facilitators who play an integral role in the programme's success face a few challenges with some learners.

Lutchmi Naidoo, who is Savery's facilitator, said it is a challenging task but equally rewarding working with older people.

"It is very trying because they are adults and most times it takes longer for them to digest information. They get excited when they initially come and sometimes it's hard for them to continue that momentum," said Naidoo.

The old age does impact on their learning capabilities but the tenacity and perseverance in some of the learners is admirable to say the least, said Naidoo.

"In some cases whatever is taught is forgotten in the next level. But the personal lessons also bring joy to me. I feel when the learners progress, that I too achieved something and it ends up contributing to the community," said Naidoo.

Terry Sooklall, a co-ordinator of the ABET centre that Savery attends, feels there is a great need for the programme.

"I have been a teacher for 27 years. This is my pet project. I feel without basic education many older people are being taken advantage of because they simply can't read and write. Therefore, such a centre was created," said Sooklall.

According to Sooklall, one of the first learners at the centre was a 74-year-old woman who didn't go to school at all. She was able to understand basic concepts in Maths and write words and sentences. She is an example of perseverance.

"With adult learners you have got to be patient. They take much longer to learn and forget things easily. You have to repeat things a few times. But they are so motivated and they want to achieve their educational goals," said Sooklall.

Meanwhile, on the south coast of Durban in the Sisonke district, the ABET programme is proving its effectiveness. In 2010 over 4000 learners, of which at least 3000 were women, enrolled for the programme.

Lindiwe Mkhize a facilitator in Ixopo has worked her way up to becoming a supervisor to the facilitators in the district.

Mkhize, also affected by poverty, had no money to study after completing school in 1993. After also seeking employment in manual labour, she saved money to complete the one year ABET course.

"They say I am a community hero but it gives me nothing but joy to be able to make a difference in my community. To see people progressing and contribute to better living standards is great," said Mkhize.

"I encourage all South Africans out there who needs this programme to join and go study. It is helping so many people become empowered," said Mkhize.

She herself will study further after registering for a degree in education at the University of South Africa (UNISA).

KwaZulu-Natal Education MEC, Senzo Mchunu, praised all the literacy programmes in the province for their effectiveness.

"The literacy programmes are continuously improving literacy levels in KwaZulu-Natal. The ABET programme has done a lot to improve people's lives who had no hope and were condemned to a life of illiteracy," said Mchunu.

The MEC added that an impressive number of people have been completing matric and pursuing tertiary education.

"We are proud that this programme is in line with our democratic country that seeks to empower everyone," said Mchunu.

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