Adult Basic Education Programme (ABEP)

Country Profile: Botswana


1,990,876 (2009)

National and official Languages

Setswana and English

Total Expenditure on Education as % of GNP


Primary school net enrolment / attendance (%), 2003–2008)


Total Youth Literacy Rate (15-24 years, 2003 – 2007)

Male: 93%
Female: 95%
Total: 94%

Adult Literacy Rate (15 years and over, 2005 – 2008)

Male: 83%
Female: 82%
Total: 83%


Programme Overview

Programme TitleAdult Basic Education Programme (ABEP)
Implementing OrganizationMinistry of Education and Skills Development (through the Department of Out of School Education and Training, DOSET)
Language of InstructionBi-lingual – English and Setswana (the curriculum also foresees multilingual approaches by allowing learners to start in a minority language before learning in Setswana and English)
FundingGovernment of Botswana (GoB)
Date of Inception2009 –

Context and Background

The provision of universal access to basic education, including adult literacy training, has been a key element and priority of Botswana’s national development, social empowerment and human rights agenda since independence in 1966. Accordingly, several educational policies and programmes have been instituted over the years, the most important being the National Policy on Education (NPE, 1977, revised in 1994) and the National Literacy Programme (NLP, 1981). The RNPE provided the policy framework for educational development in Botswana and was therefore the basis for the implementation of various educational programmes including the NLP.

The NLP was officially launched in 1981 as the largest government sponsored programme for non-formal education. It was primarily intended to compliment the formal school system by promoting access to education for out-of-school groups and, in particular, by enabling “250 000 presently illiterate men, women and youth to become literate in Setswana and numerate in six years, 1980-85” (Ministry of Education, 1979, cited in Hanemann, 2005). Implicitly therefore, the NLP endeavoured to eradicate historical socio-economic inequalities and high adult illiteracy rates which had been engendered by a colonial education system that had only been accessible to a privileged few. In addition, the NLP also aimed to create a cohort of educated people with skills to meet the demands of a developing, rapidly changing society and economy as well as to empower previously disadvantaged and marginalised communities in order to enable them to be self-reliant and to improve their standard of life. In order to achieve these fundamental goals, the Department of Non-Formal Education (DNFE) – the government institution which was charged with the responsibility of developing and implementing non-formal educational projects in the country – adopted an integrated and comprehensive approach to the implementation of the NLP. Accordingly, the NLP encompassed a number of components or sub-programmes including Basic Literacy, the Literacy at the Workplace Project, Income Generating Projects, the Village Reading Rooms Project, and English as a Second Language.

Several evaluation reports have revealed that the NLP had positive impacts on educational development in Botswana. Noteworthy, the programme increased access to basic education for out-of-school groups and, as a result, the total youth and adult literacy rates rose from 83.3% and 68% in 1990 to 94% and 83%, respectively, as of 2003-2008. Attendant to this drop in illiteracy rates was also a remarkable improvement in life skills including functional literacy and vocational skills (Molefe, 2004). However, in spite of these achievements, the NLP was also riddled with challenges and failures, the most critical being its failure to address participants’ basic needs and interests as well as to eradicate youth and adult illiteracy. The failure to eradicate illiteracy as envisaged was caused by several factors including the lack of resources and high drop-out rates (enrolment figures dropped from 38 660 participants in 1985 to 11 771 in 2001). The high drop-out rates were partly caused by the exclusive use of Setswana and English as the language of instruction. As noted by Maruatona (2006), “the exclusive use of Setswana for minority communities created a dissonance between their life experiences, culture and literacy expectations” thereby forcing non-Setswana speakers to drop-out of in the programme. For some communities, the medium of instruction was also a disincentive which limited their access to the NLP. In addition, NLP trainers, mostly volunteers, were ill-trained and endured poor working conditions. Equally important, the programme was poorly coordinated and, as a result, it not only stifled the learners’ participation but also failed to reach the poorest and remote communities. The failure of the NLP to eradicate youth and adult illiteracy and the attendant negative effects on national development and social empowerment prompted the government of Botswana to institutionalise the non-formal or out-of-school Adult Basic Education Programme (ABEP) in 2009 as part of its overall Vision 2016 plan (see below) and in line with the recommendations of the Revised National Policy on Education (1994).

The Adult Basic Education Programme (ABEP)

The ABEP – known locally as the Thuto Ga E Golelwe (i.e. it’s never too late to learn) – is a comprehensive, integrated, outcome based, modularised and fully accredited lifelong educational and skills training programme for out-of-school groups which was officially launched by the Department of Out of School Education and Training (DOSET) in the beginning of 2010. The programme primarily targets out-of-school youth and adults who never went to school or dropped out before completing primary school and therefore, with little literacy and numeracy skills as well as those who failed to access basic education through the NLP. Special focus is also placed on ethnic minorities and people with special learning needs as well as on disadvantaged and often marginalised rural communities. Rural communities are particularly targeted because half of Botswana’s population lives in rural areas with scarce educational opportunities and thus the highest poverty, unemployment and illiteracy rates in the country. For instance, estimates suggest that illiteracy rates in rural areas stand at 34,5% compared to 14,6% in urban areas.

ABEP Curriculum

The ABEP’s comprehensive and integrated curriculum was developed with technical support from the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and aims to offer participants / learners with basic educational training that is equivalent to seven years of learning under Botswana’s formal primary school system (i.e. standard 1-7) as well as opportunities for training in a wide range of life skills. To this end, the ABEP curriculum integrates various basic literacy and practical skills training components including (see also diagram below):


In short, the curriculum is designed to provide participants with integrated and holistic learning opportunities which address their basic human development needs related but not limited to knowledge, food, health, sanitation, shelter, clothing, work, liberty, identity, reasoning, self-expression, communication, and participation.

However, apart from the core learning areas (Languages and Mathematics) which are compulsory and are progressively developed throughout the curriculum and across the three learning levels as well as the compulsory use of the standard teaching-learning materials, the ABEP is generally conceived as having an open curriculum that does not prescribe or detail contents and activities for participants but rather provides broad criteria and guidelines for practical teaching and learning at every learning level and area. For instance, practical skills are optional and may be selected by learners according to their preferences and to the relevance of such skills for their specific context. Essentially therefore, programme facilitators and learners have the latitude to interpret and adapt the curriculum to suit their context-specific developmental needs and aspirations. This openness and flexibility allows communities to actively participate in curriculum development, an aspect which not only ensures that the programme content is relevant to their daily lives and is culturally sensitive but also fosters greater motivation in learning and promotes social empowerment.

Learning Levels

The ABEP curriculum has three basic learning levels) which, as noted above, are equivalent to seven years of education in the formal primary school system. Thus, while the formal primary education is split into two levels - Lower Primary (Standard 1-4) and Upper Primary (Standard 5-7), the ABEP is organised in three levels: Level One (Standard 1-2), Level Two (Standard 3-4), and Level Three (Standard 5- 7), as depicted in the diagram below:


The following skills are emphasised at each learning level:

Level One (Standard 1-2)

The focus at this level is placed on basic literacy and numeracy skills through the two Core Learning areas: Languages and Mathematics, with content related to the four areas on General Studies and optional Practical and Pre-vocational Skills. Oral English is gradually introduced and built up according to the learners’ motivation and capabilities but the introduction of English writing skills is delayed until the learners have developed foundational literacy skills. At this level the themes taught in the English curriculum cut across the other learning areas and this way provide a scaffold for teaching these areas through the medium of instruction in the 3rd level. The use of calculators, cellular phones and SMS will be encouraged as supportive learning devices.

Level Two (Standard 3-4)

The focus at this level will be to further strengthen the competencies in the Core Learning areas, while expanding the scope of General Studies and adding one or two Practical and Pre-vocational Skills. At this level reading and writing in English will be introduced and developed in a more systematic way. The use of real life reading materials, such as newspapers, magazines, comics, street signs, calendars, and posters will be encouraged.

Level Three (Standard 5-7)

This level aims to consolidate the skills and competencies acquired in level one, in the three domains: Core Learning, General Studies and Practical and Pre-vocational Skills. Learners will have the option to choose available skill training to be further developed into income generation activities. At this stage, English is taught intensively in order to facilitate the transition from using Setswana and/ or minority languages to the use of English as the medium of instruction. In order to facilitate this transition certain concepts will be introduced in the learners’ first language as well as in English.

Class Attendance Timetable

In addition to having the responsibility of adapting the programme to their local circumstances, needs and aspirations, communities are also responsible for designing an appropriate class attendance timetable which enables them to participate in the programme while, at the same time, continuing to undertake their other familial livelihood activities. However, as a general rule, DOSET recommends that the total weekly teacher-student contact hours should be between 8 and 10 hours across the three levels (i.e. participants should attend classes for 4 to 5 days a week at an average of 2 hours per session). Such a timetable is deemed to necessary for optimum literacy skills acquisition

Programme Aims

The ABEP is guided by Botswana’s overall long-term policy framework, Vision 2016, in which the nation commits itself to work towards an educated and informed nation, also to comply with the EFA goals of the attainment of universal access to and completion of Basic Education. Thus, in compliance with this vision as well as other international commitments such as the Education for All goals (Dakar Framework for Action, 2000) and the commitments adopted at the Fifth and Sixth International Conferences on Adult Education (CONFINTEA V and VI (Hamburg Declaration on Adult Learning, 1997, Belém Framework for Action, 2009), the ABEP aims to:

Programme Implementation: Approaches and Methodologies

Community Mobilisation and Recruitment of Learners

In order to facilitate the effective and sustainable implementation of the ABEP, the DOSET employs various social mobilisation strategies to encourage the communities to support the programme and, on the other hand, potential learners to enrol into the programme. These include:

In addition, the DOSET has also helped communities to establish Adult Education Programme Committees or Village Out-of-School Education Committees. These Committees are, in turn and with support from Adult Educators and Adult Education Officers, entrusted with the responsibility of adapting the ABEP curriculum to local circumstances. They also compliment the DOSET in coordinating programme activities at the local level, mobilising learners and by providing physical structures for learning activities (especially in rural areas).

Furthermore, learners wishing to enrol into the ABEP are assessed for appropriate placement within the programme. Each placement assessment includes a personal interview with the learner to determine his/her learning needs and aspirations. This process or strategy ensures that the learners are placed at the correct learning level which recognizes both the prior learning as well as their overall life experiences.

Recruitment and Training of Facilitators

The DOSET has recruited and trained programme facilitators comprising of service graduates or professional teachers, including holders of a diploma in education, retired professional teachers, untrained undergraduates and, in the majority, people with ‘O’ level and Junior secondary school qualifications. Apart from academic qualifications, the DOSET often appoints as facilitators people with a demonstrable record of social commitment who are therefore ready to become autonomous and lifelong learners themselves. However, regardless of their qualifications, all facilitators are provided with formal induction / formative training and on-going in-service training and mentoring in various aspects of adult education including:

Each facilitator is engaged on a part-time basis and is, on average, responsible for about eight learners. Facilitators receive a stipend of P3 840 (approx. US$573) per month. Apart from providing teaching services, programme facilitators also assist the DOSET and the Adult Education Programme Committees with mobilising the communities and potential learners.

Teaching-Learning Approaches and Methods

ABEP facilitators are trained and encouraged to use various learner-centred particpatory teaching-learning methods. Accordingly, group debates / discussions; simulations and question and answer strategies are therefore central to the teaching-learning process but are complimented by other approaches such as self-learning. This emphasis on the use of particpatory teaching-learning methods is intended to encourage learners to actively participate in the learning process and, in so doing, improve their communication and critical thinking skills. In order to help learners to develop sustainable reading and writing competencies, the teaching and learning process is also facilitated through the use of a wide range of “real literacy” materials such as newspapers, magazines and audio-visual media. Learners’ own experience, self-discovery and creative text generation are also encouraged to facilitate the recognition of words and phonemes as well as the acquisition of written language.

In addition and unlike the approach used in the implementation of the NLP, facilitators are also encouraged to use the most commonly spoken local language as the medium of instruction in the initial learning stages of the learning process in order to enable learners to effectively acquire basic literacy concepts and skills. Thereafter, Setswana and English (the widely spoken national and official languages, respectively) are progressively introduced as the medium of instruction and as taught subjects so as to create the necessary linkages between the programme and the general (formal) education system.

Programme Impact and Challenges

Monitoring and Evaluation

In keeping with the outcomes-based approach and lifelong learning paradigm which informs the ABEP, ongoing programme monitoring, assessment and evaluation by DOSET field officers are central aspects of the implementation strategy. Ongoing programme monitoring enables implementers to foresee negative outcomes and to make amendments to the programme plans and to rectify deficiencies. It also contributes in helping educators to adjust their teaching methods and to improve curriculum contents.

In addition, ABEP learners are continuously assessed at all learning levels through a range of formative strategies including class tests, oral presentations and self and peer assessments. Ongoing diagnostic assessments also enable facilitators to ascertain the learners’ literacy skills and competencies as well as to recognise learning difficulties in order to respond with appropriate support such as remedial lessons and personalized teaching-learning strategies. The DOSET also encourages programme implementers to actively involve all participants and stakeholders in the implementation of the monitoring, assessment and evaluation processes. For instance, because village or community education committees play a critical role in the implementation of the programme, they should be involved in its evaluation. This strategy allows the stakeholders and especially the beneficiaries / learners to critically reflect on their experiences, the strengths and weaknesses of the programme and its significance in their lives as well as in the community.

Impact and Challenges

The following indicates a number of results achieved by ABEP: 1) One of the most progressive curriculum frameworks for adult literacy and basic education in the region; 2) Modular and outcome-based learning materials for three levels; 3) Staff from DOSET headquarters and regional offices have developed and strengthened their capacities; 4) Institutional partnerships were built with key stakeholders, such as the University of Botswana, the Botswana College of Open and Distance Learning (BOCODOL) and the National Examination Board, Botswana Training Authority and the Botswana National Library Service.

The Report of the Evaluation of the National Literacy programme by the UNESCO Institute for Education (2004) highlights a number of challenges with adult learning and education in general, which also apply to the implementation of the ABEP programme, including:- low and irregular attendance rates; limited infrastructure of outside the DNFE national and regional offices; limited access to written culture; non-enforcement of policy recommendations; failure to follow through on planning; lack of cooperation among ministries and institutions; lack of a comprehensive educational framework for non-formal learners; implementation frameworks and guidelines for action seem insufficient and need more elaboration for the non-formal subsector; insufficient funding; poor working conditions of literacy group leaders; and single language policy: in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society in which more than twenty languages are spoken.

The main challenge of ABEP has been the development of capacities for the implementation of the programme. In its efforts to promote a paradigm shift the Department has achieved slow transformation. However, this was also a difficult process. Getting facilitatorsto change their teaching methods from the traditional teacher centred to learner centred approach has been a great challenge.

Insufficient budget allocations are challenging attempts of creativity. But the situation is continuously improving, The ground is now showing signs of fertility for the seeds of ABEP to be sown.

The development of appropriate assessment procedures has also been another big challenge. But the Department has now established an Assessement Unit which is solely responsible for assessment and monitoring and development. An automated information management system is under development.


The structure of ABEP is intended to offer learning opportunities to all, even those who cannot access formal school, and with the option to provide for equivalencies to Grade Seven in formal school. The establishment of a unifying umbrella assessment body in the form of a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) will be a significant move towards the attainment of the lifelong learning paradigm by valuing comparable qualifications. Once approved by government, the framework will facilitate learner mobility within different sectors of education and training and enable the effective implementation of ABEP.

The strategic plan of the DOSET anticipates that the provision of new topics such as providing business and management skills, environmental conservation, reproductive health, crafts, indigenous designs, civic education, among others, will attract more learners to enroll in the Programme, Also the linkage of ABEP with income generating projects will increase the sustainability of ABEP. The building and equipping of six resource centres throughout the country will help learners enroll in the Programme to acquire a qualification that is equivalent to seven years of formal schooling.

The need for sharing limited resources has led to the development of regulations and procedures to facilitate the smooth running of the shared use of resources in government. For example, formal schools have shared their classrooms with ABEP. These efforts have somewhat been complimented by the strengthening and better coordination of vocational education and training. However, the increase in investment on adult education is dependent on effective information management systems to trace the spending, in particular with regard to participation and learning outcomes of ABEP.

Lessons Learned



Thebenala T Thebenala (Director, Department of Out of School Education and Training)
Bontle Molefe (Deputy Director, Department of Out of School Education and Training)
Address: Private Bag 0043, Gaborone
Telephone: +267 3652000 +267 3656300
Fax: +267 3913199
Emails: Director (tthebenala (at) ) or Deputy Director (bmolefe (at)
Web site:

Last update: 4 October 2011