Fact Sheet

Adult Illiteracy in South Africa – March 2023

The purpose of this Fact Sheet is to show the extent to which there is potential demand for programmes that address the challenge of adult illiteracy in South Africa.


The analysis in this Fact Sheet shows that even with the significant reduction in the adult illiteracy rates in South Africa, nearly 4 million adults were still illiterate in 2021. There is therefore a need for CET colleges to be fully resourced to increase opportunities for Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET), particularly with regards to digital literacy and digital platforms, to take care of the challenge of the shortage of education facilities. The CET college sector needs to set a target for reducing illiteracy rates, and ensure the provisioning of quality ABET programmes that address illiteracy.

This Fact Sheet responds to the following questions:

  • What is the adult illiteracy rate in South Africa, and what are its patterns of distribution?
  • What are the implications of the findings on adult illiteracy for the PSET system?