Non-formal education and basic education reform: a conceptual review

Non-formal education and basic education reform: a conceptual review

Supporting non-formal basic education without compromising effectiveness

There is growing recognition that non-formal education (NFE) can play an important role in providing basic education for disadvantaged children and young people. However, development agencies and governments face difficult questions about how to manage the relationship between NFE and the formal education system. This paper offers strategies to support and expand the provision of quality non-formal basic education without compromising its innovation and responsiveness to the needs of different groups.

The paper first provides an overview of the history of debates, ideological perspectives and practice in NFE, and outlines key areas of relationships between NFE and the education field as a whole. It draws on examples from Mali, Mexico, Tanzania, India, Namibia, Burkina Faso, Trinidad and Tobago, Somaliland, Brazil, South Africa and the Latin American Fey y Alegria (Faith and Joy) movement.

The paper then sets out an agenda for action for strategies to support NFE. It suggests that policy makers and development agencies should:

  • move beyond goals of educational participation per se to develop minimum conditions and criteria for good basic education, including the right to equivalent basic learning and developmental outcomes
  • assess the nature and range of special circumstances and needs of children and youth in vulnerable situations and explore how institutions would need to respond to these. Effective responses will typically require collaboration between educational institutions and communities or specialised organisations
  • undertake a systematic stock-take of the multiple forms of basic learning that exist in a country, and expand the knowledge base about NFE models and their effectiveness
  • reconstruct formal basic education for children and young people so that the system can incorporate a diversity of education and training forms. This is likely to involve the development of overarching outcome criteria and evaluations together with devolution to the local level
  • upgrade and expand segments of the system that are insufficiently responsive to the circumstances and needs of learners, and make the entire system more responsive to developmental needs, recognising socio-cultural identities and needs of different groups.

The author argues that to be effective, these efforts must be based on a widespread culture of democratic participation in educational development, and structured by the principles of human rights, equity and social justice.

The paper concludes by setting out areas for further research into non-formal education.