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What is non-formal education?
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What is non-formal education? Within policy debates a common differentiation has been made between different forms of provision. Informal, non-formal, and formal programmes have been viewed as very different. Here we explore this categorization and some of the forms of work that exist under the non-formal label in southern countries. Contents: introduction • the idea of non-formal education • the use of the term • formal and non-formal programmes • top down – bottom up • pointers to evaluating non-formal education • conclusion • further reading and references • how to cite this piece Non-formal education became part of the international discourse on education policy in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It can be seen as related to the concepts of recurrent and lifelong learning. Tight (1996: 68) suggests that whereas the latter concepts have to do with the extension of education and learning throughout life, non-formal education is about ‘acknowledging the importance of education, learning and training which takes place outside recognized educational institutions’. Fordham (1993) suggests that in the 1970s, four characteristics came be associated with non-formal education: •
Relevance to the needs of disadvantaged groups.
Concern with specific categories of person.
A focus on clearly defined purposes.
Flexibility in organization and methods.
In many northern countries the notion of non-formal education is not common in internal policy debates – preferred alternatives being community education and community learning, informal education and social pedagogy. The idea of non-formal education
As Fordham (1993) relates, in 1967 at an international conference in Williamsburg USA, ideas were set out for what was to become a widely read analysis of the growing ‘world educational crisis’ (Coombs 1968). There was concern about unsuitable curricula; a realization that educational growth and economic growth were not necessarily in step, and that jobs did not emerge directly as a result of educational inputs. Many countries were finding it difficult (politically or economically) to pay for the expansion of formal education. The conclusion was that formal educational systems had adapted too slowly to the socio-economic changes around them and that they were held back not only by their own conservatism, but also by the inertia of societies themselves. If we also accept that educational policy making tends to follow rather than lead other social trends, then it followed that change would have to come not merely from within formal schooling, but from the wider society and from other sectors within it. It was from this point of departure that planners and economists in the World Bank began to make a distinction between informal, non-formal and formal education. (Fordham 1993: 2) At around the same time there were moves in UNESCO toward lifelong education and notions of ‘the learning society‘ which culminated in Learning to Be (‘The Faure Report’, UNESCO 1972). Lifelong learning was to be the ‘master concept’ that should shape educational systems (UNESCO 1972:182). What emerged was an influential tripartite categorization of learning systems. It’s best known statement comes from the work of Combs with Prosser and Ahmed (1973): Formal education: the hierarchically structured, chronologically graded ‘education system’, running from primary school through the university and including, in addition to general academic studies, a variety of specialised programmes and institutions for full-time technical and professional training. Informal...
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