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Non-Formal Education and the Post-2015 Development Agenda

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9 April 2014

Non-formal education is drawing renewed attention in development policy, notably given the high illiteracy rates among adults. Participants at last year’s European Development Days presented a variety of non-formal education projects, making the case that these are essential for development and need to be taken into account in the post-2015 agenda.


What is “Non-formal education”?

In 1996 the landmark report "Learning: the treasure within" defined the principles of lifelong learning, aimed to broaden the visions on education and learning to achieve more inclusive and relevant education systems. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) developed a strategy for lifelong learning for all, containing three different learning approaches*:

  1. “Formal learning is always organised and structured, and has learning objectives. From the learner’s standpoint, it is always intentional: i.e. the learner’s explicit objective is to gain knowledge, skills and/or competences.”
  2. “Informal learning is never organised, has no set objective in terms of learning outcomes and is never intentional from the learner’s standpoint. Often it is referred to as learning by experience or just as experience.”
  3. “Mid-way between the first two, non-formal learning is the concept on which there is the least consensus, which is not to say that there is consensus on the other two, simply that the wide variety of approaches in this case makes consensus even more difficult. Nevertheless, for the majority of authors, it seems clear that non-formal learning is rather organised and can have learning objectives.”


Lifelong Learning

Lifelong learning is a key tool for achieving social change and reducing poverty levels around the world. Lifelong learning strategies encompass all dimensions and all learning spaces, in order to systematically provide opportunities for all to acquire the necessary skills for the XXI Century world. Lifelong learning contains thus great potential, as it has the capacity to positively affect a society through different ways: stimulating economic activity, preventing conflicts or improving health. 


The Home-based Adult Education (HAE) Centre in Motimposo. Photo by Tsistsi Matope


Taking part in last year’s European Development Days (EDDs), Cecilia Victorino-Soriano spoke to us about a lifelong education project in Asia. She works for the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE), as the Programs and Operations Coordinator.

ASPBAE is a network of 200 organisations working on formal and non-formal adult education programs. They operate across the Asia-Pacific working in partnership with NGOs, community organisations, trade unions, indigenous people, women's organisations, government agencies, and many other civil society institutions.

Speaking at the EDDs, Cecilia Soriano explained that Asia is currently a booming region of new opportunities and economic growth. However, Ms Soriano also noted that Asia is home to 65% of the world’s adult illiterates, many of whom are women. In this context, ASPBAE is working to raise awareness on the importance of increasing equality among people. 

With members and coalitions in many countries across Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, one of ASPBAE’s goals is to make education accessible to adults allowing them to acquire skills, attitudes and knowledge that can help them to gain control of their destinies. Regional members take care of the fieldwork in partnership with local governments and organisations. Together they bring the voices of marginalised people to the agenda and then ASPBAE translates these expectations at the regional advocacy level.



In order to obtain funding, ASPBAE works closely with other organisations, “forg[ing] partnerships with organizations and institutions committed to promoting the right to basic and adult education and learning, gender justice, equity, and peace”. Their partners include DVV International and the Global Campaign for Education (GCE). ASPBAE is also a member of the International Council for Adult Education (ICAE) and works closely with UNICEF and UNESCO. On the advocacy side, ASPBAE also works with the Civil Society Education Fund. With them, they are able to assist 13 coalitions in different countries.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, state that education leads to full development of the human being, the promotion of active citizenship, the consolidation of democracy and peaceful resolutions of conflict and the overcoming of all forms of discrimination.

The session at the EDDs was organised to discuss the problem that non-formal education is often not taken into account in the development agenda. One of the challenges discussed was the global opinion that education should only be directed at children and youth; adult education is often seen as a way of repairing past “failures”. Participants felt that lifelong education needs to be understood as a tool that encourages adults by giving them the skills they need to run their own lives thus enhancing employment prospects and transforming society in a positive way.

Looking towards the Post-2015 agenda Ms Soriano hopes that adults, and especially women, will be more integrated in the next education process. “In Asia, the governments only devote 1% of their budget to adult education, and this is something we should push the governments to invest in”, explained Ms Soriano. 

Educating Young Domestic Workers

Dr. Pacificah Florence Okemwa is a lecturer at Kenyatta University. Following the EDDs high-level panel on Inclusive & Sustainable Education, she spoke to us about a project educating young domestic workers in Kenya. 

Part of IDAY International, the goal of this initiative is to make young domestic workers able to offer improved services. By providing them with literacy skills and foreign languages, not only are they empowered, but also they have increased employment opportunities as domestic workers: they are better able to communicate what they are interested in and to meet the needs of the employers, and they receive higher salaries.



The project has now been able to extend to four other African countries: Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda. In the future, Dr. Okemwa hopes for more legislations and decisions from governments to organise domestic work and improve the situation of workers. “For me, 2015 is about that other person who has not been able to access education, for various reasons. How can we also include this person in our dream for post-2015? Because if we miss out the vulnerable children and youth, then how can we ensure education for all?”, concludes Dr. Okemwa.

* Definitions taken from the OECD website

This collaborative piece was drafted by Maria-Laetitia Mattern with input from Marja Karjalainen and with support from the Coordination Team. Photos by Tsistsi Matope.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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