What is Non-Formal Education?

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. Non-formal education is about ‘acknowledging the importance of education, learning and training which takes place outside recognized educational institutions’.

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.

The idea of non-formal education

Since the year 2000 more and more educators came to the conclusion, 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.

Some definitions:

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 education: the truly lifelong process whereby every individual acquires attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educative influences and resources in his or her environment – from family and neighbours, from work and play, from the market place, the library and the mass media.

Non-formal education: any organised educational activity outside the established formal system – whether operating separately or as an important feature of some broader activity – that is intended to serve identifiable learning clienteles and learning objectives.

Formal education is linked with schools and training institutions; non-formal with community groups and other organizations; and informal covers what is left, e.g. interactions with friends, family and work colleagues. The problem with this is that people often organize educational events as part of their everyday experience and so the lines blur rapidly. These definitions do not imply hard and fast categories. In particular, there may well be some overlap (and confusion) between the informal and the non-formal.