In developing an optimal strategy towards helping underprivileged youth pursue meaningful and practical learning, we have identified non-formal education as the most effective method for building educational capital.
A General Definition of Non-Formal Education
In practice, non-formal education is defined as “any intentional and systematic educational enterprise (usually outside of traditional schooling) in which content is adapted to the unique needs of the students (or unique situations) in order to maximize learning” (Etling 1993: 73; Kleis 1974: 8). Non-formal education (NFE) is locally relevant, and is shaped and responds to local needs and resources. NFE can include but is not limited to teaching life skills, agriculture, entrepreneurship, health and physical education, environmental studies, and gender issues (Mualuko 2008: 59).
A Shifting Perspective on Education in Africa
In recent decades, educators, professionals and scholars alike have raised serious criticisms of public education systems with an overemphasis on academic-only, formal education as the sole means to long-term individual and social development. While formal education is no doubt a vital and beneficial tool, it is too often used as the only educational track for development. According to John R. Minnis, a specialist in NFE and development, education policy in Africa is increasingly…
…predicated on human capital assumptions and therefore promotes the expansion of formal education as a way to promote economic growth. As a result, formal education is valued primarily as a private consumer good, a form of cultural capital that allows some to get ahead and stay ahead, rather than as a public good that also benefits the overall society (Minnis 2006: 119).
This narrowness of educational scope is increasingly hurting economic development by failing to provide practical and relevant solutions to real needs, and is instead only a signaling mechanism for social advancement. More importantly, it fails to address important social purposes of education: to provide meaningful, practical knowledge, to promote ethics and values and, just as importantly, to enrich lives.
Increasingly, non-formal education is being proposed as a means of generating “higher social rates of return” and affecting meaningful development in Africa (Minnis 2006). Albert K. Amedzro, a professor at the University of Ghana and a development strategist for both the World Bank and the UN, sees non-formal education and functional literacy programs as key components of “bottom-up, human-centred development in Africa.” Almedzro “allies the process of non-formal education to developing countries’ efforts to come to terms with current trends in globalisation, which have precipitated unemployment and urbanisation with devastating consequences for rural development and educational progress.” “Through close examinations of the trajectory of globalisation and its impact on poor countries, unemployment, [and] the linkages between non-formal education and development,” he draws on substantial research and the real successes of non-formal education programs in Brazil, Ghana and Tanzania to argue that non-formal education initiatives “offer the best prospects of meaningful development in poor countries” (Amedzro 2005).
Non-Formal Education in Action
Many international organizations have employed non-formal education to promote development. UNESCO, for example, has stated that “[o]ne of the main objectives for UNESCO with regards to education is to empower the poor and reach the un-reached through education. That means expanding non-formal education” (UNESCO Bureau of Public Information). Among their other initiatives, UNESCO (along with the World Bank) has used non-formal education as a primary means to building literacy, and has created comprehensive guidelines and training materials for on-site non-formal literacy education, which focus on providing locally relevant, rather than purely academic, training (UNESCO 2006). Mkombozi, a Tanzanian NGO working with vulnerable children and families, promotes NFE and encourages children to learn about “art, music, and the environment to build self-esteem and confidence, to inculcate a value and desire for self-development, and to aspire to something better in life” (Mkombozi 2007: 5). Smaller initiatives have had great success as well. In India, programs like PROPEL (Promotion of Primary and Elementary Education) uses non-formal education strategies that employ local resources and leadership to provide underprivileged youth with opportunities for personal and intellectual growth, and currently serves a population of thousands of children (Guttman and Kosenen 1994).
Our Research in Mauritius and the Need for Non-Formal Education
As detailed in our reports, we have visited numerous centers and orphanages throughout the country, and have spoken with the government, NGOs, and Social Welfare Centers to determine how we can make the greatest impact. The usefulness of non-formal education to address the needs of school-aged children is immediately apparent from our needs assessment–particularly when the children are underprivileged or marginalized by the public education system. When dealing with children who are struggling with formal education, as well as for academically well-adjusted kids, non-formal education affords a means of acquiring practical life skills, but also provides them with enriching experiences to build self-confidence, and a greater sense of enjoyment and fulfillment from learning. For example, projects focusing on growing niche crops can build agricultural and entrepreneurial knowledge, while just as importantly give children a sense that they are learning in a fun, creative way. Artistic projects can prepare talented kids for applying to institutes of design, while also providing them with an outlet for their interests.
In the true spirit of non-formal education, we believe that community involvement must also be integral. Involving the community allows us to clearly identify local educational needs, and to find optimal home-grown initiatives to address those needs. By working together with the local community, we can use their knowledge and skills to create relevant projects. Ultimately, the strength of non-formal education comes from the self-reinforcing nature of community involvement and the sharing of local knowledge.
Experiential Learning and Our Projects
Our non-formal educational projects are experiential, interactive, and interdisciplinary. Our projects:
1. Respond to local needs and interests
2. Instill knowledge, skills, and values through direct experience
3. Incorporate the skills and expertise of local community members
4. Engage the learners and the educators in a creative, mutually enriching educational process
Non-formal education allows Fellows to make the most of their individual talents and interests while engaging underprivileged youth and local community members in meaningful educational experiences.
A Chance to Help Children in Need
We target kids who have been left behind by the public education system, or who lack opportunities to engage in activities outside the classroom. Some of them are struggling or have failed out of the formal academic track; others, such as orphans, do not have family and community support structures for pursuing enriching activities. Fellows work to help and support these children who need caring, dedicated educators and role models.
A Progressive Approach
Formal educational systems alone cannot respond to the challenges facing Africa today. Educators, NGOs and researchers now point to the importance of reinforcing formal education systems in Africa with non-formal educational practices. Fellows have a unique opportunity to be a part of a progressive educational organization that recognizes the value of non-formal education and experiential learning for nurturing meaningful and sustainable educational development in Africa.
A Mutually Enriching Educational Experience
Our approach allows both kids and Fellows to move beyond the traditional role of students and teachers to become participants in an active learning experience. Rather than simply imparting knowledge through “rote teaching” methods, Fellows use their skills and creativity to involve youth in projects that are interesting, engaging, and useful. In effect, Fellows not only teach but are also taught by their experiences as educators, active learners, and facilitators.
An Opportunity for Cultural Exchange
Many of the children that Fellows will be working with have little knowledge of English. Rather than being a hindrance, however, the language barrier is a unique opportunity for Fellows to use their creativity to move beyond traditional ways of teaching. Fellows will also be paired with local resource persons, who will help the Fellows to run their projects and circumvent minor language issues. During the course of project, Fellows will indirectly teach English-language skills to the children. At the same time, they will be exposed to the local language, thus generating ample opportunities for cross-cultural and language exchange.