Non-formal Education For Active Citizenship: Mukti Rijal

Discussions are doing the rounds these days about how non-formal education complements the formal education system to promote education and enhance good citizenship. At an event organised in the capital the other day, representatives of both the Ministry of Education and the civil society discussed the current strategies and practices of non-formal education with reference to their contribution to enhancing civic awareness and participation in the social and political affairs of the country. It was concluded that the current practices and resources were not adequate to make non-formal education effective and result-oriented. 

New national strategy

The workshop suggested that a new effective national strategy needed to be devised to make non-formal education a part of life-long learning so as to enhance civic values and orientation. Needless to say, education is an effective tool and medium for the promotion of active citizenship and democratisation of society and the state. As formal educational
systems cannot singularly respond to rapid and constant technological, social and economic changes and challenges in society, they should be complemented and effectively reinforced by non-formal educational practices.  Today non-formal education practices have been adopted and promoted as an integral part of a life-long learning concept in many countries, both developed and developing. These practices are meant to acquire and maintain the skills, abilities and dispositions that are needed to adapt to a continuously changing social and political context and environment. These skills are generally defined and promoted as civic skills. And these skills can be acquired at the initiative of each individual through different learning activities taking place outside the formal educational system.
Non-formal education is indeed an activity which is not structured like the formal system. The formal system is chronologically graded, running from the primary to the tertiary level. It takes place outside the formal education system. It also includes most parts of informal education, namely the learning that goes on in daily life. This can be received from daily experiences, such as from the family, friends, peer groups, the media and other influences in a person’s environment.
According to the OECD definition, a formal system refers to all those aspects of education within the sphere of responsibilities and influence of the Ministry of Education together with private schools, universities and other institutions that prepare students for officially recognised qualifications. But the non-formal sector comprises learning activities taking place outside this formal system, such as those carried out within companies, by professional associations or independently self-motivated adult learners.  A Council of Europe working group on normal education has elaborated on its own definition of non-formal education. It has defined non-formal education as a programme of personal and social education designed to improve a range of skills and competencies
outside but supplementary to the formal educational curriculum.  In Nepal, non-formal education has been popular, and various target groups in society are served by this mode of education. The government has created within the Ministry of Education an elaborate organisational mechanism to implement non-formal education, especially targeting illiterate people living in different parts of the country. The government has also adopted a non-formal education policy which clarifies the broad concepts of non-formal education, apart from setting forth policies and strategies for the promotion and development of non-formal education in the country.  The policies commit, among others, to provide academic and practical knowledge, skills and information to learners of different ages and levels, to impart education to those people deprived of an educational opportunity or those who have dropped out of school, to increase access to education, to develop Community Learning Centres (CLCs) as a centre of educational activities to ensure equitable access to quality non-formal education for all, and to make local government institutions like the VDCs and municipalities responsible for managing non-formal education.  According to the non-formal education policy, four modalities have been identified for implementing the non-formal education policy that includes local body modality, NGO modality, community learning centre modality and educational institution modality.
Nepal has committed itself to eradicating illiteracy by 2014/ 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals, and for this, a literacy mission has been launched. Needless to say, the Interim Constitution of Nepal has guaranteed the right to education as a fundamental right (Article 9). Moreover, the directive principle clause of the Interim Constitution requires the state to undertake measures to empower citizens through different modes of education.
Likewise, the education rules and regulations are also committed to implementing a massive campaign to extend opportunities for education to all segments of the society.
The seven-decade-long journey of Nepalese literacy and adult education practices has also witnessed many shifts and changes. Initially, it was conceived for the purpose of
cognitive development. However, gradually it began to emerge as a means for other purposes as well. Literacy for community development, functional skills, critical thinking, individual or social empowerment, social and cultural development, basic education are some of its purposes.  

Redefining non-formal education

However, at the definitional, operational and participants level, it is perceived as simply a possession of a minimum level of proficiency in reading, writing and computation for practicing that particular skill as an end in itself. Sometimes, it also tends to acquire negative connotations referring to the propensity on the part of those persons who possess just rudimentary knowledge of the alphabets of any kind and can somehow sign their names to declare themselves as literate.  However, as we are a democratic society, it is time we redefined and re-conceptualised the role of non-formal education in tandem with its contribution to the development of civic and democratic values for the democratisation of both the state and society.

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