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.
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.
Contrasts between ‘formal’ and ‘non-formal’ programmes
Simkins (1976) analysed non-formal education programme in terms of purposes, timing, content delivery systems and control, and contrasted these with formal educational programmes. The resulting ideal-types provide a useful framework – and bring out the extent to which non-formal education initiatives, while emphasizing flexibility, localness and responsiveness remain located within a curricula form of education (in contrast with those forms driven by conversation).