Working Group on Non Formal Education (WGNFE)


African countries face many new challenges that also offer new opportunities.

Democratization, globalization, decentralization of governance systems, HIV/AIDS, and other factors are reshaping learning needs and priorities.

To meet these demands, a wide variety of innovative educational programs are required, which cannot be provided by the formal education system. For this reason, individuals and communities are turning to alternative forms of provision, which may be grouped under the broad heading of non-formal education. 

Non-formal education does not merely fill a gap. It also enables countries to consider their educational needs in a more holistic manner as they progress toward the goal of education for all. Moreover, non-formal education is better placed to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups and offers the advantage of being grounded in the workplace and the grassroots level. It can thus help to revitalize education in Africa by forging closer links between education and the realities of everyday life.

Clearly, education will never be enjoyed by all without a wide variety of non-formal or 'non-school' forms of provision: 'second chance' schools for children having passed the legal enrollment age; community schools for children in areas lacking formal provision; literacy and 'post-literacy' programs for teenagers and adults; programs combining basic education with various forms of vocational training; and so on. 

What is the Working Group on Nonformal Education?

Working Group on Non-Formal Education (WGNFE) of the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA) is an organization of continental scope, formed in Dakar in 1996 with the participation and support of the following countries (ministries of education) and development agencies: Burkina Faso, Gambia, Ghana, Lesotho, Mauritania, Namibia, Senegal, Zanzibar, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (DDC), the Commonwealth Secretariat, UNESCO, and the Club du Sahel. It was created to study the nature and impact of many forms of education and training provided outside the formal school system, including programs for adults. Such initiatives are of increasing interest to African policymakers as they address the challenges of quality basic education for all.

The members of the working group represent education ministries, development agencies, NGOs, and institutions involved in non-formal education (NFE). The working group is governed by a steering committee and conducts its operational activities through a scientific and strategic committee. A core group of agencies has taken key responsibility for promoting the non-formal sector. Within this group, Switzerland's DDC acts as lead institution, the Association for the Promotion of Non-Formal Education (APENF) in Burkina Faso serves as host institution for the working group coordinator, and the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) provides technical and strategic support. At country level, the WGNFE cultivates partnerships with the organizations, institutions, development agencies, and other stakeholders involved in the non-formal sector.

What are WGNFE's vision and mission?

  • WGNFE's vision 
    In accordance with international and sub-regional pledges, the right to quality education for all and the prospect of lifelong learning, with a view of helping to foster the development of individuals and their communities, peace, democracy, social justice, gender equality, and citizenship, becomes a reality in Africa.
  • WGNFE's mission 
    The basic mission of the WGNFE is to promote, at national, regional, and international levels, an integrated view of diversified basic education as the basis for lifelong learning.

What are the working group's objectives?

WGNFE supports national NFE providers, African countries, civil society, communities, and development agencies in their efforts to achieve education for all by encouraging education of good quality through appropriate policies and regulations that take NFE into account as a valuable component of a holistic education system.

The overall objective of WGNFE is to serve as a platform for efforts to highlight the advantages of non-formal approaches, enhance their contribution to the proper working of society, strengthen partnerships between the government and NFE providers, and mobilize resources and support for alternative forms of basic education as a basis for lifelong learning.

More specifically, the WGNFE's goals may be grouped under six headings that are fully consistent with ADEA's strategic objectives:

  • Support to regional anoperationald international processes and initiatives in favor of incorporating an integrated, diversified vision of basic education in their policy, institutional, and financial frameworks.
  • Support to national processes and initiatives in favor of incorporating an integrated, diversified vision of basic education in countries' policy, institutional, and financial frameworks.
  • Professional support in the field of African languages (and any other emerging field that matches the expertise of WGNFE) for the implementation of the African Union's Decade of Education, at the request of education ministers and ADEA
  • Analytical work on four priority topic:
    • education systems that take innovative measures to introduce an integrated, diversified approach to basic education
    • relevant alternative approaches that link learners' quality of life to learning processes (with emphasis on education leading to occupational certification, including at the post-primary level, and linkages to local development)
    • mechanisms at the international and deacentralized levels to obtain sustainably increased appropriations for NFE;
    • policies and practices that promote the use of African languages in basic education.
  • Development and implementation of an effective strategy for communication and knowledge management, in liaison with the ADEA Secretariat.
  • Efficient coordination of the WGNFE's activities in order to achieve its strategic and annual goals as well as ADEA's more general objectives.

The WGNFE has a strategic plan of its own and has adopted a performance measurement framework that is in line with ADEA's strategic plan.

The working group's strategy 

A key element of WGNFE's strategy has been to foster the formation of Country Working Groups, which bring together stakeholders in NFE and other interested parties, serve as networks for exchange of information and experience, and act as advocacy bodies for NFE. 

WGNFE has adopted a two-pronged strategy with regard to the Country Working Groups: It responds to needs expressed through the national teams, and it also operates proactively by proposing new ideas to encourage national teams and education ministries to adopt more constructive programs and goals. In addition, the emergence of new networks and new stakeholders is obliging the WGNFE to develop a more dynamic strategy.

The working group's activities

The working group's activities are primarily aimed at encouraging and supporting research, policy, and practice concerning NFE.

In the area of research, activities include analyses and situation reports highlighting local NFE processes. Local bodies and/or Country Working Groups have conducted such studies. At another level, action research activities have been carried out with local communities in five West African countries on NFE and local management of resources. Current research activities include evaluations of community schools in Zambia and Burkina Faso and of nomadic education in Kenya and Nigeria. The group also plans to support research in emerging priority areas, such as the role of NFE in coping with HIV/AIDS and conflict situations in Africa. 
WGNFE promotes policy dialogue between ministries of education and NFE providers. It supports the organization of ADEA Biennales/Triennales and of seminars and workshops on policies and strategies favoring bilingual vocational training and stronger links between NFE and formal education. A regional workshop in Botswana dealt with 'Diversifying Education Delivery Systems: Reviving Discourse on the Formal/Non-Formal Interface.' A pan-African symposium held in 1999 in Johannesburg focused on 'The Dynamics of Non-Formal Education.'

WGNFE also encourages the exchange of information and knowledge through visits, meetings, and workshops bringing together government ministries, NFE specialists and practitioners, and other stakeholders. For example, a symposium was held in Mombasa, Kenya, to explore 'Alternative Approaches to Basic Education.'The WGNFE also supports training to improve teaching methods (e.g., multi-grade teaching techniques) and helps to disseminate successful practices in adult literacy programs, particularly in countries where the Country Working Groups have given this high priority (Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Morocco, and Senegal). It is also active in the area of vocational and technical training (the theme of a workshop in Namibia) and training of NFE practitioners.

UIL has produced a compilation of the WGNFE's research over the last ten years in the form of a CD-ROM, available from the WGNFE coordinating unit and from UIL.