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Non Formal Education


Non-Formal Education is an organised educational activity that is outside the formal education system which originated in 1960s and later rejuvenated in 1990s. It has different modes of education patterns that is customised and taught to the students according to their requirement. The importance of Non-Formal Education can be stressed by the fact that the teachers design appropriate learning environment to suit the students and the socio-cultural approach appreciates the social dimension of learning. Non-Formal Education enjoys International acceptance and many countries including India has implemented Non-Formal Education through various programmes to universalize education and educational requirements. Non-Formal Education has been given the patronage of the Government of India and has also obtained Constitutional Validity through the judgment of Supreme Court. Tamilnadu Council for Open and Distance Learning promotes Non-Formal Education through Elementary, Secondary and Vocational Courses. The advent of Non-Formal Education has educated large number of people which otherwise would have been impossible in the current scenario.   


Non-formal Education is any organized educational activity that takes place outside the formal educational system. Usually it is flexible, learner-centered, contextualized and uses a participatory approach.

Non-Formal Education is a

System: a collection of organizations and programs different from the formal education system
Process: with different teaching-learning relationships than those in formal education, a less hierarchical format
Concept, a subject worthy of study and writing about.
Practice, a professional activity undertaken by people separate from formal education professionals
Set of educational activities distinguished from formal education by having different goals or purposes or even separated from formal                     schooling by being socially purposeful, usually seen as a part of the radical social transformation movement.


The term “Non-Formal Education” appeared in 1968 when Philip Coombs included a chapter entitled Non-Formal Education: to catch up, keep up and get ahead in his seminal book The World Educational Crisis: a systems approach. Since then discussions and debates around the term and Non-Formal Education activities started and continued through the 1970s and early 1980s and ended in 1986 to be revived again in the 90s. Though this time on a world-wide scale, in both ‘Western’ and ‘developing’ societies. Throughout the world, the Non-Formal Education practice was increasing and widening in scope, often with donor support. It was mainly influenced with Lifelong Learning discourse which reintegrated the whole field of education. It often uses non-formal learning not non-formal education, though the area of discussion is exactly the same.

To understand the different definitions, we need to understand the historical context at which the term Non-Formal Education appeared

(i)Anger from formal education failures to adapt to the rapidly changing socio-economic conditions and calls for reform in western societies. Reform was seen either by changing it or totally abolishing schools

(ii) Disappointment in development work taking place in developing societies; believing that these efforts are increasing the gap instead of decreasing it especially with its urban and formal economic sector bias

(iii) Developing societies’ desire to have an education of their own not influenced by the West

(iv) Other forms of education started to appear like Malcolm Knowles theory of Andragogy, Carls Rogers’ Student-centered learning and David Kolb experiential learning

(v) Socialist countries campaigns to achieve specific goals at a nation-wide scale.

The discussion and debate continued till 1986 then started to decline rapidly. During that period four approaches toward NFE appeared in the literature as highlighted by Rogers (2005)


Distance Education
Correspondence Education
Continuing Education
Dual Education
Rural Education


     Distance Education

Distance education or distance learning is a mode of delivering education and instruction, often on an individual basis, to students who are not physically present in a traditional setting such as a classroom. Distance learning provides “access to learning when the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance, or both

     Correspondence Education

Correspondence education is a method of providing education for non-resident students, primarily adults, who receive lessons and exercises through the mails or some other device and, upon completion, return them for analysis, criticism, and grading. It is extensively used by business and industry in training programs, by men and women in the armed forces, and by the governments of many nations as part of their educational program. It supplements other forms of education and makes independent study programs readily available.

     Continuing Education

General continuing education is similar to adult education, at least in being intended for adult learners, especially those beyond traditional undergraduate college or university age. However, it may also be normally considered to include basic instruction such as literacy, English language skills, or programs such as vocational training and as the term suggests, it is assumed that the student already has a college education and is simply continuing it.

     Dual Education

A dual education system combines apprenticeships in a company and vocational education at a vocational school in one course. As one part of the dual education course, students are trained in a company for three to five days a week. The company is responsible for ensuring that students get the standard quantity and quality of training set down in the training descriptions for each trade.


Andragogy consists of teaching strategies focused on adults. It is often interpreted as the process of engaging adult learners with the structure of learning experience. In the field of adult education during recent decades, a process of growth and differentiation emerged as a scholarly and scientific approach, andragogy. Andragogy refers to the academic discipline(s) within university programs that focus on the education of adults; andragogy exists today worldwide. The term refers to a new type of education which was not qualified by missions and visions, but by academic learning including: reflection, critique, and historical analyses.

     Rural Education

Rural Education helps in improving the level of health care available in the district (including education in HIV/AIDS), providing instruction and assistance in developing good environmental practices, assisting in the public education process by helping students to stay in school as long as possible, and encouraging those that can to become teachers in the district, and helping people to develop marketable skills and become productive members of their communities.


Non-Formal Education makes students internally motivated and self-directed.  It brings life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences. It is goal-oriented and relevancy oriented.

Constructivists view non-formal learners as active participants in the construction of their own knowledge. Knowledge is not a static entity that can be passed from one person to the others. Learners learn through their personal interactions. The teacher’s role is to design the appropriate learning environment and material that foster the construction of individual’s learning.

Socio-cultural approach (founded by Vygotsky) values the social dimension of learning and the influence on learning of wider social, cultural and historical contexts. Learning is the result of interactions between people, tools, language, signs and symbols in a particular setting or context. Learning occurs both individually and collectively (whether that’s in a small group, class, team, organisation or online community) so that the collective knowledge is greater than and different from the sum of the knowledge of the individuals.

Train and qualify practitioners online which will save costs and help practitioners reach remote usually isolated areas facilitate the process of networking among organizations. Conquer physical and spatial constraints, providing unprecedented educational opportunities to people of all socioeconomic levels around the globe.


            Non-Formal Education has been given international recognition with several countries offering specialized courses for the benefit of their people. Non-formal education programmes are a predominant feature of developing and transition countries. Some countries (The Philippines, Mexico and partly Maldives) offer the opportunity of reintegration into the formal system through participating successfully in non-formal education programmes. In Mexico those who belong to the educational backlog (people 15 years of age or older who have not begun or have not finished basic education) are able to obtain certificates relating to primary, or secondary formal education. Most of the other countries (Bhutan, Togo, Palestine and Rwanda) focus on offering literacy programmes, but they do not mention the possibility of (re-)entering the formal system.

Programmes for entry into formal apprenticeship and training are existent both in developed and in developing countries, and they are closely related to the acquisition of competencies within the framework of vocational and technical learning. In Benin, for example, the existing programmes on technical and vocational training focus on the assessment of competencies acquired within non-formal and/or informal education/training. Similarly, Iceland tries to simplify the process for individuals on the labour market to strengthen their position there, by gaining a qualification or certificate through additional education, based upon recognition of their previous work experience and/or non-formal education.

Within this set of programmes all learners can apply for the certification of informal learning, be it for further education or for improving opportunities in the employment sphere. Only in New Zealand, there exists such a programme conducted under a comprehensive national qualification framework, within which all learners can apply for the certification of informal learning. The assessors judge all evidence against unit standards, regardless of where evidence comes from. In addition, the NZQA requires all institutions and providers accredited to offer courses and qualifications, even outside the National Qualifications Framework, to make a commitment to the implementation of the recognition of prior learning. Recognition provided can be in the form of credit towards a formal qualification or the award of a full qualification. This approach has been particularly important for recognising Maori indigenous knowledge. Countries with highly differentiated educational systems, like Germany and Switzerland, provide programmes with a more open and global approach: Self-assessment, external evaluation of competencies and actual validation go hand in hand in Switzerland and Germany.

            In the context of Mexico’s community education programmes (CONAFE) the following skills are highlighted. The individual should be able to

(i)  Have knowledge of himself, own strengths, weaknesses and possibilities;

(ii) Have the motivation to learn and study

(iii) Live and work not alone with the aim of attaining power, wealth, recognition and credentials but more importantly finding a sense in learning.

(iv)  Learn to be free, critical and independent.

(v) Show a curiosity in social reality, and participation in a community of learning, where ideas, knowledge and beliefs, although different and even contradictory are shared.

(vi) Recognise that the environment and the geographical location has influence on the culture, trade, economy and the increase of cities and towns,

(vii) Communicate with confidence and efficiency in his mother tongue that can be Spanish or an indigenous language,

(viii) Enjoy and express emotions through reading and writing,

(ix) Construct a positive image of oneself by recognising one’s cultural identity, gender and be able to promote a living together based on respect and the acceptance of difference.

(x) The Philippines, too, recognises life experiences, community experiences, education experience, paid and unpaid work when documenting skills.

In Benin and Togo, recognition is linked to experiences gained in non-formal organisations, but not to experiences gained in an informal way.  In Togo, informal education is recognised, validated and accredited when gained through associations, clubs, and NGO’s, but not if gained in social or community service.

     Recognition of vocational and practical competencies

In some Member States, it is vocational skills that are given special recognition

Practical qualifications and acquired work experience are of primary importance in these countries. In Surinam, for example, a still unorganised but great number of private institutions offer courses in practical competencies (administration, accounting, secretarial work, computer skills, technical skills, nursing skills, teaching youngsters the Chinese language, to play some musical instruments, learn a handicraft, and basics of Sport). In France, a governmental organisation, DAVA (Dispositifs Académiques de Validation des Acquis), validates occupational experience by giving a diploma, certificate, a title or a document testifying work experience.

     Recognition of non-formal education in India

Non- Formal Education in the Indian context has developed a restricted meaning of an alternative delivery system of education for children who are not able to participate in the formal elementary school. Non-Formal Education has therefore, been limited to providing a second chance to those children who are out-of- school. Broadly speaking, such children are often described as drop-outs. However, a very large number of such children are, in fact, pull-outs from school because of economic and cultural compulsions. Many children may be called stay-outs because the reach of the primary school system in India is not universal. Besides pull-outs and stay-outs, a very large number of children are what may be termed as push-outs. These children do not find the primary school attractive or meaningful.

In order to fulfill the constitutional goal of providing free and compulsory education to all children upto the age of 14, we have to provide education which is both relevant and interesting. For a variety of reasons the formal school system has tended to leave out millions of rural and urban poor children who are not able to attend a full time day-school. Consequently, there is a need for developing a viable alternative system of education which would provide Basic Education for All children in the country. Non-Formal Education has evolved as one such alternative.

Non-Formal Education as an alternative to formal Elementary Education was experimented with as early as 1976 at which time nine educationally backward states in the country were persuaded to initiate experimental NFE centres. In 1988, following the introduction of the National Policy on Education (1986), a full- fledged scheme of Non-Formal Education supported by the Central Government was introduced primarily in ten educationally backward states, as well as all over the country in urban slums, remote areas, desert and hilly regions.

The scheme of Non-Formal Education envisaged wide spread participation by State Governments as well as Voluntary Agencies engaged in educational programmes, especially in rural and tribal areas.

Since 1986 there has been a growing National concern for achieving Basic Education for All in the shortest possible time. Several programmes of support to primary and elementary education in the country have been initiated in order to achieve this goal.

The experience gathered since 1976 and particularly since 1988 in the area of Non-Formal Education clearly demonstrates that Universal Elementary Education can only be achieved if Non-Formal Education is made available as a viable alternative to formal school education.

Despite Limited success, Non-Formal Education has become acceptable to a large section of the rural poor parents who are keen and willing to send their children to school but find the formal full- day school not suitable in their economic condition. The feasibility of Non-Formal Education has become enhanced in the last eight years. Participation in the Non- Formal Education programme by nearly 650 voluntary Agencies has added to its credibility and acceptability.

In 1988 when the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the NonFormal Education was formulated by the MHRD, a fullfledged Department of Non- Formal Education was established in the NCERT Prior to 1988, Non- Formal Education functioned as part of other departments. With the establishment of a Department, Non-Formal Education became recognised as an alternative to elementary education. From 1988-1995 the department was also given the responsibility of overseeing Education to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes since Non-Formal Education emphasized reaching these communities where large number of children were out-of-school. In 1995, the department was re-organised and renamed Department of Education in Non-Formal and Alternative Schooling. This reorganisation has vindicated the significance of Non-Formal Education as an essential alternative to Formal Elementary Education. The department is now poised to play a significant role in the achievement of Universal Elementary Education which has been a goal for the country.

Following the 1988 Central Scheme of Non-Formal Education the department was designated as a National Resource Centre for Non-Formal Education. The functions and roles of the department included the following:

– providing academic and technical support to State agencies as well as Voluntary Agencies implementing the scheme of Non- Formal Education;

– evolving training models and providing training for functionaries in Non-Formal Education at all levels;-

– developing materials and methodologies for the implementation of Non-Formal Education;

– conducting fundamental and action research in all aspects of Non-Formal Education;

– providing extension services to all agencies (State as well as Voluntary) concerned with Non-Formal Education;

– carrying out programme in pupil evaluation in Non-Formal Education; and

– creating and maintaining capacities at the State level for successful implementation of the scheme of Non-Formal Education.

The department has attempted to fulfil all its roles and functions enumerated above in the eight years of its existence. The department has carried out numerous activities and has attempted to create academic and technical capacities in the States and amongst the Voluntary Agencies implementing Non-Formal Education.


  1. Under Human Rights Protection Act ,1993 autonomous bodies have been given special protection & consideration.( For further details refer: AIR 1993 SC-2178.- UnniKrishnan, J.P. and Ors. Etc….Vs State of Andhra Pradesh and Ors)
  2. the Degree/Diplomas awarded by (i)Universities in India incorporated by an act of the central or state Legislature in India, (ii) Educational Institutions established by an act of Parliament and (iii) Institutions deemed as Universities under section (3) of the University Grant Commission’s Act(1956) stand automatically recognized by the Government of India for purpose of employment under the Central Government. No formal orders recognizing such Degrees/Diplomas are issued by the Central Government. A copy of the Ministry of Home Affair’s O.M.No.26/4/52-CS dated 30th September, 1952 as amended by their O.M.No6/7/63-Estt.


            Non-Formal Education has been implemented in Tamilnadu Council through various programmes. It starts with Elementary School Leaving Certificate and then it has bought to the fore Secondary Education and Vocational Courses. All these courses are implemented through Non-Formal Mode of Education. This has been done especially to facilitate school dropouts, students of deprived section, people in remote areas who do not have the basic amenities to fulfil the daily needs have been given the opportunity through Tamilnadu Council for Open and Distance Learning. The main idea is to help the people to become enlightened and knowledgeable through Non-Formal mode of Education. Tamilnadu Council has taken inspiration from Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan(SSA) to provide education to children as  well as adults as mandated by 86th amendment to the Constitution of India making free and compulsory Education to the Children of 6-14 years age group, a Fundamental Right.  Tamilnadu Council strives to provide quality education including knowledge in life skills. Also, Tamilnadu Council promotes girl’s education and children with special needs and offers Scholarship to eligible students to support the cause of Universalization of Education in India.


The advent of Non-Formal Education has given education to millions of people which otherwise would be next to impossible. The Non-Formal although formally recognized by Government of India, still has been looked upon suspiciously regarding the real motive behind this form of education and whether it can promote literacy in India, but the National Education Framework 2005 has supported Elementary Education through Non-Formal Methods/Workers. The future looks bright for Non-Formal Education as many countries including India have implemented Non-Formal Education through their own methodologies and this will have a major impact in the educational field in the days to come.