Cover Image
close this bookAPPEAL - Training Materials for Continuing Education Personnel (ATLP-CE) - Volume 3: Equivalency Programmes (APEID - UNESCO, 1993, 69 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentChapter 1: Definition, Roles and Characteristics of Equivalency Programmes
View the documentChapter 2: Structural Models for Secondary Education Equivalency
View the documentChapter 3: Organizational Infrastructure
View the documentChapter 4: Clientele, Delivery Systems, and Learning Resources
View the documentChapter 5: Curriculum Framework and Materials Design
View the documentChapter 6: Evaluation, Accreditation, and Certification
View the documentChapter 7: A Training Curriculum for Equivalency Programmes Personnel
View the documentChapter 8: Equivalency Programmes and their specific Relationships with Continuing Education
View the documentAnnex: List of Participants
View the documentBack cover

Chapter 8: Equivalency Programmes and their specific Relationships with Continuing Education


Equivalency programmes in secondary education are alternatives to something else. In the main this “something else” is the formal system of secondary schooling. If, however, the formal system could cater for all the secondary education needs of a community, then equivalency programmes would not be necessary. The fact that they exist at all suggests that there are deficiencies in formal education at the secondary level.

Ideally equivalency programmes should gradually phase-out. The main argument for them is that the formal system is unable or unwilling to be more open and flexible in its response to the educational needs of the community. Sponsors of equivalency programmes argue that they provide the following things that formal schooling fails to provide

a) Provision of secondary education at a mature age for people who failed to proceed directly from primary education.

b) Catch-up programmes for secondary school drop-outs.

c) Accelerated progression.

d) Self-paced and self-directed learning.

e) Curriculum directed more to the immediate needs of the learners.

f) Easy access.

g) Cheaper delivery system.

h) Adult-oriented methodology.

i) Flexible and transferable certification

These arguments on first reading appear to be very convincing, but in fact there are counter arguments.


The main argument against equivalency programmes is that vast amounts of money have been spent on developing formal secondary school systems and that the formal secondary education system should accept full and total responsibility for all aspects of secondary education required by the community. In order for this argument to prevail, however, formal secondary schools would need to be upgraded and be much more flexible and responsive. And in many countries of the world that is in fact happening. For example the following trends in formal secondary schooling are evident in developed countries of the Region and elsewhere.

a) Age is no longer a barrier. Mature age personnel can attend special classes, sometimes held in the evenings.

b) Drop-outs are encouraged to return to school and are catered for with special programmes.

c) It is possible for more able students and more mature students to proceed more rapidly and to actually skip grades.

d) The school curriculum is becoming more socially relevant and vocationally relevant. This is particularly the case in school years 10, 11 and 12.

e) Almost all secondary schools have open access only requiring a minimum age of about 12 years (less in some instances) with no entrance examinations.

f) Individualized self-paced systems of learning are now quite common. In fact, in some schools fully individualised learning is promoted based on personal diagnosis and individualised educational prescription.

g) Methodologies of teaching are becoming more varied and are designed to meet individual learning styles.

h) There is less emphasis on the role of examinations. In fact tests and examinations are seen more as learning tools and gateways rather than as barriers.

i) Many forms of delivery system are now available: Correspondence Education, Schools of the Air, Schools without Walls, Factory Schools, and so on.

The main argument against equivalency programmes, therefore, is that the effort spent on establishing a separate alternative system should be used instead on reforming and upgrading formal secondary schooling in the ways outlined above.

An even stronger argument is that if separate alternative systems are established this is counter - productive, because the very existence of such an alternative gives the formal education system an excuse to retreat from its broader responsibilities and not to proceed with the types of reforms outlined above. A parallel equivalency system therefore almost ensures that formal secondary schools will remain conservative and relatively unresponsive.

The economic argument in favour of equivalency programmes can also be countered. It may be true that at present EPs are more cost effective than secondary education provided by the formal system. But formal education takes more than 95 per cent of most educational budgets. It behooves those responsible for formal schooling to make that vast expenditure «pay off». The obvious way is to ensure that formal secondary education does in fact meet all the secondary educational needs of the community so avoiding the necessity of setting-up a redundant parallel alternative with its own costly infrastructure.


Over the past twenty years there has been a rapid growth in what has come to be termed Departments of Non-Formal Education. These are usually established within government Ministries of Education but are administered separately from the mainstream «formal» system. An analysis of programmes offered by Departments of Non-Formal Education (NFE) shows that in most Member States, but not all, NFE Departments are almost totally absorbed with establishing and administering systems which run as «alternatives» or which are equivalent to formal education. While it is true that the term «non-formal» does refer to less formal teaching and learning methods characteristic of most non-formal systems, the main reason the term has been used is to contrast the functions of the Non-Formal Departments with the functions of the formal system. A dichotomy «formal» and «non-formal» has been established.

On the whole this has been a necessary and appropriate development since it is needed al present as an interim measure to allow formal schooling to expand, improve and grow in scope and direction to meet all the needs of primary and secondary education.

What is perhaps a negative aspect of this development, however, is that it tends to focus attention on equivalent «alternatives» rather than 011 the broader needs of continuing education as a whole. If such departments were designated as «Departments of Continuing Education» then it is more likely that the narrow focus on equivalency alone would be broadened to encompass more fundamental and ever present continuing education needs, such as post-literacy. Income-generating programmes, quality of life improvement programmes, individual interest promotion programmes and future-oriented programmes (see ATLP-CE. Volume I).

Taking a somewhat extreme view it could be argued that educational systems which have strong Departments of Non-Formal Education which concentrate mainly 011 equivalent alternatives have especially weak formal systems which are incapable of meeting overall needs at their levels of responsibility. What is surely needed is close partnership between equivalency programmes offered by Departments of Non-Formal Education and the Formal Education System with the aim of (i) meeting present needs through both alternatives and (ii) expanding and improving the roles of the formal school system so that it eventually achieves all aspects of its responsibility. When the latter occurs secondary education equivalency programmes can be phased out and the raison d’e of Departments of Non-Formal Education as they are presently focused will disappear. At that stage more appropriately focused Departments of Continuing Education should then emerge. The unfortunate dichotomy between a “formal” system and a “non-formal” system will vanish and all educational instrumentalities, government and nongovernment, will work together in harmony to achieve a common purpose.


All levels of education, and secondary education is pivotal in this, are concerned with both personal and national development (see ATLP-CE Volume I Chapter I). Education leads to equity and liberation from the circle of poverty. It provides knowledge, skills and values which enable people to add economic value to their labour beyond that necessary for mere subsistence. With this «extra» output an individual’s and a community’s prosperity can grow and overall national economic growth occurs leading to an overall improvement of the quality of life. Only then can overall national development be rational and sustainable.

At present, equivalency programmes at the secondary level are important in this push towards sustainable development. This is because many Member States are still struggling to attain universal secondary education and some are even not yet able to attain universal primary education. While secondary education remains selective and examination driven it cannot grow in scope, purpose and direction to meet all secondary education needs. Equivalency programmes are an important stop-gap to increase access to education and to accelerate sustainable development. But like programmes in basic literacy they face in-built self-destruction. The more they succeed the less they are needed. What should emerge is a unified holistic system of secondary education catering for all needs.


This volume deals with equivalency programmes only at the level of secondary education. Primary equivalency has been omitted because of the definition of continuing education as being post-primary, and equivalency programmes are one type of continuing education. Post-secondary equivalency has not been considered for two reasons. The first is that most Member States are centrally concerned with the expansion and reform of secondary education. The second is that the formal higher education sector has been much more responsive than the formal secondary system in providing variety and flexibility to meet community needs. On the whole equivalent alternatives are not needed in higher education to the extent that they are much more needed at the level of secondary education.

The greater flexibility of post-secondary education is seen in movements such as open universities; polytechnic and university education in the distance mode; mature age admission without examination; crediting of life and work experience; universities of the air; industry-based training integrated into college, polytechnic and university programmes and so on. It is the mainstream educational institutions themselves which have initiated these more flexible approaches obviating the need to establish alternative equivalency systems. The same should and will eventually occur at the level of secondary education, but only if the so-called formal and non-formal systems see themselves as partners with a common purpose.