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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 1: Definition, Roles and Characteristics of Equivalency Programmes


In education, an Equivalency Programme is defined as an alternative educational programme equivalent to existing formal general or vocational education.

Countries in the Region have come to recognize the critical role of education in individual and societal development and ultimately, national development, hence, the constitutional mandate on education. The world-wide economic decline; widening disparities in the distribution of wealth among and within nations; the dire consequences of war, civic strife, crime, environmental degradation, and rapid population growth among others, pose problems for all nations, which unless addressed effectively will constrain development. These global crises have ushered in new challenges to, as well as opportunities for revitalising the education sector for the purpose of building productive human resources.

Most developing countries have yet to achieve universal primary education. Their functional literacy rates are still low. The formal education system does not have adequate resources to satisfactorily meet the needs of its target clientele much less of the out-of-school population. A majority of the population still do not enjoy even the most basic form of education, hence the low level of work productivity.

The urgency of providing education for all as a strategy for accelerating individual and societal development has urged countries to rethink their educational policies and strategies. The aim is to make these policies sensitive and responsive to the complex needs and rapidly changing economic social and political patterns of the nation and the world.

In one country, (Philippines) this has been articulated succinctly by its President when she stated «...we have to rethink our ways of providing education amid scarce resources and go beyond the narrow confines of the classroom. We have to plan how the vision of lifelong learning rather than mere schooling can be the centerpiece around which our educational system can be reformed.»

In some countries, the concept of education outside the formal system is still unacceptable. To most parents, teachers, and students what matters most in one’s social participation is the possession of formal education credentials or certificates/diplomas. This social bias for formal education vis-is non-formal can be re-directed through equivalency programmes in continuing education. A system of accreditation and equivalency can be established and/or expanded with the end in view of maximizing the individual’s socio-economic benefits derived from informal sources of knowledge like the home, workplace, media and life itself; de-stigmatizing and according a measure of respectability to out-of-school education; reducing private demand for school-based learning; and promoting the flexibility of student entry to and from formal and non-formal channels of education. There are two ways of achieving this. One is to totally reform and revitalize formal education and the other is to establish a parallel alternative programmes equivalent to the formal system. The fact of the matter is that some Member States have still to attain Universal Primary Education. Among those who have attained that goal, many have not yet attained universal secondary education. In even the most advanced educational systems retention rates beyond the compulsory school years could be improved. While this situation prevails, massive changes within formal education to cater for the educational needs of all the community, no matter of what age or background, are unlikely and equivalency programmes will be required. Nevertheless a long term goal should be the reform of secondary schooling (see Chapter 8).

This present chapter discusses the definition and role of equivalency as given at the outset and reviews the implications of equivalency programmes.


As stated at the beginning of this chapter, an Equivalency Programme is defined as an alternative education equivalent to an existing formal general or vocational education programme.

Theoretically all levels and subsectors of education can include both formal and nonformal equivalency programmes. In many Member States which have not as yet attained Universal Primary Education, equivalency programmes exist at the primary level. Equivalency programmes also exist at advanced levels such as university or college, and Open Education Programmes leading to awards by equivalent formal university and college institutions are spreading rapidly.

The presentation in this volume, however, is limited to secondary level equivalency programmes because many countries of the Asia-Pacific region are still aiming at universalization of primary education. There already exist secondary equivalency programmes in some Member States, and others may benefit from their experiences.

Secondary Equivalency Programmes become necessary to meet the needs of learners who, for one reason or another, are not able to begin or continue their formal secondary education. Under these programmes learning may take place in the home, school, and community with various mechanisms and delivery systems. These may be, therefore, both in-school and out-of-school components.

It is to be noted that both in-school and out-of-school education programmes aim at the development of the whole person. However, in-school programmes most often prepare the learners for further study before entering the world of work while out-of-school programmes immediately prepare learners for the world of work while not closing the door for further study. In some countries, learners find it more convenient to enrol in out-of-school education programmes to prepare for further study because of the flexibility of these programmes. This enables the learners to study at their own pace.

In most Member States Equivalency Programmes are administered by Departments of Non-Formal Education and they use less formal methods than in the formal school system. This, of course, is not the only possibility. A reformed «formal» system could also offer equivalency programmes.


Differences between the non-formal approach adopted by most Equivalency Programmes and the more traditional practice in formal secondary or vocational schools are summarized in the following table, (table 1.1).

Table 1.1: Differences Between Equivalency Programmes offered by Non-Formal Departments of Education and Programmes offered by a Formal Educational System.


Formal Programmes

Non-Formal Equivalency Programmes

1. Curriculum Content

a. Most of the content prepares for further study but does not necessarily prepare for the world of work.

a. As much as 75% of the content may be equivalent to the formal programme but 25% may be replaced by work experience.

b. Stresses preparation for further study only.

b. Allows for both possibility of further study and for entering the world of work.

c. Courses and content follow a standard school curriculum.

c. Courses and content might be quite different but be legally considered to be equivalent to the formal programme.

2. Admission

Usually by passing entry examinations or their equivalent.

Usually “open admission” based on life experience.

3. Age of Admission

Usually those of “normal” secondary school age.

Any age provided diagnosed as capable of completing the course.

4. Delivery System

Mainly classroom presentations, although this is becoming more flexible as alternative approaches are explored.

All possible delivery systems are used e.g. contact sessions, learning groups, distance learning self-learning and individualized instruction.

5. Duration of learning

a. Usually a fixed lime schedule.

a. Time flexible.

b. Lock step progression.

b. Students may study at their own pace.

6. Teaching Personnel

Teachers usually need teaching certificate from a formal teachers’ training institution.

Since the approach is largely self instructional, tutors may not need formal teaching certificates hut an equivalent qualification awarded through short-term non-formal training.

7. Learning Resources

Certificates and secondary diplomas which stress entry to further study only.

Equivalent Certificates and Secondary Diplomas which stress entry to the world of work before going for further study.

These distinctions are of course becoming blurred as the formal secondary system itself becomes more open and experimental. In Member States such as Australia and New Zealand which have de-emphasised the role of formal examinations, the formal system is becoming more non-formal in its approach with a greater emphasis on «open» education and on self-paced learning. This trend is also evident in other Member States in the Region. In fact if the «formal» system evolved more rapidly to develop a totally flexible and «open» approach to admission, programmes and certification, then equivalency programmes would not be needed.


Under ATLP-CE Continuing Education is defined as the opportunity for adults to engage in lifelong learning. It is the mechanism for achieving a learning society (see volume 10 of ATLP and Volume I of ATLP-CE). Equivalency programmes are one type of continuing education since they provide an opportunity for adults who have completed primary education or its equivalent to continue in structured education such as secondary school type programmes even if they have failed to gain admission to formal secondary education or if they have dropped out of secondary education.

Some forms of equivalency programmes prepare learners for the examinations of the formal secondary school system. Others provide independent awards which are recognized by the community as being equivalent to the awards of the formal system. Whichever the forms, however, the purpose is to provide an opportunity to continue to learns and perhaps to re-enter the formal system at a higher level. Age is not a barrier.

Equivalency programmes, therefore, are an important component of continuing education, especially in Member States which are still aiming to achieve universal secondary schooling and in which the formal system is under strain to accommodate school age learners and so cannot afford to cater for others.