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close this bookPopularization of Science and Technology - What Informal and Non-formal Education Can Do? (Faculty of Education,University of Hong Kong - UNESCO, 1989, 210 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentPreface
View the documentIntroduction - Cheng Kai Ming
View the documentOpen Speech - Yeung Kai-yin, Secretary for Education and Manpower, Hong Kong Government
View the documentKey-note Speech: Educational challenges in the age of science and technology - Philip H. Coombs
View the documentConference Report
Open this folder and view contentsPapers presented at the Conference:
Open this folder and view contentsCountry Papers
View the documentAppendix: List of participants

Key-note Speech: Educational challenges in the age of science and technology - Philip H. Coombs

When I was invited to give this keynote paper I accepted with almost indecent haste. This was not because I was eager to give a paper or to visit Hong Kong for the third year in a row; it was frankly because I was utterly intrigued by the idea of a reputable university faculty of education sponsoring - in daring defiance of tribal custom - an international seminar focusing primarily on “informal” and “nonformal” education.

I congratulate the University of Hong Kong on the extraordinary breadth of vision and versatility of its Faculty of Education. My hope is that this seminar will inspire some other education faculties to embrace and actively promote the broad (and more realistic) concept of education as a lifelong process that encompasses not only formal schooling but, equally important, informal and nonformal modes of education.

The important question our hosts have put to this seminar as I interpret it, is this: What can informal and nonformal education do to help disseminate timely knowledge about new developments in science and technology to the various economically active people who need and could benefit from such knowledge?

I personally have no doubt whatever that, with all due reverence for formal education, appropriate forms of nonformal and informal education would be not only the best but often the only practical way to serve these particular learning needs, especially because of the very diverse and dynamic nature of the knowledge involved as well as the widely scattered the diverse characteristics of the clienteles involved. This generalized statement, however, leaves the really tough questions still unanswered. For instance, what would be the most feasible and effective types of “knowledge delivery systems” to use for this particular purpose? How might they be effectively tied into the best sources of such knowledge? How might they best be organised, managed, financed? What special types of personnel, facilities and equipment would they require? Who would be the main clienteles for such services, what are their characteristics, what is their formal education background, how strong is their motivation to absorb and utilize such knowledge? These practical types of questions must be answered in each particular situation in light of the local circumstances. There are no “well established” formulas in nonformal education to fit all situations (as has been too often assumed with respect to formal education).

The remainder of this paper is divided into three parts. Part I views the specific problem of concern to this seminar in the broader context of the current world crisis in education. Part II attempts to insure that later on when we get talking about informal, formal, and nonformal education we are all talking about the same thing, and not at cross purposes. Part III urges that we focus our discussions and later recommendations on a limited number of crucial policy and operational questions in order to give the seminar at least a chance of having some impact on the world of real things.

I. The Big Picture

The world crisis in education is in essence a crisis of growing maladjustment, taking many forms, between greatly expanded education systems inherited from the past and the rapidly changing world all round them.1

Since the end of World War II the pace of change has been greatly accelerated in all the main dimensions of human societies - demographic, economic, social, cultural and political. In addition, an extraordinary number of major scientific discoveries and technological inventions have crowded into the past four decades and fueled far-reaching technological revolutions cutting across nearly all major fields of human activity - including agriculture, industry, transportation, health and medicine and, especially significant for this seminar, information and communication.

Formal education system, especially in industrialised nations, deserve much credit for having helped produce the creative scientists and engineers who made these scientific and technological breakthroughs possible. But paradoxically, formal education remains the one major productive enterprise - indeed the largest local industry today in most countries - that has not yet had a technological revolution. This fact has contributed greatly to the present worldwide educational crisis.

The rapid demographic, economic, political and other post-war changes in all countries have had enormous educational repercussions, both quantitative and qualitative. The sharp rise in popular demand for increased access to education at every level especially in the newly independent ones, prompted the adoption by virtually all countries of a strategy of rapid linear expansion of their inherited education system - this on the assumption that the old models were well adapted to meeting the new post-war educational needs and clienteles. This strategy of linear expansion succeeded dramatically in boosting the statistics of educational enrolments which for the world as a whole increased more in three decades than in all previous history combined.

The bright side of this mammoth educational expansion is that it gave many millions of children and youth a chance for some schooling that they would not have had a generation earlier. It also resulted in a more educated labor force in virtually every country.

The obverse side of the picture, however, is the heavy cost in loss of quality and relevance that was imposed by this great quantitative expansion. In retrospect one must conclude that between 1950 and 1980 all countries were busily engaged in expanding what in many respects was the wrong education system for the new set of circumstances. This was above all true for developing countries whose educational models had been borrowed from metropolitan nations and did not fit them well in the first place.

But this part of the picture should not be overdrawn. In many places efforts were made to update and strengthen particular parts of the curriculum, especially in the sciences and mathematics (which were notoriously weak in most developing countries). In addition, scattered experiments were mounted here and there to improve teaching methods and student achievements. But these efforts, though laudable, were generally fragmented and scattered, and often too short-lived to give the new approach a fair trial.

In brief, there was an abundance of “mini-innovations” but hardly any “maxi innovations” that altered the basic orientation, organisational structure, and logistics, and the inherent rigidities of these formal systems. One eminently successful and truly maxi-innovation that leaps to mind is the British Open University (which initially was staunchly opposed by the old line universities, but the quality and effectiveness of its performance eventually won their high respect). Significantly, the novel concept of an open university - though not the specific British model - has since spread spontaneously to numerous countries, both developing and industrialised, without any outside body promoting it. Other interesting versions of “distance education”, serving as variety of objectives and clienteles, from children and youth to adults, have cropped up in more places, some within the framework of a formal education system and others outside.

It is important to emphasize that the intensity of the educational crisis and its precise manifestations vary greatly from country to country and between different areas of the same country. Not surprisingly, but unfortunately, the most severe victims of the crisis have been (and still remain) the poorest and least developed countries. Even the richest and most developed ones, however, have been experiencing serious educational mal adjustments the world over.

Two important features of the world educational crisis bear especially on the subject of this seminar, that is, how best to disseminate knowledge of new scientific and technological developments to the many active producers and consumers who need and could benefit from such knowledge. The first feature is the typical sluggishness of the formal curriculum, which means that in any field of knowledge whose frontiers are advancing rapidly (most notably in the sciences and technology) the curriculum content, and the teachers as well, become increasingly out-o f-date. But, even in cases where formal educational institutions succeed in keeping up to-date with the latest advances in knowledge, more and more of the facts and theories their graduates learned in school become obsolete with the passage of time. Moreover, of course, the graduates must learn many specific skills and other requisite knowledge associated with their particular occupation that schools cannot possibly be expected to provide. Hence, both to supplement their school learning and to keep up-to-date with their particular profession or occupation - be it in heart surgery, solid state physics or space technology, or in rice or fish farming, radio and television repair, or plumbing electrical work - these formal education graduates, more than ever before in history, are obliged to continue their education, largely outside in structure of the formal system.

This, of course, is where the unschooled and illiterate youth or adult is at a severe disadvantage, lacking the ability for self-instruction from the printed word. But it is also where the film, radio, television, tape recordings and other potent educational media come into play as important tools of learning for both literates and non-literates.

The second noteworthy feature of the educational crisis that bears on the subject of this seminar is the overwhelming reliance that all national education policies and budgets have placed on formal education to the serious neglect of informal and nonformal education, especially for meeting the plethora of important learning needs of out-of-school youth and adults that lie beyond the reach and competence of formal education institutions.

This lopsided emphasis of national education policy rests on two hidden assumptions: first, that formal schools are the best and perhaps only place to learn anything really important, and second, that formal schooling can provide children and youth with all the education they will need for the rest of their life. One serious consequence of these obviously fallacious assumptions has been to compound the already strong tendency to overload the schools with additional tasks for which they were never designed and that should properly be the responsibility of other social and economic institutions. The net result has been to water down the time and energy of the schools available for those priority learning tasks they were originally designed to do and are still expected to do, but are capable of doing well only if given the proper time, means and priorities.

The basic policy issue facing all nations at this point in history is not whether to strengthen nonformal and informal education at the expense of formal education. It is how to strengthen all three modes of education and to harmonize them as essential members of a “national lifelong learning network” whose over-riding purpose should be to respond effectively to the constantly evolving learning needs of all members of any population - of all ages and all walks of life.

In reality every nation, even the poorest, already has at least the rudimentary beginnings of such a network of life-long learning provisions. The long term goal of policy everywhere should be to deep strengthen the various components of this network, to bring them into better balance, to identify and remedy important gaps.

Certainly one of the high priority needs of formal education systems throughout the world today is to strengthen their teaching programs - and at the higher level their research programs - in science, mathematics and technology. The aim should be not simply to prepare an adequate supply of able scientists and engineers to meet expanding national needs in a new age dominate by science and technology. T h e broader aim should be to produce a scientifically and technologically literate citizenry made up of people who understand the basic nature and methods of science, who have a scientific outlook on the world around them, who appreciate the distinction and connection between scientific discovery and technological invention, and the difference between the socially constructive and destructive potentialities of various technologies. Such a scientific education should be an integral part of every young person’s basic general education, combined with an appropriate exposure to the humanities and social sciences. The fundamental point is that in this rapidly changing world the overarching aim of formal schooling must be to prepare young people for a life of learning - with a capacity to think analytically and creatively, to solve unfamiliar problems, to communicate clearly by first thinking clearly and having something in mind worth communicating, to learn how to anticipate coming changes and how to adapt to them, to know how to dig out pertinent information as the need arises, and above all to develop an insatiable appetite for learning.

Those nostalgic critics who insist that the schools should “go back to the basics” (having in view a rose-colored vision of their own earlier schooling) are missing the point that even the best of yesterday’s schooling would not: suffice to stand today’s youngsters in good stead as adults in the 21st century. All individuals in the future, whatever their station in life, are going to need a broader and better education, more continuing education, than their predecessors required.

We know more today than ever before (though we still have much to learn) about how to improve the performance of our schools and higher institutions. We need to put that knowledge to work with greater vigor and sustained commitment. We need to have the courage to undertake the radical educational changes required.

We know much less, however, about the best ways to employ informal and nonformal modes of learning to serve the important and constantly evolving learning needs of out-of-school people. We know much less about this important matter because, as societies and as professional educators, we have devoted far too little research and thought to it.

Before proceeding further let us look a bit more closely at the characteristics of nonformal and informal education that differentiate them from formal education.

II. The Three Basic Modes of Learning

If I may be pardoned a personal reference, 1970 was the year when the newly created International Council for Educational Development (with which I have been associated ever since) embarked on what turned out to be several years of extensive field research on nonformal education, in some two dozen Asian, African, Latin American and Caribbean countries. This research, initially supported by the World Bank and UNICEF, had a very practical objective, namely, to discover the potentialities and limitations of nonformal education for supporting economic and social development.

Among the questions to which we sought answers were these: What specific objectives and population subgroups could nonformal education serve? How could it be planned, organized and managed? How could it be integrated with other development components in such fields as agriculture, health, small industry, and family planning? What were its costs and where might its resources come from? How did it relate to and differ from formal education and how could the two collaborate? The question was not whether nonformal education could replace formal education, but rather how it might complement formal education by undertaking tasks and functions beyond the reach and capabilities of formal education systems.

We did not start our ICED research with a tidy concept or definition of nonformal education; this we felt would have been premature. But we did start with the conviction that education is a lifelong process for every individual, spanning all the years from birth to death. Thus, in contrast to the common meaning of education that equates it solely with formal schooling, we adopted a much broader concept that equates education with learning, regardless of where or how or at what age the learning is achieved.

As we reflected further on the many different ways that people learn new things in the course of their lifetime, it became evident that these could be classified into three broad modes of education, which we dubbed informal, formal, and nonformal education.

Informal education we defined as learning from exposure to one’s environment and day-to-day experiences. It is the truly lifelong way of learning and accounts for the great bulk of the total learning anyone acquires in a lifetime, including people with many years of formal schooling. Unlike formal and nonformal education, which are both consciously organized for particular purposes, informal education is unorganised, unstructured, unsystematic, and often unintentional, incidental or accidental. It is the way a young child learns many important and difficult things, including its mother tongue, before ever entering school. It is how youth and adults who have completed their formal schooling, or who may never have entered a school, spend the rest of their life learning new things every day - on the job, in the home and neighborhood or the market place, Tom the mass media or the local library or museum, and in dozens of other ways.

It is important to recognize that any individual’s informal education depends very much on how rich or poor his or her surrounding environment is with “the stuff of learning”, and how accessible it is to the particular learner. For example, the individual with well developed reading skills has access to important sources of learning from which the illiterate person is cut off.

Although there is little systematic research on informal education, it seems evident that both public and private policies and practices can exert considerably greater influence on the possibilities for informal leaning than is commonly assumed. You may wish to consider this matter as one that merits special consideration in the discussions and recommendations of this seminar.

Formal educations refers, of course, to the highly organized, hierarchically and chronologically structured “education system”, ranging Tom kindergarten to the upper reaches of the university. In most countries school attendance is compulsory up to a specified age, and student attainment, often measured mainly by years of classroom exposure, is symbolised by a hierarchy of certificates, diplomas and degrees. In virtually all countries today the government is the largest provider of funds for the formal education system, though private sector funds are quite substantial in many cases, and becoming more so.

It should be noted that formal education systems are true “systems” in the strict sense; that is, they are made up of many interconnected parts and levels. What happens at any one level affects other levels, and if any important parts are missing or malfunctioning the system’s outputs are likely to suffer.

Nonformal education (NFE), as we defined it, is simply a convenient generic label for a bewildering variety of educational activities that have three characteristics in common: (1) they are consciously organized (unlike informal education); (2) they operate outside the structure of the formal education system and are generally free of its rules, regulations and conventions; and (3) they can be designed to serve the particular interests and learning needs of virtually and particular subgroup in any population. Apart from these three basic common features, nonformal education activities are exceedingly diverse. Some general observations about them, however, based on ICED’s research and subsequent activities, may be helpful.

(1) NFE-type activities are much more numerous in both developing and industrialised countries than generally realized, even by national education authorities and most university professors of education. This is partly because it has been nobody’s responsibility up to now to keep track of such education activities. It is also because most NFE-type programs wear other labels and their operators are often surprised to be told that they are practitioners of nonformal education (like the old gentleman who discovered to his surprise that he had been talking “prose” all his life).

(2) The majority of NFE programs are small, locally-based ones, initiated and run by non-governmental groups. Larger scale NFE programs, on the other hand, such as nationwide agricultural extension, primary health care, and adult literacy programs are generally financed by one or another government agency and managed from the top down.

(3) Each individual NFE program can be correctly and usefully examined as a “system” unto itself, or more likely as the education “subsystem” of a broader activity such as a health or family planning program, or an integrated agricultural development project. However, the sum total of nonformal educational activities in any country do not constitute a “nonformal education system”, comparable to the formal education system, because most NFE programs have no organic relation to each other.

Hence those schoolmen who feared when they first heard of nonformal education in the 1970s that some devious antagonists of formal education were scheming to build “a parallel nonformal education system” that would compete with the schools and divert much needed resources from them need not have worried. In reality, all of the knowledgeable proponents of nonformal education, so far as I have known them, were just as anxious to strengthen formal education as nonformal. What set them apart was that they recognized that the schools and colleges and universities could not possibly serve all of the important learning needs of all of a nation’s population; hence the essential function of NFE was, as they saw it, to serve important learning needs and clienteles that are beyond the practical reach or competence of formal education.

(4) Each grade level of formal schools and colleges can repeat much the same curriculum and content from year to year because a different cohort of students arrives at each grade level each year (except for any “repeaters”). This is not the case, however, with the many NFE programs that work with the same local clients year after year - such as farmers, mothers or craftsmen. In such cases the content of the NFE program must keep advancing as the clients’ learning advances, or else they will quit from sheer boredom and frustration.

(5) Most NFE programs, in contrast to schools, are part time anti voluntary. Thus, to be successful such NFE programs must be genuinely “learner centered”; they must be conducted at hours convenient to potential participants, and they must be able to sustain the interest and motivation of the participants and their sense of achievement. Otherwise the participants will vote with their feet against the program and it will collapse. It is perhaps unfortunate that formal schools are not nearly as sensitive or vulnerable to this kind of “consumer evaluation”.

(6) The widespread notion that NFE is always cheaper than formal schooling is a misleading myth. First of all, most such comparisons are not valid because the two approaches are aiming at different objectives, serving quite different audiences, using different methods, and getting different results.

Beyond that, NFE programs, like formal education programs, vary enormously in cost per learner depending on the nature of the learners, the level and objectives of the program, and the efficiency with which it is conducted. For example, the financial costs of a part-time literacy program for rural adults, using borrowed facilities and staffed largely by volunteer instructors, is bound to be much cheaper per learner than a primary school or, say, an advanced NFE program at a hospital designed to acquaint experienced medical practitioners with the latest new surgical techniques.

However, it is just as important to keep a watchful eye on the level and behavior of costs and cost-effectiveness in the case of nonformal education as in formal education. The ICED studies uncovered one case, for example, where an enthusiastic but cost-unconscious international expert “sold” an African country on a unique “pilot project” for spurring rural development. The evidence showed that the absurdly high cost per trainee would have bankrupted the country if it had tried to duplicate the pilot project on a large scale.

(7) Financial and material support for nonformal education comes from many sources - governmental, private, and often international in the case of developing countries. Unfortunately there are no financial estimates on this matter for any country, again because no organization has had responsibility for monitoring nonformal education activities. Two things are clear, however, from the ICED and other studies. First, the Ministry of Education, confined usually to NFE adult literacy classes, is typically a minor actor in the NFE area compared to such sister ministries as labor, agriculture, health, and the military. Second, a high proportion of the smaller programs are conducted and supported by voluntary organisations, often making extensive use of volunteer help and borrowed facilities. In addition there are often many small scale for-profit enterprises offering NFE training, for example, in secretarial, accounting and other skills.

Most medium to large corporations in industrial countries, and multinational corporations even in developing countries, offer extensive NFE training programs for their employees (and sometimes their customers as well) ranging from simple shop practice or office training for new employees to advanced technological and managerial training for higher level employees and officers. It has been estimated in the United States that some major corporations spend as much per year on employee and consumer training, equivalent to college and university level courses, as the annual instructional budget of sizable universities.

Among international agencies that support NFE-type activities, the larger players are the World Health Organization (sometimes in conjunction with UNICEF), the Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Labor Organization, the UN Development Program, and the UN Fund for Population Activities. Surprisingly, UNESCO plays a much smaller active role in nonformal education than its frequent pronouncements about the importance of Adult Education and particularly literacy training might lead one to expect. The actual fraction of its total budget and staff allocated to nonformal education is pitifully small compared to its allocation to formal education.

(8) It is important to note that, because NFE activities do not constitute a coherent “system” and because their sponsorship, structure, management and source of support are so very diverse, the types of strategies and planning methods used in formal education are not workable in planning nonformal education. Nevertheless, in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness, some sort of rational planning of NFE activities is desirable.

When the whole question nonformal education first began surfacing in the 1970s, the natural reaction of a certain type of technocrat - the kind who likes to keep the organization chart neat and tidy and all activities “under control” - was to concentrate overall responsibility and authority for planning and coordinating all nonformal education in a single high level government bureau. More experienced and pragmatic observers soon pointed out, however, that such a scheme was inherently impossible, but even to try to make it work would kill the spontaneity and flexibility that is the special birth right of NFE and a major source of its success in many instances.

This question of how to plan NFE clearly needs more study and it may be another good candidate for special consideration by this seminar.

(9) NFE programs are of two general kinds: “free-standing” programs that are purely educational in purpose, and “integrated” programs in which NFE educational components are combined with material components to achieve a broader development objective.

A literacy class or school equivalency program for out-of-school youth and adults, and a training course on how to use a personal computer, are examples of “free-standing” NFE activities; they are self-contained and their immediate purpose is solely education. There are many more programs, however, that combine NFE components with other components to achieve various types of development objectives. For instance, when the World Bank makes a large road construction loan to a country, the project these days generally includes provision not only for construction equipment and materials but for training the supervisors and workers who will build the highways and later repair and maintain them.

One of the ICED case studies involving an integrated approach illustrates the problem of prime concern to this seminar, that is, how to disseminate knowledge of new scientific and technological developments to those who need it and can benefit from it. This case concerned the Green Revolution in Asia in the early 1970s.

The agricultural scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines had developed new and very promising high-yielding varieties of rice, but now the problem was that unless the grassroots farmers in various countries (the majority of whom were illiterate) learned the proper new technologies for cultivating these new varieties they could lose their shirts, and the Green Revolution as well. The new high-yield varieties, for example, needed to be planted deeper than the familiar old varieties, to have more water, fertiliser and weeding and new types of insecticides. All this added up to more man hours of effort and more cash outlays for inputs per hectare, but if done right (and if the weather cooperated) the much higher rice yield per hectare would bring the farmers a significantly higher net profit.

The approach chosen to solve the farmer education part of the problem was to invite interested governments to send their top agricultural extension officials to IRRI for several months of practical hands-on-training covering a full rice crop cycle from planting to harvest (which initially was a traumatic experience for most of these high level civil servants who had never had to muck around in a rice paddy). The plan was that these senior extension officers would then return home and provide similar training for their subordinate officers, who would then “extend” the new technologies to local farmers.

It seemed a very logical scheme, but the ICED study revealed that in most places it was not working, mainly because nearly all of the officers who returned home from IRRI with their advanced training were promptly promoted to higher posts where their new training went unused.

As near as we could determine after visiting rice producing areas in a number of Asian countries, the official extension services (with a few striking exceptions) were no great help to the farmers in learning how to cultivate the new rice varieties. Yet the farmers somehow learned and the Green Revolution came of-. In general the more progressive of the larger farmers, who were more mobile and had better access to sources of technical information (such as government agricultural experiment centers) and who could better afford to take risks, took the lead in trying out the new varieties, at first on only a small portion of their land until it proved successful.

Smaller farmers could ill-afford to take substantial risks, but the more progressive among them (who generally were also the most educated) picked up knowledge about the new varieties by word of mouth, by observing the larger farmers and, for those who were literate, by reading about the new methods of cultivation.

The most striking example we encountered of the imaginative use of a local multi-media system of farmer education was in the Tanjore District of Madras State, an especially dynamic rice producing area with a double monsoon and two rice crops per year. The able and energetic District Agricultural Officer and his staff, on the basis of the latest technical research findings and changing market conditions, laid out a specific plan of action for each crop season, with recommended practices, week by week, to correspond to each phase of the crop cycle.

A farmer education program guided by this plan mobilized all available media, methods and channels of communication - including radio, newspapers, bulletins, traveling exhibits, posters, and visits by local extension agents. Strong efforts were also made to get feedback from farmers. A particularly novel technique was the District Agricultural Officer’s regular Monday morning staff meeting by radio, at which time he indicated the specific steps rice farmers should be advised to take that week in light of crop, weather and other conditions, and he then passed on significant new research findings and other useful tidbits. The clever farmers in the district “listened in” on this staff meeting to get a jump on the latest research findings and other “hot news”.

The results of all these educational efforts were dramatically evident to any visitor. It should be added, however, and this offers an important lesson for this seminar, that the farmers of Tanjore were an unusually dynamic group who valued new and useful technical information. The lesson is that it is much easier to run a multi-media knowledge dissemination system for farmers, or any other type of producers, where their particular field is on the move and they are literally demanding new technical knowledge, and where there is a research system to generate it.

III. What Is Needed?

We come finally to the most important question facing this seminar: What specific steps could and should be taken, and by whom, to strengthen the dissemination - though informal and nonformal education - of useful knowledge about new developments in science and technology?

Lurking beneath this question is a broader and more fundamental one that we cannot afford to ignore, namely: What steps are required to overcome the serious lack of basic infrastructure and professional underpinning for the whole field of nonformal and informal education - viewed as potent tools for promoting both individual and national development?

The contrast with formal education in these respects is striking. A major source of strength for formal education system is the strong sense shared by it’s many members - teachers, administrators, researchers and others - of belonging to an important and widely respected professional community that transcends local and even national boundaries. This formal education community has numerous mechanisms and channels through which its members can undergo professional training, exchange ideas and experiences, share research plans and findings, contribute to the shaping of policies and programs, seek professional help on practical problems, and promote the well-being and advancement of their profession. Admittedly these mechanisms and channels are not always used as wisely, fully of effectively as they might be, but without them formal education would be at a severe disadvantage.

Providers of nonformal education and of content for informal learning have no comparable sense of belonging to a larger professional community and no equivalent channels and mechanisms for advance professional training, research, broadcasters, public health practitioners, and no experiences for providing technical assistance.

To be sure, certain specialized subgroups within this broad and diversified field such as librarians, broadcasters, public health practitioners, and sometimes agricultural extension experts have created their own local or national organisations that hold occasional meetings, issue newsletters and the like, but generally they have little Of no research base or advanced training facilities to support their efforts. In recent times the Canadian-based International Council of Adult Education, with encouragement from UNESCO, has made notable progress in arousing enthusiasm and a strong sense of international solidarity among a wide variety of organized and semi-organized national and regional groups all around the world that think of themselves as “adult educators”.

All these efforts are undoubtedly helpful, especially to the sense of belonging and to the morale and self-confidence of these practitioners of nonformal education who often get far too little recognition or reward for their efforts. But at a time in history when nonformal and informal education must carry an increasing share of each nation’s total educational load and when, to use the words of the famous “Faure Commission Report” (Learning To Be) in 1972, “the school’s importance in relation to other means of education - is not increasing but diminishing”, there is clear need for stronger action to unify, professionalise and strengthen these much neglected modes of education.

It will certainly not be easy because of the very diverse aims and interests, structures, sponsorship and management of these activities, not to mention their frequent admixture of educational components with other types of activities. It will also take considerable time and resources and determined and persistent efforts. But the eventual rewards would far outweigh these efforts.

A good strategy to start with, I suggest, would be to develop a new strong research, training, information, and international level - to which policy-makers, planners and managers of any type of public or private nonformal educational activities could turn for help and advice. Such centers are needed in both developing and industrialised countries. They need not necessarily be brand new institutions; where feasible they could be built on the foundations of appropriate existing institutions. Nor would each such center necessarily have to provide the full range of needed research, training, information, and technical assistance and advisory services; these might be divided between two or more institutions.

But who should take the initative in mounting such a strategy? Where would the money and the leadership and staff for these Nonformal Education Development Centers come from?

The initiative, I suggest, should come from a mixed group of international and bilateral development agencies and leading private organizations that all have a major stake in strengthening nonformal and informal education as an essential requirement in all sectors of development. The World Bank, for example, eventually learned the painful way that practically all types of projects it supports require for their success appropriate educational (training) components, mostly nonformal. The regional development banks have been learning the same lesson. Virtually all of the UN specialized agencies - such as the FAO, WHO, ILO, UNFPA, UNICEF and UNESCO, as well as the non-specialized funding agency, the UN Development Program, make important use of nonformal education in the various development projects they assist. But none of them has the incentive or competence to undertake by itself the kinds of research, training and other actions needed to strengthen the whole field of nonformal education.

Significantly, the first three of the above UN specialized agencies share a seat on the Governing Board of UNESCO’s International Institute of Educational Planning, precisely so that their educational interests can be taken into account in IIEP’s program. The IIEP might well play an important role in this proposed strategy. It has ample authority to work on nonformal as well as formal education, though - like UNESCO itself - in practice it has been largely preoccupied with the latter.

A number of the official bilateral assistance agencies also have a major stake in strengthening nonformal education (whether or not they call it by that name), as do several of the leading non -governmental international assistance agencies, especially those working at the grass roots level, such as Oxfam, Save-the-Children, and CARE.

Large domestic companies in industrialised countries and multinational corporations that also function in developing countries are among the most extensive and sophisticated practitioners of nonformal education. A few of them could undoubtedly enrich the chemistry of the strategy group and perhaps also help with financing of the new centers.

This strategy would only work, of course, if the leader of the kinds of organizations listed above were strongly convinced of the great importance of nonformal education to their own programs I feel sure that some of the most experienced members of their staff would be glad to try to convince them (if they actually needed convincing). But one hopes that reputable educational leaders and respected educational organisations would also lend their persuasive voices to this purpose.

Finally, I have one very specific suggestion for UNESCO. In preparing this paper I went back to examine Learning To Be, the report of the UNESCO International Commission on the Development of Education, chaired by Edgar Faure, former prime minister of France who lately became Minister of Education. I was once again very impressed with the remarkable insights and vision contained in the report and the boldness of its educational proposals. At the time the report was widely acclaimed by educational leaders throughout the world. I must confess, however, that in rereading it recently I could not help but be disappointed by the relatively modest impact that report’s analysis and proposals appear to have had on the real world of education.

The 20th anniversary of the outstanding report - many would call it the most outstanding educational report UNESCO ever published - will arrive in three years. My suggestion to UNESCO is that 1992 would be an appropriate time to publish another educational landmark, one that reviews what has happened to the world of education since the Faure Commission Report, and what ought to happen to it in the next 20 years. This would require acting very soon to establish in independent commission of the same high caliber as the Faure Commission.


1 For a fuller view and analysis see P.H. Coombs, The World Crisis in Education: The View From the Eighties, Oxford University Press, 1985.