What is Non-Formal Education?
The European Youth Forum works with a holistic view of Life long learning, understanding that all education builds on previous learning and all educators are de-facto collaborators. In this holistic view there are three different fields of education;
formal education is typically provided by formal education institutions and is sequentially and hierarchically structured leading to certification;
nonformal education is an organised educational process which takes place alongside the mainstream systems of education and training and does not typically lead to certification. Individuals participate on a voluntary basis and as a result, the individual takes an active role in the learning process. Unlike informal learning where learning happens less consciously, the individual is usually aware of the fact that he/she is learning through non-formal education.
Often non-formal learning is used as well as non-formal education and the European Youth Forum sees them as two sides of the same coin: non-formal learning is simply the learning taking place in non-formal education. It is however important that this learning only can take place because there is a providers organising the learning process.
Why are youth organisations important providers of non-formal education?
Through their engagement in youth activities, young people acquire very valuable soft skills that cannot easily be acquired in formal education
The methods used in non-formal education are very different in nature to traditional pedagogies used in formal education. Rather than learning ‘hard knowledge’ from text-books, young people ‘learn by doing’ through peer-education methods and voluntary work for example. Due to the participatory nature of the activities, young people take responsibility for their own learning and engage actively in the process. Youth activities provide ‘real life’ situations that cannot easily be reproduced in a classroom. Learning takes place in specific contexts and is therefore more meaningful.
Through their interaction with other people and the local environment in youth activities, young people learn very valuable ‘soft skills’ such as interpersonal skills, people management skills, teamwork, self-confidence, discipline, responsibility, leadership skills, planning, project management, organising, co-ordination and practical problem solving skills. ‘Non-formal education could empower young people to set up their own projects, step by step, where they are at the centre of the educational activity, feel concerned, have personal interest, find strong motivation, get self confidence and as result, develop capacities and skills by doing. These skills are extremely valuable for the personal development of the individual for active participation in society as well as in the world of work and complement the ‘hard knowledge’ acquired through formal education.
Youth activities that take place in international context which provide the opportunity for intercultural learning
While formal education tends to be embedded in national contexts, youth events, youth exchanges and seminars and conferences sometimes take place in international settings. This provides an invaluable opportunity for intercultural learning. By sharing their ideas with people from different countries, young people develop a sense of belonging to a larger world beyond the national boundaries of their home country. Young people learn language skills, intercultural awareness, intercultural communication, solidarity, respect, tolerance and conflict transformation, while also reflecting upon their own country’s culture and values. The content of such exchange programmes also encourages young people to reflect on common values such as human rights, freedoms, peace and equality.
Why should non-formal education be recognised?
Despite the benefits for both the individual learner and the society, few people immediately would identify youth organisations as crucial for education. There is clearly a gap between the value of non-formal education and its perception in society.
This is an issue, not so much because providers of non-formal education need more appreciation, but because in a Lifelong learning society in which learning paths become more individual and divided, learners need themselves to have a clear understanding of where they can learn what. A lack of recognition leads to fewer young people using the opportunities that non-formal education provides. Furthermore, a lack of recognition leads to less opportunities to make their non-formal education benefit them as a lack of understanding of non-formal education will lead employers to value NFE less than a formal degree.
Better recognition of non-formal education will prove to be beneficial for the individual learner taking part: through self recognition they will be able to make more informed life choices and their learning will be given the weight it deserves, with respect to the available opportunities in formal education or employment.
- Policy paper 2003: recognising our role
- Policy Paper 2005: Confirming the real competencies of young people in the knowledge society
- Policy Paper on Quality Assurance of NFE 2008