‘Back to School’ season and innovations in non-formal education

Duncan McCullough

As August transitions into September, millions of children around the world are returning to school and restarting their education after an extended and well-deserved break. Approximately 59 million other children though, have no formal education to return to. Responding to the needs of these out-of-school children will require cooperation, creativity, and careful planning. It is not easy work, but a host of innovations are being applied around the world to help new students access the quality education they deserve.

Children in and around Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp face immense challenges in their efforts to gain an education. Save the Children’s Alternative Provision of Basic Education program is responding to this need by providing informal, safe, and quality learning environments and education. The program is especially innovative in its inclusion of not only refugee children, but local children from the host-community who are shut-off from formal education options as well.

Basic EducationChildren aged between 5 and 17 attend the program’s two Alternative Basic Education (ABE) centers at no cost. Local teachers are given additional training to deliver the ABE government curriculum effectively. Centre Board Management Committees are established and trained by the project and local education officials are trained in quality control methods for ongoing monitoring. ABE centers provide free catch-up classes (accelerated learning programs), basic literacy classes, basic vocational skills, and Early Childhood Education and Development (ECDE). The program in the ABE centers allows for morning, afternoon and evening classes (for nomadic schools) such that ECDE and catch-up classes are undertaken in the morning and, on the other hand, literacy and vocational skills conducted in the same venue in the afternoons and evenings.

BRAC Primary Schools have operated in Bangladesh for more than 30 years, yet are still innovating to find new solutions to help students improve their lives through education. The BRAC primary school program began with 22 one-room schools providing three years of schooling up until Grade III, after which students were transferred to state schools. As the program progressed however, parents became increasingly comfortable with the BRAC system and expressed interest in BRAC providing an entire primary school education model. In 2000-2001, the program was therefore scaled to cover the entire five-year primary school curriculum, through a four-year, catch-up program. 

basic educationSince then, more recent innovations include student-centered teaching techniques through a curriculum that emphasizes not only core subjects, but also confidence-building, team-work skills, gender rights, nutrition and hygiene. Emphasis is also placed on co-curricular activities, to ensure that children enjoy coming to school. School timings and class schedules are flexible and designed by the village and/or community to meet local needs, allowing children to be home to help with chores or harvesting. BRAC primary schools also cater to students with special needs, providing learning materials in minority languages for ethnic minority students for the first couple of years, and providing surgeries and medical devices free of charge to students with medical disabilities.

Encouraging Education is an initiative of Kids Club Kampala (KCK), an NGO that supports orphans and vulnerable children in Uganda. Through their flagship programs of Saturday Kids Clubs and Scholarship Program, KCK identified a significant number of children who were out of school and falling behind in learning.

basic educationLessons take place at one of 17 Kids Club Centers around Kampala, and are held Monday to Friday for 2-3 hours every evening. Ugandan volunteers (mostly former teachers) are trained to deliver lessons which focus on academic skills as well as behavior, social-skills, and health awareness. Throughout the year, volunteer teachers attend training days which are led by KCK staff and include topics such as safeguarding children, accounting for different learning styles, and behavior management. Lessons are designed to follow the Ugandan curriculum; however, a non-formal approach allows teachers to tailor learning specifically to children’s needs. Following this, children are not divided by grade level but instead learn together in one classroom with differentiated tasks.

Innovators working to reach out-of-school children recognize that non-formal education can aim just as high as formal interventions. Basic competencies are clearly important, but children that are out-of-school have dreams that are just as ambitious as those in school. The Mali Out of School Youth (or PAJE-Nieta in French) project understands this ambition, and is determined to help students achieve their dreams.

PAJE-Nieta connects with out-of-school youth in Mali and trains them in the necessary skills to become entrepreneurs.  The program combines classes for basic educational numeracy and literacy with professional and technical training.  Beneficiaries are provided with startup capital and mentorship to nurture these young businesses into sustainably profitable enterprises. Beyond touching individual lives, the program aims to have a broader economic impact as well. 

basic educationWhen I was a child, there were few words that struck me more sharply than ‘Back to School Sale’. Even though I enjoyed school, I knew these words meant the end of summer adventures.

Now, my friends and colleagues who are raising children tell me that news of ‘Back to School Sale’ are like music to their ears. And they aren’t talking about the savings.

Such good humor about the start of a new school year is understandable. But it is critical to remember that such an ingrained experience remains but a fantasy for millions around the world. Reaching these young girls and boys requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, driven by data and guided by local needs. The innovations highlighted here, and others throughout CEI’s Program Database, offer vital reference points for all those committed to improving access to quality education.

Do you know an innovative program working with out-of-school children that is not currently profiled on CEI? Let us know! Click the link or email us at cei@r4d.org.

Duncan McCullough is a Communications Associate at the Center for Education Innovations, proud Masters graduate of George Mason University, and former White House Staffer.

Photo Credits: BRAC Primary Schools; Kids Club Kampala

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