Non-Formal Education: Why Georgia Needs Holistic Approach
Non-Formal Education: Why Georgia Needs Holistic Approach
Non-formal education (NFE) is an indispensable part of lifelong learning. It equally benefits the education system, civil society, and employment market. In Georgia, where still much remains to be done in this regard, youth organizations can offer non-formal education to foster human, social and psychological capital among young people. But a holistic approach involving policymakers, scholars, and NGOs is needed to advance such practices.
One cannot define NFE by simply contrasting it to formal education. According to the International Standard Classification of Education (UNESCO, 2012), formal education is an institutionalized education delivered through public organizations and acknowledged by private bodies, with programs recognized on national or international levels.
Non-formal education, too, is an institutionalized type of learning, planned and carried out by educational providers to guarantee the right to education, particularly for disadvantaged groups with limited access to formal education. Usually provided through shorter periods, NFE prefers enhancing practical skills over theoretical knowledge. It is not to be confused with informal education, a less organized practice that randomly takes place in everyday life (Eshach, 2007).
There are three types of non-formal education, according to Brennan (1997): NFE as a complement to formal education targets vulnerable groups left out of formal education, such as children from remote areas with no access to schools and illiterate adults; NFE as an alternative to formal education mainly emerged in colonized countries with established practices of indigenous learning. And, finally, NFE as a supplement to formal education appeared after the fall of the Soviet Union as former socialist countries struggled to catch up with modern educational trends.
Is Georgia Doing Enough?
Most of us spend significant time outside formal education (Eshach, 2007). We learn before entering an educational institution and keep learning after leaving the setting. This makes institutionalized learning – while still a fundamental pathway for an educational journey - a tip of an iceberg. The time has shown the limits of formal education: even the most advanced states struggle to provide access to quality education to the most vulnerable groups.
In former Soviet countries, including Georgia, high-level bureaucracy presents an additional hindrance. With a centralized system governing general education, bottom-up creative initiatives, vital for remodeling traditional learning as more interactive, joyful, and practical for learners, have less occurred. Even if national curricula in Georgia do feature some elements of 21st-century educational principles, learning has been restricted to passing the subject knowledge from teacher to pupil in a classroom.
With reforms in formal education remaining a primary concern, the value of NFE cannot be neglected. While never fully substituting institutionalized education, it still could do much to reengineer conservative teaching and learning methodologies (Olcott, 2013). Non-formal education, where marking and examinations become irrelevant, turns the learning from result-driven to process-oriented.
The Georgian example shows that NFE can add further value to formal education by introducing unorthodox subjects such as human rights or civic and global education. The lack of these subjects was apparent in early post-soviet times and it was only since the late 90s that civil society-provided NFE activities enabled young people to become familiar with liberal-democratic ideas (Morgan and Kliucharev, 2011). Georgia partly owes the emergence of a new discourse on the importance of critical and analytical thinking in education to the early NFE activities.
But there is still little evidence that most general education institutions in the country do enough to provide proper learning experiences for children and adults in this respect. This requires the contribution of other educational providers to fill the gaps within formal education. Here, youth organizations could play a major part.
Vital Role of Youth Organizations
Youth organizations (YO) are commonly defined as social entities serving the interest of older children and young adults. Most of them provide non-formal educational activities with a primary focus on practical needs. They aim to empower young people socially and politically, consolidate community members around shared interests, and facilitate civic activism, advocacy, and emancipation campaigns. By sustainable provision of NFE activities, YOs advance young people's human, social, and psychological capital, crucial for their employability (Clarke, 2017).
NFE-provided soft skills such as cooperation, organizational skills, and leadership are also in demand in today's labor markets (Kyllonen, 2013). Additionally, the flexibility of NFE produces significant opportunities to increase cultural diversity awareness and its importance in workplaces (Stuber, 2009). While the development of social capital, a necessary component for one’s successful inclusion in society (Putnam, 2020), depends on various factors, people affiliated with YOs are known to be deriving their social capital by themselves (Krasny et al., 2015).
Finally, in the rapidly changing world, youth organizations provide skills enabling young people to make informed decisions and better manage their present and future challenges (Tsotkasiira et al., 2010).
Holistic Approach to Promote NFE
Many countries see non-formal education as a critical component for life-long learning. But for the successful development of NFE practices, a holistic approach has proven to be highly effective. This requires the contributions of various actors such as the government, the scholarly community, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Policymaking: in a growing number of countries, decision-makers increasingly come to recognize life-long learning outputs as a pre-condition for continued institutional study or employment. For example, by having an NGO training validated, students can finish their studies within shorter periods. This, in turn, would motivate people to undertake self-directed studies as more convenient and cost-effective ways to match their skills with labor market demands.
But such experience varies across countries, and the recognition process is often marginal, small-scale, and unsustainable (OECD, 2010). For example, even though laws adopted in Georgia in 2019 allow validation of non-formal education outputs at the vocational education level (NCEQE, 2021), this opportunity remains underexplored and rarely applied in practice. Thus, authorities need to offer more incentives to ensure that the recognition of life-long learning outputs does not remain solely on paper.
Research: for future policies to serve the best interests of those undertaking NFE, the academic community needs to study the situation at hand and identify challenges. In the countries of Global South, short- and long-term effects of NFE usually remain under-researched (Simac et al., 2018). Educational providers are no less in need of academic research to find out whether the programs they offer make a difference for their beneficiaries.
NGOs: In Georgia, NGOs play a critical role in implementing non-formal education. Tens of thousands of Georgian citizens are known to have benefitted from some form of NFE. But challenges persist here as well: for example, identical activities of many NGOs are often concentrated in the same geographical areas, pointing to the need for more coordination among educational providers. International donors could help facilitate this. But it is no less important to allow grassroots organizations, who know local contexts best, to take the initiative. Sometimes, however, they need support from more experienced organizations, often based in the capital, but their role should be limited to facilitation.
Finally, amidst the ongoing pandemic, it will be vital to come up with innovative and creative ways to provide non-formal education. There is particularly a need for open (electronic) platforms, not to be limited to particular project beneficiaries but to allow access for a wider public.
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