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Formal versus non-formal basic education an unhelpful

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					Oxford International Conference on Education and
Development
September 2007

Thematic Section: ‘Growing’ education in difficult environments




‘Formal’ versus ‘non-formal’ basic education:
prioritising alternative approaches in fragile
states




Dr Harvey Smith
CfBT Education Trust
hsmith@cfbtken.co.ke
‘Formal’ versus ‘non-formal’ basic education: prioritising alternative approaches
in fragile states

Abstract

The paper reports on an evaluation in 2006 of two Alternative Basic Education (ABE) pilot
projects in Somaliland. The evaluation reviewed the curriculum, teaching, community
participation, institutional embedding and project management, with a focus throughout on issues
of sustainability and on the potential for scaling up the programme.

The projects address the very low enrolment rates in ‘formal’ primary education in Somaliland by
piloting five different modes of delivery, four of which use an accelerated curriculum developed by
the Ministry of Education (MOE) with the projects’ support. These target the disadvantaged –
children who would not otherwise have access to schooling – and offer a number of advantages
over ‘formal’ schools: attendance is initially free, although after the first year the ABE communities
make a progressively greater contribution to the costs; they are closer to the communities and in
the case of mobile schools the school moves with the population; teaching takes place at a time
which suits the community; teachers mostly come from the community; there is a condensed
curriculum; the methodology is more active and stimulating; some sites have solar powered
lighting and most have latrines. The proportion of girls enrolled in the ABE sites is higher than in
the formal schools.

Although too early to assess the likely full impact of the pilot projects it was clear that they were
making a significant difference to the communities and Regional Education Offices with which
they were working. All the modes of delivery being piloted seemed viable, and the projects were
clearly influencing MOE thinking. Their achievements to date were noteworthy and they had the
potential to make a major contribution to access to basic education in Somaliland.

The projects had had a very positive impact on the communities, which had a strong sense of
ownership of the schools. Local sustainability had been well addressed and project support for
the schools reduced gradually. Even the poorest communities were finding the necessary funds
and seemed committed to keeping the sites going after the pilots had finished. In general women
were active in the Community Education Committees (CECs). Teachers were generally recruited
from within the community, which should reduce attrition but also meant that their own level of
education was often very low and they had no previous experience of active learning
methodologies.

The projects had built the capacity of Regional Education Officers (REOs) and some MOE staff
and there was clearly now a commitment by MOE to address the issue of children out of school,
especially in nomadic communities. A gradual reduction in subsidies to REOs had emphasised
sustainability. However, MOE faces many challenges, including low budget and poor capacity for
national planning and for supervision and monitoring, which are a major constraint to sustaining
the impact of the programme nationally. Further, ABE is seen as non-formal education and
therefore of lower priority than education in ‘formal’ schools.

Given the very high priority which needs to be given to making significant progress towards
universal primary education in Somaliland, the evaluation raised issues around the ‘formal’/’non-
formal’ distinction and recommended that it would be in the country’s interests to drop this
unhelpful distinction and manage ABE and ‘formal’ schools as a single comprehensive
programme of basic education provision, to be expanded as rapidly as resources will allow.




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Oxford International Conference on Education and Development, September 2007

‘Formal’ versus ‘non-formal’ basic education: prioritising alternative
approaches in fragile states 1
Harvey Smith
CfBT Education Trust


1      Context: Somaliland and the need for alternative approaches to basic
       education

The Republic of Somaliland (the Somaliland Protectorate from 1884) gained its
independence from Britain in 1960 and almost immediately joined the former Italian
Somalia to form the Somali Republic. The union was not successful and led to civil war
in the 1980s and beyond. At a congress in May 1991 the representatives of the people
of Somaliland decided to withdraw from the union with Somalia and to reinstate
Somaliland's sovereignty. Although not officially recognised, Somaliland has become a
de facto independent state with its own government, parliament and judicial system. The
government system is democratic and multi-party, and the administration is fully
functioning and stable. The population of Somaliland is estimated by the Government at
around 3.5 million, 55% of which is either nomadic or semi-nomadic and 45% in urban
centres or rural towns.

Government resources are limited and there is a heavy reliance on external aid. Official
aid has been complemented by remittances from the diaspora and an increasing number
of expatriate Somalilanders investing in Somaliland, including establishing private
schools and contributing to the development of the four universities. The education
sector receives particular support and external aid provides about 90% of official (i.e.
excluding community) education financing.

The education system is in the process of being re-established and developed following
the destruction of the civil war. Partly because of the nomadic lifestyle, enrolment rates
are very low and with its current resources Somaliland will not achieve the Millennium
Development Goal of universal primary education by 2015. However, since 1991,
development of national education policy guidelines, curriculum development, teacher
training, provision of textbooks, establishment of community education committees
(CECs) and construction of schools have all been taking place.

Somaliland is moving from a post-conflict emergency phase towards a focus on longer
term development. Donors are increasing their involvement and external support to
education is about to expand, although there is now an increasing interest in moving
away from post-conflict projects towards building the capacity of the Ministry of
Education (MOE) and towards a sector-wide approach.

Primary school enrolment rates in Somaliland are amongst the lowest in the world. The
gross enrolment ratio (GER) in Somaliland is now 39% and female GER is 31% (Ministry
of Education, 2007). Factors which contribute to low enrolment include poverty (inability
to pay the direct or opportunity costs of sending a child to school), nomadic lifestyle
requiring families to move seasonally with their herds, the need for children to herd
livestock or work in the home at times of the day when schools are open, long distances

1
  Opinions expressed in this paper are those of the author and not necessarily of any of the other parties
involved in the evaluation to which it refers.



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between home and school, and insecurity. The situation is worse in rural than in urban
areas and is particularly severe in the pastoralist communities. The current severe
drought has made some families which had become relatively settled return to a
nomadic way of life.

There is an urgent need to address this low enrolment if Somaliland is to make
significant progress towards achieving universal primary education by the MDG target of
2015. Given its limited resources, the difficulty of reaching this is fully acknowledged by
MOE. While confirming the national commitment to realising Education for All and to
enhancing equitable access, the Ministry’s official policy objective in relation to children
of pastoralist communities is to increase participation in education “from about 10
percent to at least 40 percent by 2015” (Ministry of Education, 2005). Unofficially it now
hopes to reach 70%.

In addition to the inadequate numbers of schools in places where the population is
located, the primary education teaching force is insufficient, not gender balanced (12% of
primary teachers are women) and weak in quality (only 20% have a teacher training
qualification) (Ministry of Education, 2007). There is no fully functioning primary teacher
training institution although with funding from the EU the four universities have now each
set up teacher training departments. Teachers lecture rather than present learning
opportunities to their students. Salaries are low and it is estimated that half the teachers
are ‘volunteers’, supported by the community rather than being on the government
payroll.

2     The projects

In 2006 on behalf of Danida CfBT undertook a mid-term evaluation of two Danida-funded
Alternative Basic Education (ABE) pilot projects in Somaliland (Smith & Seel, 2006). The
evaluation reviewed the curriculum, teaching, community participation, institutional
embedding and project management, with a focus throughout on issues of sustainability
and on the potential for scaling up the programme. The projects addressed the very low
enrolment rates in ‘formal’ primary education in Somaliland by piloting five different
modes of delivery, four of which used an accelerated curriculum developed by the
Ministry of Education (MOE) with the projects’ support.             These targeted the
disadvantaged – children who would not otherwise have access to schooling – and
offered a number of advantages over ‘formal’ schools:
•     attendance was initially free, although after the first year the ABE communities
      made a progressively greater contribution to the costs;
•     they were closer to the communities and in the case of the mobile schools the
      school moved with the population;
•     teaching took place at a time which suited the community;
•     teachers mostly came from the community;
•     there was a condensed curriculum;
•     the methodology was more active and stimulating;
•     some sites had solar powered lighting and most had latrines.

The first project was implemented by Save the Children UK (SCUK), which had been
supporting education in the central region of Togdheer for some years. It had identified
that so-called formal education (i.e. the largely urban government schools) in the region
was not capturing the majority of school-age children. A study to assess the situation in
2002 led to the identification of ways in which the many constraints might be addressed:

(1)   Alternative modes of delivery could make schooling accessible by:




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      •  developing mobile schools for nomadic communities;
      •  introducing basic education subjects into existing village Koranic schools;
      •  introducing basic education subjects into non-formal institutions, mostly Family
          Life Education Centres (FLECs – non-formal vocational centres for girls);
      • introducing a flexible timetable within formal primary schools for children who
          cannot attend during normal hours.
(2)   Providing financial and technical assistance could enable communities to establish,
      manage and sustain alternative provision of schooling, including employing
      teachers.
(3)   Developing an accelerated, more directly relevant curriculum and classroom
      methodology could increase motivation.

The second project was implemented by Save the Children Denmark (SCD), which
conducted a baseline survey in March 2004 in Awdal and Sahil, the two Regions it had
been supporting. Independently of the existing SCUK project, SCD set up a project
which would use a fifth mode of delivery: establishing alternative basic education centres
(ABECs) in rural settlements, each linked to a formal primary school.

Both the SCUK and SCD projects addressed the lower primary range (grades 1-4 in the
formal school system). In 2005 Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) established a sixth
mode of delivery with an ABE programme for internally displaced people (IDPs) delivered
in formal primary schools, using the MOE ABE materials which had been developed with
SCUK/SCD support. Following a baseline study undertaken in 2005, UNICEF had also
developed a ‘Primary Alternative Education’ (PAE) programme, intended to help MOE
develop a condensed curriculum and materials for an alternative approach to upper
primary education (grades 5-8 in the formal system), and to help extend the lower and
upper primary programmes nationwide.

3     The main evaluation outcomes

At the time of the evaluation the Danida-funded projects were a little over half way
through. Although it was too early to assess the likely full impact of the pilot projects it
was clear that they were making a significant difference to the communities and Regional
Education Offices with which they are working. The proportion of girls enrolled in the
ABE sites was higher than in the formal schools. All the modes of delivery being piloted
seemed viable, and the projects were clearly influencing MOE thinking. They had the
potential to make a major contribution to increasing access to basic education in
Somaliland.

The condensed curriculum was a positive development. It was more relevant, was
designed to be delivered through active and participatory methodologies, was generally
well organised, and the textbooks and teachers’ guides were appropriate. Weaknesses
were that it did not adequately reflect good practice in language and literacy learning; the
inclusion of English from Level 2 was causing teachers problems; the pace, especially in
maths, appeared too fast; and learner assessment had not yet been adequately
addressed.

Teachers were generally recruited from within the community, which should reduce
attrition but also meant that their own level of education was often very low and they had
no previous experience of active learning methodologies. Both projects provided a
training programme and one was seeking to make in-service training sustainable through
strengthening the Education Faculty at the University of Burao. Teacher support was
provided by the three Regional Education Offices, which the projects had greatly
strengthened.



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The projects had had a very positive impact on the communities, which had a strong
sense of ownership of the schools. Sustainability had been well addressed and project
support for the school reduced gradually. Even the poorest communities were finding
the necessary funds and seemed committed to keeping the sites going after the pilots
had finished. In general women were active in the Community Education Committees
(CECs) although more work could have be done on this. The projects had strengthened
the capacity of the three Regional Education Officers (REOs).

4     Sustainability and the role of the Ministry of Education

The communities were aware that the projects would end and they were already
planning for this situation – the gradual reduction in support over the three years of the
pilots had focused attention on this. However, the pilot sites were originally selected
taking a number of factors into account including the readiness and capacity of the CEC
to sustain the school after the pilot, so a reasonably high continuation rate could be
predicted.

The ABE projects themselves had demonstrated a very great degree of involvement of
MOE, especially at the level of the REOs, who were fully involved and saw the projects
as almost entirely integrated into their own work. REOs needed to accept that some
schools would probably not continue, especially in very poor areas, but the general
assessment was that some 80% would continue. Sustainability had been addressed in a
number of ways, including through the gradual reduction in subsidies to REOs, which
focused attention on the lead-up to the post-project situation. The REOs were generally
very positive about their capacity to continue after the pilots had finished. Within the
central Ministry there had been some capacity building of staff, in particular at the
Department of Curriculum Development and Training in relation to the condensed
curriculum.

There was a clear recognition by MOE at the central level of the need to address the
issue of children out of school, especially those of nomadic communities. During the
evaluation the Minister and his staff expressed their commitment to creating access to
primary education for disadvantaged groups, and this was also set out in the Ministry’s
policy document (Ministry of Education, 2005). The general wish was expressed that
ABE should be implemented across Somaliland. However, MOE faces many challenges,
including low budget and poor capacity for national planning and for supervision and
monitoring, which are major constraints to sustaining the impact of the programme
nationally. While the Ministry’s commitment to promoting ABE seemed clear, its policy
target for participation of children of pastoralist communities was only to raise enrolment
from 10% to 40% by 2015. On the one hand, given the MDG of Universal Primary
Education by 2015, this is not sufficiently ambitious. On the other hand, even this target
looked unachievable with the resource expectations.

The main threats to institutionalisation of the programme related to general weaknesses
of capacity in MOE, rather than to specific characteristics of the ABE pilots. The
education sector budget is very low and the basis for resource allocation within that
budget (most of which is used for salaries) is not sufficiently clear. Until the capacity and
budget are considerably strengthened, projects will continue to be initiated and driven by
NGOs or UN agencies rather than by MOE itself. However, SCUK’s and SCD’s own
limited capacity and expertise to work at a central strategic level, especially in relation to
sector-wide planning and financing, has to be acknowledged and expectations of the
impact on this which the projects can have should therefore not be too high.

There are also policy limitations which impact on institutionalisation. A major area is
decentralisation, especially the devolution of responsibilities and budgets to REOs, which


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needs considerable attention. The sustainability of ABE also depends on having a
clearly defined policy on community cost sharing. Given the very limited resources of
central and local government, demonstrated by the fact that the Ministry cannot afford
even to pay for all the teachers in the formal primary schools, the ABE sites will only
continue if there is adequate local funding and if the management of the quality is
affordable.

However, to some extent the process of rolling out the programme nationally was already
underway. UNICEF with the MOE Director of Non-Formal Education, who has
responsibility for alternative basic education, had been identifying communities which
had already initiated some sort of alternative provision of primary education, in order that
they could be supported through UNICEF’s PAE programme. NRC had also adopted the
ABE curriculum and was implementing it in sites where they were supporting IDPs. But
these developments, while highly commendable in their impact on access, could impact
negatively on the integration of the ABE concept into the Ministry’s planning. Firstly, this
was essentially shifting from one project to another rather than embedding the expansion
of delivery within the Ministry, and considerably more work needed to be done before the
Ministry had the capacity to take responsibility for country-wide implementation.
Secondly, the Director of Non-Formal Education also had responsibility for TVET, adult
education, girls education and early childhood education and the ABE pilots could
therefore not be given the high priority needed within the Ministry if they were going to
make a serious impact on basic education enrolment rates.

5     ‘Formal’ or ‘non-formal’?

Within the Ministry of Education there was a clear division between the formal public
schools and education delivered by any other means, demonstrated by the fact that the
Director responsible for so-called formal primary education was called the Director of
Schools, while ABE, also known in the Ministry as Non-Formal Basic Education (NFBE),
was the responsibility of the Director of Non-Formal Education. This is not just an issue
of title, but reflects an underlying approach to education which believes that ‘real’
education can only take place in a formal school setting – and that by implication
anything else is not adequate to meet the goal of education for all. Yet the pressing
need for alternative ways of delivering primary education was widely acknowledged by
the staff of the Ministry. The Director General asked specifically that the project should
be extended to all six Regions, and he and other Directors and REOs all spoke very
positively of what the projects were achieving. But is this distinction between formal and
non-formal basic education meaningful?

Some of what was happening in the ABE projects was indistinguishable from formal
education. Despite a condensed curriculum and more simple buildings than the so-
called formal schools, the 10 SCD-supported ABE centres and some of the SCUK ABE
sites are a type of primary school. The ABE centres in Awdal and Sahil are small village
schools, with permanent structures, and the introduction of basic education courses into
the Koranic schools is effectively turning these into small village schools too. The flexible
timing mode piloted by the SCUK Project, which was taking place within formal schools
and was using the formal school curriculum, was essentially adding a third shift to the
‘formal’ morning and afternoon shifts, even if the school calendar for this shift was also
more flexible. In most cases, the classroom environment and mode of delivery were
entirely formal.

It was a stated aim of the SCD project that children should be able to transfer from ABE
to ‘formal’ schools. Although no students had yet transferred from an ABE centre to a
formal school, the link established by the project between each ABE centre and a formal
school was a positive attempt to encourage students to move into formal school as soon


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as circumstances allow. However, the reasons for inability to attend the nearest formal
school (for example that it was well over 10 km away) would not necessarily reduce as
the children get older. Also, some ABE centres are better than the formal schools, in
terms of the teaching methods, equipment (such as for sports) and school facilities (such
as lighting provided through solar power and latrines). Adding ABE curriculum subjects
to Koranic schools seems a very sensible strategy given the extent of coverage and level
of community acceptance and support of Koranic schools, but this essentially makes
these schools hybrid Koranic/formal schools.

The SCUK project in particular has helped to demonstrate the feasibility of multi-shifting
in formal primary schools, with one shift being labelled ‘non-formal’. In the third-shift
classes observed during the evaluation, children seemed to be getting something of a
raw deal, as the ‘formal’ primary curriculum was being used but in only half the normal
time, and both teachers and children were tired. The condensed curriculum (tailored to
different kinds of community) would seem more appropriate for poor urban children who
cannot attend school during the day. A further option is to allow schools to adopt a
flexible calendar for all shifts (so that schools in different areas have more decision-
making about their opening and closing times, as long as they meet a required national
minimum number of hours of instructional time).

There seems to be no reason in principle why the so-called non-formal – but essentially
just condensed – curriculum could not be adopted by many more schools. Lessons
need to be learnt from the ABE pilots not only for the potential expansion of the ABE
programme but also for the formal school curriculum, which is likely to be both more
motivating to students and provide a more efficient learning experience if it adopts some
of the ABE characteristics. In other words, rather than aiming for the ABE schools to turn
eventually into formal schools, the formal schools would be more effective if they were
more like the ABE schools.

6     Conclusion

Rather than ‘alternative basic education’ the projects were essentially providing basic
education by various means of delivery, which included use of the formal schools.
Labelling these approaches ‘non-formal’ was counterproductive in terms of embedding
them within the Ministry’s policy and planning. Non-formal education is generally treated
as a low priority sub-sector within education, but in Somaliland the proportion of children
who cannot access the formal system is well over half the primary school age population
and therefore needs to be high priority. The evaluation recommended that the projects
should discourage the use of the term ‘non-formal’ and encourage MOE and others to
see the pilots as demonstrating different ways in which basic education can be delivered.
It also recommended to the Ministry that, in order to give these alternative modes of
delivery higher priority, it should integrate them into a single Department responsible for
all Basic Education.

Visibly giving the alternative modes of delivery higher status and priority within the
Ministry is likely to be the most effective guarantee that the success of the pilots will lead
to education opportunities for very many more of Somaliland’s children. What needs to
be high priority in developmental terms is to enhance government involvement in
creating access to primary education for disadvantaged groups, and help establish an
educational infrastructure which will overcome the fact that the majority of children
currently have no access to education at all. This will in turn provide further opportunity
to consolidate the achievements of the pilot projects by increasing government capacity
to identify and find solutions to educational sector problems. The pilots have shown that
various modes are viable, and what is now needed is a focus on embedding the
approaches within routine Ministry strategies. The lack of access to basic education is of


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such a scale in Somaliland that it must now be treated as one of the most urgent issues
to be addressed, and all modes of delivery which can be shown to be viable should be
treated as equally valuable elements in a single integrated effort to attain education for
all.




References

Ministry of Education (2005) Somaliland National Policy of Education. Hargeisa,
Somaliland: Ministry of Education

Ministry of Education (2007) Education Sector Strategic Plan (2007-2011). Hargeisa,
Somaliland: Ministry of Education

Smith, H & Seel, A (2006) Evaluation of the Danida-funded ‘Alternative Approaches to
Basic Education’ in Somaliland. Nairobi, Kenya: CfBT




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