Non-Formal Education (NFE) organised educational activity outside the formal system of education. It is simple and flexible and can be delivered at any place convenient to the learners. It is generally designed to meet the basic learning needs of disadvantaged groups and can be availed of at any age. NFE is provided to those sections of the comm`unity who have no access to or are dropped out from formal education.
Non-Formal education was formally launched in this country in 1918 when an attempt was made to start adult education in night schools. By 1926, over a thousand night schools were functioning. Several attempts had been initiated from 1935 onwards at the central, community and individual levels for adult literacy and universal primary education. In 1939, Frank Luebac's campaign of 'Each One Teach One' gained popularity among the masses. Adult education programme was brought under the newly formed rural development department of the provincial government. But the programme approached a closure due to the Second World War.
After 1947, it was revived through individual initiatives. In 1956, HGS Beaver, a bureaucrat of government established a 'Literacy Centre' at Dhaka and his associates developed a primer and some charts as learning materials. Inspired and encouraged by Beaver, the East Pakistan Adult Education Cooperative Society came into existence. It produced 24 books for adult learning including 12 for neo-literates. After the death of Beaver in 1962, the programme stagnated. In 1963, an adult education section was opened at Comilla BARD campus under a pilot project of the directorate of public instruction. This project continued even after independence of Bangladesh.
The country has a very high level of illiteracy although its constitution recognises basic education as a fundamental right and the universal primary education as a basic state policy. But it is not possible to bring all sections of the people under the formal education system. A large number of children cannot enter the formal education system due to various reasons. A substantial number of dropouts also cannot get back to school. A non-formal basic education programme is necessary to address their needs. Imparting non-formal education at hours suitable for them is therefore, the only practical way of making them functionally literate. NFE provides alternative learning opportunities for the vast majority of children, youth and adults who do not have access to formal schools.
NFE is an attractive system for the under-privileged groups in terms of accessibility, duration, curriculum and teaching-learning environment. NFE schools are located near learners' homes. This reduces the time spent on going to and returning from school. Teachers and students live in the same community. Most NFE school teachers are women. Teachers and students feel close to each other. Teacher-student ratio is satisfactory, usually between 1:30 and 1:40.
NFE is school-based curriculum reflects the special needs of the children and adolescents, and empowers them to cope with life. NFE teaching-learning method is participatory. Learners are attracted to this type of education because it puts emphasis on songs, dance, physical exercise, drawing and other co-curricular activities. The school supplies all education kits free of charge. As this education is continuous, it eliminates any fear of examination. Assessment is done on a regular basis. The school system is regularly supervised. Monthly consultation meetings are held with parents and community leaders.
non-government organisations (NGOs) and the government of Bangladesh operate seven types of Non-Formal Education: Early Childhood Development Education, Pre-Primary Education, Primary Education, Adolescent Education, Adult Education, Post-Literacy/Continuing Education, and Technical/ Vocational Education. Under the programme of Early Childhood Development Education, some NGOs have been operating 'Parenting Activities' and 'Early Stimulation, Learning and Protection Activities'.
Continuing Education is an important need at all levels so that the neo-literates do not relapse into illiteracy. It can be a life-long process to keep pace with ever-expanding boundaries of knowledge and changes in technologies. Several initiatives are being undertaken in this area to produce post-literacy materials carrying messages relating to life skills and matters of interest to the adults. Attempts have been made by the government and the NGOs to make these materials available to the neo-literate learners through rural libraries, box libraries or mobile libraries and continuing education centres.
NFE is essentially a community-based programme. It is the uniqueness of this system that enables illiterate poor and deprived people to get involved in the planning, management and supervision of local learning centres. They help select school premises, students and teachers, determine school hours and holidays. Moreover, they pledge to send their children to school, attend monthly parents' meetings and provide support where needed.
The lack of basic education amongst the majority of the population, especially the rural poor, is a major hindrance to the progress of human development. At this backdrop, the NGOs started programmes of Non-Formal Education in addition to poverty alleviation and other development activities. brac, caritas, ccdb, Danida, Concern, Gonoswasthya Kendra (GK), Gono Unnayan Prochesta (GUP), Swanirvar Bangladesh (SB), Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Services (rdrs), and Village Education Resource Centre (VERC) played the pioneering role in introducing NFE for the disadvantaged people of the country. They were followed by Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM), Gonoshahajjo Sangstha (GSS), Saptagram Nari Swanirvar Parishad (SNSP), proshika, Jagarani Chakra, CMES, and many other NGOs. Initially, the emphasis was on adult literary programmes and eventually, they introduced pre-primary, primary, adolescent, adult and continuing education. Over the last four decades, NGOs acquired considerable experience and expertise in NFE sector by working at the grassroots level. They also initiated some innovative programmes in this area.
In 1996, the number of NGOs involved in education programmes increased to around 435 and they had 2.5 million learners. In 1994, the Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) installed a comprehensive database of the NGOs that had NFE programmes. At the initial stage, information was collected from around 435 NGOs regarding their NFE coverage, types of programmes, number of centres and students, enrolment status, materials production, curriculum/ primers used by them and other activities. According to CAMPE, 4.8% NGOs had pre-primary education programmes, 72.2% had primary, 41.8% had adolescent programmes, and 79.8% operated adult education programmes. A total of 86,929 centres were organised: 917 pre-primary centres, 38,413 primary, 11,907 adolescent and 35,692 adult centres. Out of the total learners, 68.25% were female and the rest 31.75% were male. The major NGOs such as BRAC, Proshika, ahsania mission, FIVDB, VERC, CONCERN, GSS, and RDRS produce learning materials for NFE. The smaller NGOs adopt the curriculum/primers developed by the well-established NGOs. BRAC, which has been running a large non-formal primary education programme since the mid-1980s, is well known for its own materials.
A study showed that NGOs' NFPE (Non-Formal Primary Education) programme covered about 10% of the total enrolment. They play a complementary role alongside the main stream primary schools of the country and about 10% of primary schools are run by the NGOs (Education Watch Report, 1999).
As a signatory to the world declaration on 'Education for All by 2000' and the 'World Summit on Children', Bangladesh is committed to expanding learning opportunities for children, youth and adults. A nationwide programme of mass literacy-cum-adult education was launched in February 1980 and a basic structure of Non Formal Education was formed by introducing the project Integrated Non Formal Education Programme (INFEP) in 1991 with a view to achieving the long-term objective of making NFE a complementary process in the strategy of human resources development. The principal objective of the project was to introduce a NFE system supplementary and complementary to the formal education system.
A separate ministry level division named Primary and Mass Education Division (PMED) was established in August 1992 to strengthen the primary and mass education activities. The Primary Education (Compulsory) Act was passed in 1990. The compulsory primary education was introduced under the Act for the first time in 1992 in 68 thanas of the country. It has been implemented all over the country since 1993.
The success of INFEP and the experience thus gained contributed to the eventual setting up of a Directorate of Non-Formal Education (DNFE) as an effective agency of Primary and Mass Education Division (PMED). The DNFE headquarters was based in Dhaka, headed by a director general. DNFE set up an office in each of 64 districts to look after the programme at local level. The district offices had been run by district coordinators. DNFE started the NFE programme to cover 34.4 million non-literate people of 8-45 years. The primary emphasis was on rural population while the focus group was women. The target population included out-of-school and school drop-out adolescents, young adults and adults, urban slum dwelling children and adolescents involved in hazardous professions and disadvantageous groups like prisoners, tribal and shifting people etc. DNFE implemented its programme using a variety of approaches of which the major approaches were: Centre-Based Approach (CBA), Campaign-Based Approach (Total Literacy Movement-TLM) and Primer Distribution Approach. Until 2004, around 750 NGOs and local bodies had been implementing NFE programme in Bangladesh. Of these, around 350 organisations also worked as partners to the government. To encourage and help develop the capacity and experience of these organisations and to ensure a countrywide NFE network, DNFE provided free primers, guide books and training package for the literacy personnel of these organisations.
During 2004, DNFE was managing four NFE projects for adolescents, young adult and adult non-literate population. Each project is enriched with its own speciality in terms of area coverage, programme delivery approach, duration of literacy course and target population etc. A number of international voluntary organizations, such as: AcationAid, CARE, CONCERN, Save the Children, and World Vision International undertook specific programmes on child education in addition to programmes on nutrition, and maternal and child health. Some NGOs developed innovative models of children education and adult literacy. A few organisations implement NFE programme directly while the others extend funding and technical assistance to the local grassroots NGOs.
Signing the memorandum of understanding on 4 July 1995 between ILO, UNICEF and the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers' and Exporters' Association (bgmea) regarding the placement of child workers in school programmes and the elimination of child labour under 14 years was the outcome of a long negotiating process. It was facilitated by the participation of the US Embassy in Dhaka. The school programme was arranged by UNICEF and ILO in Cooperation with Government of Bangladesh and the NGOs.
On 31 October 1996, the BGMEA declared the garment sector free from child labour. By May 1997, some 318 schools were established for children who were former garment industry workers in Dhaka, Narayanganj and Chittagong. The total enrolment of these schools was about 8,200 children. The terminated child workers attending school programmes were provided with stipends at a rate of Tk 300 a month as partial substitution of lost wages and to keep them learning.
Basic Education for Hard to Reach Urban Children (BEHTRUC), a joint project of UNICEF and Government of Bangladesh, was designed to meet the educational needs of working children (8-14 years) living in urban slums. The project started in 1999, aims at providing non-formal basic education to the working children in six urban areas of Bangladesh - Dhaka, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and Sylhet divisional headquarters with a view to protect them form exploitative and hazardous working conditions. At the initial stage, the learning centres of the project had been managed by some 150 NGOs through DNFE. In this project the local government bodies, city and municipal authorities also collaborate to ensure effective management of project activities. Gradually, this project has been expanded.
DNFE was abolished in 2005 and a separate directorate named 'Bureau of Non-Formal Education' (BNFE) was formed to run NFE programme. To achieve the successful implementation of national and international goal of 'Education for All', the government of Bangladesh has drawn up the Non-Formal Education Policy in 2006. Long-term objectives of this NFE policy are: setting up NFE sub-sectors, considering education as an important tool of national development, creating partnership and cooperation among the Bureau of Non-Formal Education and other government and non-government organisations with a view to implement need-based, income-generating and practical Non-Formal Education. This NFE policy also put special emphasis on basic education and income-generating training for girls and working children and life-long education for all.
The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) of the government has prioritized the goal of achieving 'Education for All'. To meet this goal, Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE) has undertaken several projects. Significant projects are: 1. Post-literacy and Continuing Education Project for Human Development-ii (programme area and target group: neo-literates of 11-45 age group in 210 Upazilla under 29 districts of the country). 2. Basic Education Project for Urban Working Children-2nd phase. Under this project 2 lac working children of 10-14 age group (60% girl children) from 6 Divisional city including Narayanganj and Gazipur are to be provided quality and life-skilled education. Among them 13+ adolescent boys and girls are to be provided with livelihood training and income generating activities.
The government of Bangladesh has set the goal of attaining total literacy by the year 2014. In this context, Bureau of Non-Formal Education under the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, has drawn up a number of project proposals. Significant projects are: Basic Literacy and Continuing Education Project-i (61 district), Basic Literacy and Continuing Education Project-ii (3 Hill tract districts), Basic Education for Working Children and Livelihood Training Project (10-14 age group working children of 56 district town), Equivalence in Non-Formal Education Project, and Life-long Learning Project based on Information Technology.
According to the latest survey conducted by the Campaign for Popular Education in 2009, the number of NGOs engaged in running Non-Formal Education is approximately 1400. Around 10% primary/basic education of the total population are run by the NGOs.
A country with a rapidly growing population, Bangladesh has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world. According to UNICEF and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, the literacy rate among Bangladeshi adults (15+ years) was 32% in 1980 and rose to 38% in 1995. The Government of Bangladesh claimed it as 47% in its Fifth Five Year Plan document. Later statistics provided by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) from its Sample Vital Registration System indicated that the literacy rate had reached 51% in 1998 (BBS and UNICEF, 1998). In fact, there is no fixed definition of literacy among the different agencies. The Report of Education Watch 2003 (A study report on Literacy situation in Bangladesh, conducted by Campaign for Popular Education in 2002) states that the literacy rate among those of 11 years or older is 41.4% (Male 47.6%, Female 35.6%). The later reports of World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF indicate this rate between 41%-48%. These figures all point to huge numbers of those still illiterate and inadequately schooled in a country of some 140 million people. It simply is not possible under existing conditions to bring all sections of the population immediately into the formal system of education. At this backdrop, Non-Formal Education is considered to be a priority area and the government has extended more resource allocation and policy support to NFE sector. The co-operation and collaboration between the government and the NGOs on NFE expansion in Bangladesh resulted in increased enrolment in primary schools and ever-increasing adult literacy rate. Present literacy rate is 53% as declared by the Ministry of Primary and Mass Education on 8 September 2009. There is a great need of post literacy and life-long continuing education for the neo-literates. The neo-literate learners need to read books, instructional materials, newspapers, flip charts etc So that they cannot relapse into illiteracy. Electronic media like radio and television can be used as tools for carrying messages to mass people. [Shahida Akhter]