Society in Fiji is facing huge changes, especially in the socio-economic, cultural and political arena. Non-formal education has a particular role to play in helping people to deal with these challenges, in compensating for deficiencies in the formal education system, in the field of intercultural education, in lifelong learning, in combating poverty, etc. The author, Dr Akanisi Kedrayate, is Head of the Department of Education and Psychology, School of Humanities, University of the South Pacific.
Education is an infinite process that knows no barriers, age, creed, colour or race. For any society, be it simple or complex, the transmitting of knowledge, skills and attitudes to the young is an important activity for the sustainability of community living. Adult members of the society also continue to learn through various rituals, ceremonies and activities. This learning can be delivered informally, non-formally or formally. Broadly conceived, non-formal education (NFE) is not a new concept but an educative phenomenon integrally incorporated in even pre-literate societies. Increasing evidence exists to substantiate the claim that non-formal education is an old concept with a new name.
Non-formal education was practised in Fiji before the advent of schooling. Young people learned the knowledge and skills for economic and social survival in a highly organised fashion with recognised and experienced adult members of the community as teachers. Learning was community-based and was through observation, imitation and on-the-job-experience. Adults also continued to learn through participation and sharing in community activities and ceremonies. Although the content, method and direction of what was learned was limited and confined, it was relevant to their way of life, the resources available and their ability to meet extended family and community needs. Learning was community-based and it was an important process, as it ensured continuity and sustainability of community life.
In the early days of Christianity, there was also much non-formal education in literacy, agriculture, and home economics and hygiene. When such classes were replaced by formal education, these traditional forms of organised and structured learning were no longer emphasized and valued although they continue to influence cultural and social life in the rural communities. Formal education was valued more and seen as prestigious as it paved the way to ‘white-collar jobs’ mainly in the modern sectors of society.
We have to acknowledge that formal education has contributed and will continue to play an important role in the preparation of literate and educated human resources for the modern economy. However, we also have to accept the reality that there is a mismatch between the output of the formal education system, the aspirations of school leavers and paid employment opportunities. A significant number of young people are excluded from formal education or the formal sector of employment.
In the 1970s NFE was first perceived to fulfil two roles. First, it was a ‘second chance education’ for those who had dropped out from the school system. The government established multi-craft programmes to enable school leavers to be trained and acquire self-employment skills to generate their livelihood. While there were some success stories, to a large extent the programmes were unsuccessful as parents perceived the programme to be second rate. They preferred their children to be academically educated for ‘white-collar’ jobs in the formal sector.
Secondly, in addition to the needs of school drop-outs rapid technical and social changes demanded continuing education and re-training in different knowledge and skills for those in modern employment as well as in the rural community.
While there has been a general concentration of educational resources on formal education, a recognition of the need for access to new skills and knowledge by those who are no longer in school has led to the establishment of a number of education and training programmes for adults by both governmental and non-governmental agencies.
There is now a greater awareness and acknowledgement of the need for non-formal education in Fiji and other Pacific Island nations and the role it has to play in nation building.
According to the Education Commission Report (Government of Fiji, 2000) an estimated 14,000 young people enter the labour market every year, but only about 8,000 of them find jobs or further training. Many young people both in the urban and rural areas need openings to develop skills to enable them to earn their living.
NFE can fulfill a range of educational purposes. One purpose is in relation to the formal education system. Due to the inadequacies of the formal system to provide skills, knowledge and attitudes at an acceptable cost, NFE is seen as a cheaper alternative means to provide individuals with skills required by the economic system whenever the formal system has failed to do this. The related problems of school leavers and unemployment have led to the expansion of NFE training programmes. However, the purpose of NFE education is not confined to the development of skills for employment as it is broader in scope and more extensive in coverage.
Non-formal education has also been used for remedial purposes, where the formal system has been unable satisfactorily to educate all its citizens, and where illiteracy is a problem. For example, in the Asia-Pacific Region, NFE is used to support the universalisation of primary education (UPE) and literacy programmes and has been used to help children to complete primary education.
But serious as the literacy problem is in many countries in the Region, NFE is not confined to creating a literate population or maintaining a level of literacy. The need to ensure that neo-literates do not lapse into illiteracy has led to non-formal education being used for functional literacy to enhance skills and competence in job-related activities.
Non-formal education is also perceived to meet the needs of rural people. NFE may offer the opportunity to learn productive skills and a way to participate effectively in the development of society. When combined with other inputs, rural NFE is a strong accelerating factor in economic and social development in rural areas.
Another purpose of NFE is as a means to achieve the goal of lifelong education. The concept of lifelong education is best realised through NFE, as it provides better possibilities to fulfil people’s needs than formal education.
Through NFE everyone is perceived as having the opportunity for purposeful learning to keep abreast of technical, social, cultural, economic and political changes, and not only to fulfil their role in society but also for self-fulfilment and self-development throughout their life span.
Whether the purpose of NFE is ‘social maintenance’ or ‘social change’ depends on the objectives and strategies of non-formal education and the way facilitators and learners perceive themselves either as active members of a changing society or as ‘helpless products’ of an established system. It is argued that non-formal education cannot be neutral and that in terms of its purpose, it is used either to maintain society or to change it.
Non-formal education programmes are offered in both rural and urban sectors by both governmental and non-governmental organisations. There are 16 government ministries offering NFE programmes which include agricultural extension, micro-finance, small business development, workers’ education, co-operative education and youth programmes. Some programmes are aimed at raising peoples’ awareness, and these are occupational health and safety, consumer education, police-community outreach, public health education and community support for schools.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the YMCA and YWCA, FCOSS, church organisations, etc., are involved in a multiplicity of programmes, which include community development, environmental education, vocational education, human rights, women’s issues, public health, business skills and computer literacy.
These programmes have a diversity of aims and objectives. Some aim to generate community education as a way for information to reach the rural sectors, while others aim to promote self-reliance through income-generating ventures or to enhance human welfare by providing for personality development and satisfaction in living. The specific aim of some programmes arises from a concern for village communities, and particularly young people, and is to assist them to find employment by utilising existing resources and skills. As can be ascertained from this information, there are already existing programmes and projects that address the various learning needs in our society.
Although NFE was officially recognised as a major educational priority and national strategy for development in the 1990s, there was no official policy. A National Steering Committee was appointed in 1996, but met infrequently. With the assistance of the UNDP Regional Programme on NFE, workshops were held in late 1999 and in April 2000 to formulate a plan for non-formal education policy. (Government of Fiji, 2000). The focus of the new policy is on ‘education for development’. The overall aim of the policy is to offer programmes that will:
While the policy is yet to be ratified by the new government, the Ministry of Youth, Employment Opportunities and Sports (the initiating Ministry) is implementing some proposed initiatives.
In Fiji, like many Pacific countries, cultural, economic, political and social relationships have undergone extensive transformation. Fiji is a multicultural society and consists of various racial groups. These groups have values, attitudes and motivations which have to be understood and considered in non-formal education programme planning for work with these different groups and the nation as a whole.
Even within groups there are differences. In the Indigenous Fijian group, for example, there are religious differences between the Seventh Day Adventists and Methodists which have to be considered in NFE programmes. Cultural sensitivity is important, especially in a multicultural society like Fiji.
If non-formal education programmes are to be relevant to the various cultural groups, it is critical that activities are congruent with the participants’ way of life. Equally important is a general understanding of the structure and way of life of the various races so as to enable a better understanding of each other’s cultures and values. The coups of 1987 and 2000 instigated suspicion, hatred and intolerance among the people, particularly between the Indigenous Fijians and Indo-Fijians. The perception of nationalism, ethnicity and religious supremacy has created tensions and encouraged conflicts and divisions. It is therefore important that non-formal education programmes are sensitive to the effects of the coups and the issues which cause tension, and that steps are taken to encourage the facilitation of activities which foster greater cultural and multi-cultural understanding and tolerance. The school could be used as a centre within the community where cultural and educational activities are encouraged and facilitated not only for children but also for adults. NFE programmes may be organised not only for the two major groups but also for inter-groups.
Recent changes in economic policy and strategy in Fiji demand training in various skills. It is both in urban and in rural areas, where the majority of the people live, that skills training is needed. The need for skills training activities that are relevant to these communities demands a base which is accessible and has facilities and resources. In this respect, the school offers the potential not only in terms of facilities and resources but it also can facilitate and co-ordinate between various agencies and the community in terms of time, resources and needs. Policies determined at the macro level affect the lives of the people at the micro level. Understanding these issues as well as the values, attitudes, motivations and aspirations of the various racial groups is considered essential in non-formal education programmes.
Fiji is experiencing socio-economic, cultural and political changes. The education system needs to deal with these changes for the nation as a whole and the groups within its multi-racial context. NFE has a role to contribute to these changes.
While there are existing NFE programmes and activities in Fiji, it is evident that the current provision is inadequate to meet the learning needs of all the people in the country. Policy recommendations have been formulated and are awaiting ratification by government. Hopefully the government will endorse and provide appropriate resources for their implementation. The gospel of non-formal education can continue to spread and be acted upon if enlightened and committed individuals are ready to respond to the needs of the community and the nation.
To build a better Fiji, educators have an important task of responding not only to the learning needs of children but also to those of adults in the community through non-formal education.
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