Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach (ALESBA)

What is the Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach ?

Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach” (ALESBA) is a tool, which can guide governments, civil society, universities and others (e.g., the private sector) in the complex task of system building, at the same time the approach is open to improvement, adaptation, and modification. ALESBA was born in Africa but rests on a generic conceptual framework of what an adult learning and education (ALE) system constitutes and can therefore be adapted for use in any country. Underlying principles and considerations such as participation, partnership, ownership, capacity building and sustainability, among others, guide the implementation.

At the heart of the ALESBA lies a conceptual framework that captures the elements and building blocks of a comprehensive ALE system. A system is usually understood as an entity composed of different elements, structures and processes which are interconnected and interdependent with feedback loops. In the context of ALE, all elements and processes needed to deliver ALE services must be considered. System building includes the process of assessing and diagnosing the system and finding alternatives to redesign/improve the system, test the improved design, make adjustments and scale up interventions to reach a wider target group in a larger geographical area, e.g., nation-wide. The ALESBA Conceptual Framework is presented below:

The conceptual framework suggests that an ALE system should consider all tiers/spheres of governance across different levels. This depends on the governance structure of a particular country. The concentric circles in the framework represent each sphere of governance and imply so-called ‘vertical integration’, meaning links and feedback loops between each level. If the scope and definition of ALE have an integrated nature, which considers services such as functional adult literacy combined with non-formal skills training, etc. (‘horizontal integration’), these ALE services are understood to be collectively delivered across the same tiers/spheres of governance.

For a fully functional adult education system, four main elements (or components) are needed. Each system element has several building blocks that should be in place for the system to function. The ALESBA toolkit identifies five prioritised building blocks within each element, but there may be more. Since we are referring to a system with interrelated and interdependent links, it should be understood that the elements and building blocks do not operate in silos but are linked to each other through several processes. Processes consist of a range of activities linked to each other that turns inputs (people, information, and money, etc.), into outputs (services delivered), to meet policy and operational objectives. The building blocks within each of the four system elements are:

Elements and building blocks of the adult education system:

Enabling environment

Institutional arrangements

Management processes

Technical processes


Implementation structure

Participatory planning processes

Localised curriculum


Human resources

Appropriate budget and resource allocation

Clear adult education programme design & methodology

Programme implementation guidelines

Leadership & management

M&E system

Capacity development at all implementation levels

Qualifications framework

Accountability mechanisms

Management information system

Material development

Legal framework

Partnerships with non-state players

Coordination bodies & process

Learner assessments

Very important:

Note that the lines in the conceptual framework between these four elements are not solid, indicating that processes flow between the four elements in both horizontal and vertical directions. Furthermore, each element plays across all levels of governance and considers the definition of ALE and all sectors/stakeholders involved in the delivery of services.

Who can use the Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach?

The Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach addresses both the supply and demand sides of adult education service delivery. Since its main objective is to improve the delivery of adult education services, the main users of the approach are on the supply side, namely:

  • Government offices from national to local level and all government sectors involved in adult education (e.g. education, agriculture, TVET, gender, etc.) as per the adult education system of a particular country. The approach makes provision for adult literacy, non-formal skills training, and any other form of adult education that is provided.
  • Civil society role-players, whether local, national or international NGOs
  • Academic institutions such as universities and colleges

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