“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:
Participatory planning processes
Appropriate budget and resource allocation
Clear adult education programme design & methodology
Programme implementation guidelines
Leadership & management
Capacity development at all implementation levels
Management information system
Partnerships with non-state players
Coordination bodies & process
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.
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: