Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach (ALESBA)

What is the Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach ?

The Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach (ALESBA) provides a conceptual, systematic, practical understanding of adult education systems. It is generic in nature, and can be applied to adult education systems in different contexts and countries. The approach consists of guiding conceptual frameworks, defined implementation phases, and a number of methods and tools that can be applied in each phase. It systematises adult education systems into four elements with five building blocks each across the tiers/levels and sectors of governance. The overall objective of the approach is to build sustainable adult education systems with all stakeholders in order to improve the delivery of integrated adult education services based on learners’ needs and interests. The approach therefore addresses both the supply and demand sides of adult education service delivery. To understand the application of the ALESBA, it is important to have a brief overview of the guiding conceptual framework, elements and building blocks that inform the use of the approach.

A system is usually understood as an entity comprised of different elements and processes which are interconnected via feedback loops and are interdependent. Each element and process is needed to make up the complete system, and has to carry out its own role and function. All the elements and processes needed to deliver adult education services are considered in the context of adult education. It relies on the specific definition of adult education in a country’s context. ALESBA would refer to the process of assessing and diagnosing the system, and finding alternatives to redesign/improve the system, test the improved design, make adjustments, and upscale to reach a wider target group.

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

A fully-functional adult education system requires four main elements (or components), namely:

  • An enabling environment: This refers to policies, strategies, directives and programme guidelines, etc., that provide an enabling environment for programme design and implementation. Although the enabling environment usually emanates from the macro level and from the role-players responsible for formulating policies, strategies, etc., these documents have to be interpreted and ultimately implemented at community level.
  • Institutional arrangements: A functioning system implies stakeholders and role-players that take responsibility at each level as per their mandate to ensure that adult education services are delivered at community level. Institutional arrangements refer to the arrangements within an institution, e.g. staffing, job descriptions, etc., as well as coordination and integration arrangements between sectoral institutions such as coordination bodies, technical committees comprised of different sector offices to plan, implement and monitor programmes jointly. It also considers partnerships with civil society and other role-players.
  • Technical processes: Refers to the core business of adult education as per the definition and scope in a country context. It includes processes such as curriculum design, material development, training of trainers, etc., to ensure that adult education services are ultimately delivered.
  • Management processes: Refers to the support processes/functions without which technical processes cannot take place, e.g. planning, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation, as well as coordination.

Very important:

Note that the lines on the conceptual framework between these elements are not solid, indicating that processes flow between the four elements in both horizontal and vertical style. Furthermore, each element plays across macro-meso-micro levels and has several building blocks that should be in place for the system to function. Since we are referring to a system with interrelated and interdependent links, it should be understood that the elements and building blocks are not in silos and linked to each other through a number of processes, e.g. activities that turn inputs (people, information, money, etc.) into outputs (services delivered) with the aim of meeting policy and operational objectives.

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

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 or international NGOs
  • Academic institutions such as universities and colleges

Each stakeholder will play a role as per their mandate and responsibility within the system. The approach acknowledges the demand side of service delivery by making provision for demand assessment tools to assess the needs and interests of young and adult learners as individuals, within organised groups, or as Community Based Organisations (CBOs). Their opinions on adult education service delivery are measured at the beginning and during the process of adult education system building in order to ensure that the system remains relevant and addresses the needs and demands of the target group.

Organisations such as DVV International can play an important facilitating and capacity-building role in Adult Learning and Education System Building.

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