Applying the Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach (ALESBA)

What do I need to know before applying the Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach?

The Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach is extensive, and ideally requires training in the approach and in contextualising the contents to a country’s context before commencing application. The implementation of the approach should be the responsibility of all stakeholders, and joint ownership of the findings, plans and learning insights contributes to the success of the approach. All key stakeholders should therefore receive training in every phase of the approach over time, and should apply the tools and methods themselves.

Using the Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach requires:

  1. Defining the context and scope within which the approach will be applied. Adult education can have many focus areas. A decision has to be made on the focus areas and/or services of adult education to which the approach will be applied, e.g. adult literacy or a combination of adult literacy and non-formal skills training, etc. Each country has a different context based on the needs of the target group.
  2. Defining the context and scope will also dictate which stakeholders and role-players will be involved.

The Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach and the conceptual framework are generic, and can in theory be useful for any sector. However, they lean towards non-formal adult education projects/programmes that focus on functional adult literacy, technical and livelihood skills training, including agricultural skills training, business skills training, life skills and other forms of training that can be useful for adults and their communities, whether these are environmental, health, civic education, youth or women’s projects/programmes.

This decision has to be discussed and debated, and a consensus needs to be reached on the context, scope, stakeholders involved and commitment to start the process of adult education system building as outlined in the next section.

The Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach step by step

The Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach is not only about assessing the status of the adult education system, but is rather a long-term approach aimed at building a sustainable adult education system over time. Depending on the status of the system at the time of the first assessment, it can take anything from 6-12 years to ensure that a fully-functioning system is in place that can deliver needs-orientated adult education services. The Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach consists of five phases, as described briefly below. Each phase considers all the elements and building blocks as per the Adult Education System Conceptual Framework across micro-meso and macro levels. Although the phases follow one after the other, the process is not always exactly linear.

Phase 1: Consensus-building

Before embarking on a long-term process of Adult Education System Building, it is important for all stakeholders to engage and develop a common interest, vision and agreement on the need to improve the adult education system for optimised adult education service delivery. They should build a consensus on the scope and definition of the adult education system to be improved, and the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders in the process. This phase can include a preliminary visioning exercise and stakeholder analysis, amongst other things. Consensus-building is important at the beginning of the process, and can take up several meetings and workshops, but it is also an ongoing process across all phases. Stakeholders’ involvement in assessment exercises, as well as in planning and testing new systems, will build higher levels of trust and consensus over time.

Phase 2: Assessment and diagnosis

Phase 2 consists of three parts. Parts one and two assess the system from the perspective of the supply side, and part three assesses the interests and needs of the target group from the demand side.

Part One: Assessment of the adult education system

The first step is to carry out an assessment of the adult education system. It can be described as ‘taking the vitals of the system’ – or in other words determining the key status and issues of the system according the conceptual framework of system building. The assessment tool provides qualitative information for further analysis and quantitative information in the form of a scoring tool that gives an indication of the system’s status through scores. This can serve as baseline data, and can be repeated over time as part of the M&E of the adult education system.

Part Two: Diagnosis of the system

Once the assessment has been carried out, many challenges would be observed in all system elements. These system challenges or blockages need to be further analysed by means of diagnostic tools and studies in order to find the underlying root causes of system failures. This is the second part of Phase 2 – diagnosis of the system – and can be compared with further blood tests carried out to determine the cause of a disease.

Part Three: Needs or demand assessment

A system exists to deliver services to a target group. The needs and interests of the target group therefore determine what kinds of service should be delivered. A needs or demand assessment should be carried out in order to determine the interests and needs of the target group and their views on the adult education services that are currently available to them.

Phase 3: Alternatives for analysis and design

Once a clear picture of the system has been obtained through the assessment and diagnostic studies, stakeholders from both the supply and demand sides can engage in order to seek alternative options to unblock challenges, ease process flow, change the implementation structure, determine the kind of services offered as well as the service delivery terms (e.g. CLCs) that the target group requires, etc. These alternative options have to be weighed against the time needed to implement them, the costs involved, resources available, etc. The ideal is to find alternatives and entry points that can provide the greatest leverage – this means entry points and system changes that will act as a catalyst on other system elements and building blocks. This phase concludes with a new design to be piloted in selected areas (considering the holistic system’s conceptual framework).

Phase 4: Implement and test

The newly-designed system can be implemented over a period of approximately 3-6 years, during which time the functionality of the system should be closely monitored and recorded. Ideally, ‘on the spot’ corrective actions should be taken – and these should also be tested and recorded. The assessment tool from Phase 2 can be used at any time to track progress and changes. It is recommended to use instruments such as ‘quality circles’ comprised of all stakeholders, who are to meet regularly and keep an eye on the implementation of the newly-designed system.

Phase 5: Review, adjust and upscale

The tested system should be reviewed at the end of either 3 or 6 years (again using the assessment tool from Phase 2) and compared with the baseline data of the first assessment during Phase 2. The changes made during the testing period and their impact should be considered as well. Any other changes needed should be made, and a final design should be agreed on in order to upscale an improved adult education system in more districts, regions and provinces, or at national level. This should be captured in official documents, guidelines and directives as the official system for adult education in a particular country. Since systems are dynamic, and also interact with the external environment, they should always be monitored for adjustments needed over time. Systems are not a goal in themselves, but a means to improve service delivery.

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