Non-formal education in youth projects
This page provides basic information about what non-formal education is, its characteristics, and how the EYF approaches non-formal education in the projects it supports. The Council of Europe’s youth sector, including the EYF, supports the development and recognition of non-formal education, which includes EYF funding for projects of youth organisations based on non-formal approaches. For the EYF, non-formal education is important as it has a key role in providing opportunities for young people to acquire skills useful for their social inclusion, personal growth, and democratic engagement.
Non-formal education (NFE) refers to planned, structured programmes and processes of personal and social education for young people designed to improve a range of skills and competences, that happen outside the formal educational curriculum, including in youth organisations. NFE is complementary to formal and informal learning. (adapted from Compass)
Key characteristics of NFE
Non-formal education may take different shapes and forms. There are some common characteristics, however:
- NFE is a planned learning process with educational objectives.
- NFE activities are based on the needs of learners. NFE activities are open to the input of learners to the learning process and encourage making links to real life.
- NFE is based on the voluntary participation of learners (in other words, NFE is not a compulsory activity).
- NFE is inclusive and accessible, in other words every young person can take part and organisers actively seek ways to include persons that may experience exclusion or marginalisation.
- NFE methodologies are varied, participatory and learner-centred, they include a mix of individual and group learning and encourage people to learn from each other.
- NFE it is all about learning life skills and preparing for active citizenship.
- NFE is holistic, which means engaging learners’ emotions, minds, and bodies.
- NFE activities may be run by professional educators/trainers and/or volunteers.
NFE is based on active participation (doing, experiencing). A central part of the learning process is self-reflection. Exercises in NFE are of an experiential nature (for example, simulations and role-plays) and input will always be interactive (a product of the facilitator and participants; they contribute with their experiences and knowledge). (adapted from Manual for facilitators)
NFE in EYF-supported projects
One of the criteria of EYF grants is that the projects supported use NFE approaches. This criterion is assessed during the project evaluation. EYF evaluators analyse the project proposals, looking at the project through the lens of the above listed characteristics of NFE.
Some tips to consider when developing NFE based activities within youth projects include:
- Make sure there is a logical link between the issues young people face, the educational process you propose and the impact of your activity for participants and wider communities. Think about what your activity will change in your context.
- Identify learning needs and learning outcomes for your participants.
- Match your objectives with the types of activities you propose, the time available, the needs of your participants, and the number of participants.
- Plan and structure your educational process, in a way that sessions link to each other and young people learn something meaningful in a step-by-step manner.
- Prepare your activity sessions, so that you know what you will be doing, how, and who from your project team is responsible.
- In the educational activities, provide enough time to explore and engage with relevant topics. Do not rush learning and do not try to discuss too many different topics in too short a time. Ensure time for reflection, and not just experiencing. Through reflection, participants will consolidate their learning.
- If participants are expected to deliver follow-up activities, dedicate time for them to plan and equip your participants with the adequate skills for their follow-up.
- If the activity includes the exploration of complex or sensitive issues, ensure sufficient time and appropriate methods for participants to engage with them.
- Active learning: avoid too many frontal presentations, as participants may disengage or get demotivated (or be reminded of their bad school days). Vary your methods and adapt your content to your participants! Don’t forget to consider participants’ emotions, minds, and bodies.
- Consider as much as possible accessibility needs, to ensure everyone’s participation in your activity. If your participants experience barriers that exclude them from taking part in your activity, actively seek ways to increase inclusion (for example, by removing participation fees, or by ensuring that all your participants can fully take part in each activity).
- The methods you use should allow participants to share and learn from their own experiences and the experiences of others in the group.
- If you are not sure you have within your organisation sufficient experience or expertise on the topic you wish to explore, search for a trainer or facilitator externally or cooperate with other entities.
- As the EYF supports projects by, with and for young people, the EYF also assesses whether the young people have key roles, both as participants and as educators. Ensure your project team includes a person responsible for the educational process and that most of the people in the team are young (under 30).
- Provide time for participants to get to know each other and to develop trust within your group of participants.
- Evaluate your activities. Adapt the evaluation method to your group of participants. Remember that in NFE, evaluation is done for your organisation to learn how to improve its activities and to have an indication of whether you reached the objectives set.