OSISA study catalyst for action on youth and adult education

More than half of the children in southern Africa who enrol in grade one don’t make it to secondary school. Most of them are girls. Many drop out before they even complete primary school and some do not even have the opportunity to enrol. The result is a large number of young people who are neither in education, employment nor training – popularly known as the NEETs.

Former Education Programme Manager

November 28th, 2012

More than half of the children in southern Africa who enrol in grade one don’t make it to secondary school. Most of them are girls. Many drop out before they even complete primary school and some do not even have the opportunity to enrol. The result is a large number of young people who are neither in education, employment nor training – popularly known as the NEETs.

Once they drop out of school – or are ‘pushed out’ of school – the alternatives are few and far between. And their chances of recovery are extremely limited because the non-formal youth and adult learning and education (YALE) sector across the region, which is meant to provide them with a second chance, faces a myriad of challenges – and simply cannot cope.

Not only is the sector poorly funded, its policy frameworks are complex and unclear. Designed largely for illiterate adults, the non-formal sector fails to accommodate out-of-school youth and its curriculum often does not meet the needs of this generation. With a bulging population of young people in every country, such a trend threatens the economic and political stability of the region.

It is within this context that the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) in collaboration with dvv international commissioned researchers to map the state of youth and adult education in the five southern African countries – , , , and .

And the study has already begun to kick-start positive change in the region – in relation to policy, practice and political will.

Based in each of the countries, the researchers looked at the laws, policies and institutional frameworks governing the sector as well as funding sources and who the key stakeholders and role-players are. Their findings highlighted the failure of the education sector to address the needs of these young people, who end up with no skills and no prospects for the future.

In addition, the study found that all five countries need clearer policies, better financing and improved governance to support the right to education for these young people. 

This will require a thorough review of current policies covering youth and adult learning and education (literacy, non-formal education, vocational education, life skills and continuing education), which are patchy and ambiguous. However, this will not be easy to achieve given the dearth of hard information and data – and the lack of any real effort at a policy level to aggregate data to get a clearer view of the picture and magnitude of the problem.

Therefore, governments need to put in place systems to capture this data and use it to plan for more effective services.

In fact as the , which was formerly launched by Mrs Graca Machel in Johannesburg, makes clear – governments in southern Africa must urgently reform their education systems so that they respond better to the needs of illiterate adults and out-of-school youth and are more relevant to contemporary economic trends.

In her address at the launch, which was attended by ministers of education and over 50 national, regional and international experts, Mrs Machel emphasised the need to rethink youth and adult learning and education.

“The demographics are changing dramatically in the region and the majority of our people are children and adolescents,” said Mrs Machel. “These changes in demographics must inform our planning and resource allocation but systems are not adapting to the new realities. Formal education, academic knowledge is not going to adequately prepare youth for the future.”

The regional launch was followed by launches in all five countries, which were also attended by high-level delegations from the ministries of education, including ministers – all of whom responded positively to the findings and recommendations of the study and agreed to use the study findings to inform their policy planning.

At all the launches, government representatives committed themselves to lobby other decision makers to develop relevant policies and ensure that sufficient resources are available for youth and adult education. The participants also resolved to form a network in the region that will take forward issues raised in the reports and identify and share good practices regarding YALE within the region.

Other resolutions that were adopted at the various launches included promoting an increased advocacy role for civil society, investigating the possibility of new legislation regarding private sector levies and ensuring that YALE is prioritised in on-going consultations about the post-MDG agenda.

Following these launches, OSISA’s Education Programme has received numerous inquiries about its YALE work, especially as the recently launched 2012 UNESCO Global Monitoring Report on education focuses on youth skills and addresses the very issues that were raised in the OSISA study.

In particular, the SADC Education and Training Portfolio has requested support in developing a regional youth education and development strategy, while the authorities in Malawi and Zimbabwe have expressed the need for similar studies to be conducted in their countries. In Angola, the government has responded by nominating a National Director for Adult Literacy for the first time as well as making a budget allocation to the programme.

While the findings of the study have provoked much-needed reflection and debate about YALE by policy-makers, experts and financiers at national and regional levels, what is clear is that the road toward educating Southern Africa’s out-of-school youth and adult population will be a long one. And if the goal is to be reached, governments will need – as the OSISA study recommends – to adopt a holistic approach that views education as life-long and to rethink non-formal education and accord it the attention that it deserves as complementary to the formal system.

There have been great strides in recent years towards providing universal primary education, increasing participation in secondary and tertiary education, reducing gender disparities, and addressing the needs of the most marginalised groups. But these will add up to little overall if the systems continue to fail the large – and growing – number of NEETs

OSISA’s study is a catalyst. Real progress now requires a concerted effort by civil society, governments, donors, the private sector and other actors to address this challenge and ensure that the NEETs are given the opportunity to contribute to socio-economic development instead of becoming a threat to economic growth and political stability.

About the author(s)

Wongani Grace Nkhoma is the Education Programme Manager. Wongani has over 10 years experience working in the development sector. Before joining OSISA, Wongani worked with ActionAid International - Malawi as Regional Manager and Education Policy Coordinator


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