Youth Development as Non-Formal Education
Non-formal education is organized, systematic teaching and learning carried on outside the formal school system. Generally, non-formal education is sponsored by community groups that provide particular types of teaching and learning experiences for specific youth populations. It is not an alternative to formal education offered in the schools; it is another kind of education essential for helping young people grow to optimal maturity.
The schools that provide formal education are “society’s most legitimate and formal system of teaching and learning.” (LaBelle, 1981, p. 315) They are typically chronologically graded and hierarchically structured. They offer credits, grades, and diplomas to document learning and achievement. Increasingly, schools are asked to document more closely the competency of their learners as proof that the credits, grades, and diplomas have real value.
For several reasons, non-formal education provides the ideal system for youth development education to take place.
- Youth development organizations are most often voluntary, reflecting the values, priorities, and goals of the adults and young people who support them.
- Non-formal youth development programs identify their own mission, their curriculum priorities, their population of learners, and their teaching methods.
- Non-formal youth programs commonly use club structures, camps, sporting activities, regular group meetings, expressive arts, and youth-conducted events to carry out their educational work.
- Non-formal programs operate largely outside the scope of public funding and public policy directives, hence they can respond to community-based agendas.
- Non-formal programs typically reward learning, achievement, and positive growth through recognition and incentives such as certificates, ribbons, badges, and increased opportunities for leadership.
The Curriculum for Non-Formal Youth Development Education
When curriculum is defined as any planned sequence of learning experiences, (Schneider, 1983), a curriculum for youth development education has two major components. First, the curriculum has content or subject matter upon which the planned sequence is built. Second, the curriculum has a method or a set of principles that guides the design of the learning experiences. The synergy of content and method promotes learning and competence in life skills critical for the healthy development of young people.
Experiential methods of learning are most commonly associated with youth development education programs in non-formal settings. These emphasize exploration and critical thinking and focus not only on learners doing work, but on sharing, processing, analyzing, and applying the understandings or skills gained. This method is a powerful approach for learning life skills essential to socialization, skills that rely on interaction and demonstration over time.
| The subject matter for youth development education programs overlays the five basic competency areas identified by Pittman (1991) as essential for success in adulthood:
While these five competency areas are an ideal focus for intentional learning experiences for non-formal youth development education programs, they are also central to many school curricula. It is the educational design and delivery system that commonly distinguishes formal and non-formal education.