The notion of non-formal education has been a significant feature of policy debates around education in southern countries for three decades. It has drawn attention to the importance and potential of education, learning and training that takes place outside recognized educational institutions. There are questions about usefulness of the notion when looking at the process of education. It has also gone in and out of fashion. Fordham (1993) comments that if we try to correlate the flourishing of non-formal education and political change then the 1970s can certainly be described as the decade of non-formal education (Rubenson 1982). Similarly the 1980s saw the neglect of non-formal education and Fordham suggests that this was in tune with the politics of the decade, accompanied by greater inequalities both within and between countries. Given the extent to which notions of lifelong learning and associated ideas have gained ground in recent years it will be interesting to see how the language of policy debates will change over the next few years.
To these developments must be added changes in educational technology – especially the use of the internet and other computer forms, and the growth of distance learning. At one level these can be seen as an instrument of localization. They allow people to study at home or at work. However, they usually involve highly individualized forms of learning and may not lead to any additional interaction with neighbours or with local shops, agencies and groups. They also allow people from very different parts of the world to engage in the same programme – and student contact can be across great physical distance.