Follow Us:

Getting millions of children back to school through alternative learning programmes

Bangkok, 8 November 2012 – Twenty-seven million primary school-aged children are still out of school in the Asia Pacific. Although an enrolment rate in many countries in the region has been improving, progress has been slow as a number of children drop out before completing the full primary school cycle.

©Iran, Reza Golchin Kouhi

 According to UNESCO, 40 per cent of out-of-school children in South and West Asia have previously been in school. The challenge of out-of-school children is caused by a complex combination of deep-rooted inequalities associated to gender, ethnicity, wealth and location, in addition to poor quality of education. Children that are female, poor, or come from rural areas, ethnic or linguistic minorities face higher risks of dropping out. The poor quality of education in schools is due to overcrowded class rooms, scarce books and teachers who are under-qualified and poorly motivated.

Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education (©UNESCO/D. Schlenker)

“The regular education system with the traditional schools does not provide sufficient and appropriate options for children who do not enroll in school, or drop out early for a wide variety of complex and often interlinked reasons,” said Gwang-Jo Kim, Director of UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education. 

A Regional Meeting on Alternative Learning/Schooling Programmes for Primary Education to Reach the Unreached was held from 7 to 9 November 2012 in Bangkok, Thailand to find innovative ways to get out-of-school children to learn and graduate and, thus, see their right to education fulfilled. The meeting has been organized by UNESCO Asia and Pacific Regional Bureau for Education, in cooperation with UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia and UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office.

Ichiro Miyazawa, Programme Specialist in Literacy and Lifelong Learning, UNESCO Bangkok said the objective of this conference is to open the doors for all children to an education and raised the question: “Is it acceptable that children do not attend school because of their gender, because they are poor, belong to a minority or live in remote rural areas?”  

The three-day meeting was attended by over 120 representatives from Ministries of Education in 23 countries in the Asia Pacific. The aim is to develop momentum for raising awareness about primary level alternative learning/schooling programmes that are officially accredited by government and that are flexible and effective in offering school-age children an alternative chance to education. 
 Dr. Ros Morpeth, National Extension College from The Michael Young Centre, Cambridge, UK said: “Despite all efforts in the last three years, the numbers of 61 million children out-of-school [worldwide] have stayed. These are numbers that should likely terrify us and lead to action.”


“Governments have to re-conceptualize their role away from being the exclusive education provider,” she said.

Alternative learning/schooling programmes (ALPs), including equivalency programmes, must be supported by legitimate education policies and frameworks. In reality, many ALP providers face challenges because of insufficient or lacking legislation. ALPs are often not recognized by the formal education sector or by potential employers, which makes ALP a second-class and dead-end channel. Countries with a long history of ALPs in Primary Education include India, Indonesia and Philippines. 

During the meeting, participants were requested to review and examine key legislative documents and to develop plans for integrating ALPs into those documents. It is aimed that an ALPs policy and advocacy brief and an ALPs Resource Pack will be developed by 2013. 

“There is a reason we talk about education for all – not just about improving education. Major gaps still exist… These gaps are not figures. These gaps are small humans, with minds and hearts, and with enormous potential. And so these gaps are unacceptable,” Daniel Toole, Regional Director of UNICEF East Asia and Pacific Regional Office said.


About Alternative Learning/Schooling Programmes

Alternative Learning/Schooling Programmes (ALPs) are specifically aimed at marginalised and disadvantaged groups. These include poor children, girls, ethnic minorities, children with disabilities, refugees, children living in post-conflict settings, and immigrant/internally displaced children who are out of school or did not start school at the right age. The programmes are recognised as equivalent to formal education under national education policies.  When children successfully complete the programmes, they are qualified to enter lower secondary and secondary schools alongside their formally-educated peers. Seventy per cent of the ALP curriculum corresponds to formal primary education. In addition, 30 per cent will be allocated for realistic and practical activities on global citizenship and how to become lifelong learners. To better bridge ALP and formal education, a national system of certification needs to be established. All ALP graduates should have the opportunity to take any existing national examinations or have an equivalent system of assessment created for them. 

Methodologies used in ALPs are flexible so they can respond to the diverse contexts and needs of children. Existing examples of successful flexible methodologies include home-based learning, community learning centres, mobile teaching, weekend and night schooling, tutoring, schools in camps, and use of ICT and mobile devices for distance learning. 


Journalists who wish to receive more information can contact Ms. Rojana Manowalailao ( Tel: +66 81 825 2188. Or visit UNESCO Bangkok’s website at


UNESCO Bangkok Press Release 2012