There are several reasons why we focus here on examples and developments from the Asian and African regions more extensively than on other continents. In the case of Asia there is diversity in terms of how long CLCs have been operating for, and in directions and modes of development. The examples from Africa do not have decades of such development; they are part of current policy interventions dating back only a few years, albeit based on previous experiences. It is worth noting that the combined populations of these two continents (around 5.3 billion people; UNFPA 2022) amount to almost three-quarters of the world population (ibid.). Many countries in Asia and Africa have higher numbers of non-literate adults and out-of-school children and youth than those in other world regions. This increases the need for ALE participation in relevant institutions like CLCs, their institutionalisation and professionalisation. While we have to accept that limited data are available for ALE and CLCs globally, data are available for Asia, and in Africa some innovative developments supporting CLCs are grounded in broader approaches to ALE system-building.
The Asia Pacific region: Viet Nam, Thailand and Japan
In 1998, the UNESCO Regional Office in Bangkok started a CLC project as part of its Asia Pacific Programme of Education for All (APPEAL) (UNESCO Bangkok 2001). It was planned as an attempt to reach those “with few opportunities for education”, and based on this definition of a CLC:
A community learning centre (CLC) is a local place of learning outside the formal education system. Located in both villages and urban areas, it is usually set up and managed by local people in order to provide various learning opportunities for community development and improvement of the quality of life. A CLC doesn’t necessarily require new infrastructure, but can operate from an already existing health centre, temple, mosque or primary school (UNESCO Bangkok 2003, p. 2).
The project spread across many countries in the region, and by 2003 Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Viet Nam were mentioned as participating (UNESCO Bangkok 2003, p. 3). APPEAL provided a resource kit (UNESCO Bangkok 2006) and followed up with manuals, partner meetings and conferences. Cambodia developed cooperation with a French non-governmental organisatoin (NGO) and produced their own guide on managing CLC (ACTED 2018).
At a regional meeting of APPEAL held in 2012, a new CLC definition emerged:
A Community Learning Centre (CLC) is a community-level institution to promote human development by providing opportunities for lifelong learning to all people in the community (ACTED 2018, p. 1, referring to UNESCO Bangkok 2013).
The orientation towards lifelong learning for all is growing. The increase in diversity within and between countries ever since the beginning of the APPEAL project can be seen in a collection entitled Community-Based Lifelong Learning and Adult Education: Situations of Community Learning Centres in 7 Asian Countries (UNESCO Bangkok 2016).
The reasons for achievements and success seem to be manifold, including the harmony between programmes and local needs, lifestyles and strong government support. Ai Tam Pham Le provides an interesting case study for Myanmar, where she discusses the contributions of CLCs to personal and community development (Le 2018). In Indonesia, the CLC manages the non-formal education programme (Shantini et al. 2019), and in Nepal CLCs are seen as supporting lifelong learning and are now part of national education plans (MoE Nepal 2016).
In this article, we present examples from Viet Nam, the country with the highest number of CLCs in Southeast Asia; Thailand, which has diverse CLC organisations; and Japan, with its own pre-CLC kominkan. Thes three country cases serve to describe some of the circumstantial similarities and differences in which CLC developments emerged and co-existed with other forms of community-based ALE.
Learning is a traditional part of Vietnamese culture. Multiple folk sayings reflect the value of learning: “A stock of gold is worth less than a bag of books”; “An uneducated person is an unpolished pearl”; “Learning is never boring; teaching is never tiring”. Respect for teachers is required, as in “He who teaches you is your master, no matter how much you learn from him”. Learning is a way of life in this country. The history of Viet Nam is adorned with people who, against the odds, overcame difficulty and studied to achieve high levels. One example is Mac Dinh Chi, who studied by himself at night in the faint light of the fireflies he kept in his hand because his family could not afford an oil lamp. As a result of his studies, he became a Zhuàngyuán, the title given to the scholar who achieved the highest score on the highest level of the Imperial examination in ancient Viet Nam.
When the country was reunited after the resistance wars, the Vietnamese government restarted the learning movement, a process initiated in 1945 by Ho Chi Minh, the first leader of the independent socialist republic of Viet Nam. Literacy classes and complementary education programmes (equivalent to primary education) were organised in schools, religious facilities like Catholic churches, Buddhist pagodas and large private houses. The establishment of two pilot CLCs in 1999 was a new national intervention by the government to adopt “CLC[s] as a delivery system of continuing education at the grassroots” (Okukawa 2009, p. 191), providing not only literacy programmes but also knowledge and skills that would empower learners and boost community development.
Currently, approximately 11,000 CLCs form the most extensive network of non-formal education institutions in Viet Nam, reaching nearly all communes and wards of the country, providing local learning activities for people ranging from literacy to post-literacy, from income-generation to leisure skills and knowledge, practical knowledge of civil laws, legitimate actions and legal processes. In 2018, there was a total enrolment of 20 million participants in these CLCs according to capacity-building material circulated internally by the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET Viet Nam 2018). The success of the CLC operation is largely due to the principle “of the people, by the people and for the people” (MOLISA Viet Nam 2018; MOET Viet Nam 2018), under the guidance and with the support of the government through policies. A sense of shared ownership thus encourages local people to engage in CLC activities.
Vietnamese CLCs are autonomous, while receiving professional guidance from the district Bureau of Education and Training (MOET Viet Nam 2008), and administrative management of the government at all levels. In each community, the head of the local People’s Committee is also the Director of the CLC (MOET Viet Nam 2008a, 2014), which gives the centre an advantage: easy alignment of CLC programmes and activities with central Government direction (Pham et al. 2015). The practical value of this was demonstrated during the first outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020: following directives of the central Government, local governments implemented control measures, raised people’s awareness of the disease, and gave advice on disease prevention. In their dual role as head of the local authority and leader of the CLC, these leaders organised appropriate CLC activities in cooperation with mass organisations like Viet Nam Women’s Union and the Youth Communist Union.
CLCs have strong legal status in Viet Nam, provided for in the Laws on Education in 2005 and 2019 (National Assembly of Viet Nam 2005, 2019); in MOET Decision 09/2008/BGDDT (revised in 2010, and again in 2014; MOET Viet Nam 2014) on organisation and operation of CLCs in communes, wards and towns; and in Ministry of Finance Circular No.96/2008/TT-BTC on financial support for CLCs from the national budget (MOF Viet Nam 2008). Clear directions from the central Government ensure uniformity in management (Khau and Tong 2021).
The first community learning centre in Thailand was the 1982 Hill Area Education and Community Development Centre, an improved version of the village reading centres initiated by the Department of Non-Formal Education (DNFE) in 1972, where newspapers were provided to “promote reading habits and reinforce reading skills for neo-literates” (Leowarin 2010).
According to Suwithida Charungkaittikul of the Department of Lifelong Education of the University of Chulalongkorn, 9,524 CLCs spanned the country in 2018, reaching all rural corners. Thai CLCs are located in a variety of physical entities: district administration offices, schools, community halls, local elderly people’s private houses, factories and temples. Buddhism is the dominant religion in Thailand, followed by around 95% of the population (ARDA 2021). The approximately 40,000 Thai Buddhist pagodas (MoE Thailand 2017) serve more than religious purposes. They are learning sites because Thai tradition requires that boys come and live in pagodas for an average time of three months before the age of 20, to learn to read and write, and to understand ethics and Buddhist history and philosophy. Thus, the pagodas are “the centre of all kinds of community activities, including learning” (Sungsri 2018, p. 214). Today they also host CLCs providing learning to all people, regardless of gender.
Operating on the same principle “of the people, by the people, and for the people” as in Viet Nam, Thai CLCs have transformed non-formal education provision from “bureaucracy-oriented to community-based approaches” (Leowarin 2010). They have a strong base in the National Education Act (RTG 1999) and are especially supported by the Non-formal and Informal Education Promotion Act (RTG 2008), which paves the path to decentralisation of education by institutionalising CLCs.
Two philosophical approaches have had great influence on adult education, and thus on CLC programmes in Thailand. Khit-pen, essentially conceived and introduced by Dr Kowit Vorapipatana, former head of government-led ALE, literally means having full ability to think (Sungsri and Mellor 1984; Nopakun 1985 cited in Ratana-Ubol et al. 2021). It was initially applied to functional literacy programmes. The Sufficiency Economy of His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, promoting a way of life based on patience, perseverance, diligence, wisdom and prudence for balance and ability to cope appropriately with critical challenges, has given rise to a growing number of community learning centres called sub-district non-formal and informal education centres that teach local people a way of life that sufficiently and sustainably relies on natural resources.
Traditions, religious norms and philosophical bases blended into a strong foundation and strong government support have given Thai CLCs the characteristic they have today: diversity in location, but uniformity in purpose.
The Japanese kominkan, a distinctive learning centre phenomenon which sprang up post-World War II, was not a child of UNESCO’s APPEAL project, but shares purposes and functions with its CLCs.
War-torn Japan needed to “build back better” – this slogan aptly applies to the period. Article XXVI in Japan’s new constitution stated that “All people shall have the right to receive an equal education correspondent to their ability, as provided by law” (Prime Minister of Japan 1946). With this Constitution, the notion of democracy and a process of decentralisation were introduced into Japanese people’s lives. In 1946, the Ministry of Education issued a plan for the establishment of kominkan [public citizens’ halls], in every prefecture. The purpose of kominkan is to facilitate social education, self-improvement and community development through a variety of learning activities initiated and implemented by local people themselves, and through social interaction including meetings between the community and local government.
Kominkan suited the lifestyle of most Japanese people at the time. “Until the mid-1950s it [Japanese society] was essentially a rural society”, featuring a strong relationship manifested in the fact that “communities were structured into groups – the gonin gumi – and … the most important social value was the subordination of the individual to the group” (Thomas 1985, p. 81). Kominkan had a strong legal base in the 1947 Fundamental Law of Education (MEXT Japan 1947), and the Social Education Law of 1949 (MEXT Japan 1949). Kominkan quickly emerged as a tool for community empowerment, and became the backbone of social education. The number of kominkan soared from 3,534 in 1947 to 20,268 in 1950 (National Kominkan Association 2014) and peaked at 36,406 in 1955 (Arai and Tokiwa-Fuse 2013). Though the number is lower now, at 14,281 in 2018, according to the National Social Education Survey (Oyasu 2021, p. 98), for several social and administrative reasons, kominkan have retained their status as community-based learning sites that promote lifelong learning and a learning society at local levels.
Many factors contributed to the success and extensive network of kominkan in the 1950s. Among the most important was the legality of kominkan as entities established under and for purposes set out clearly in the Fundamental Law of Education in 1947, and the Social Education Law of 1949 (MEXT Japan 1947, 1949), and subsequently, “the national government […] standards for establishing and managing Kominkan and […] financial subsidies for their construction” (MEXT Japan 2008). Secondly, kominkan met the genuine needs of society in the post-war era when people felt an urge to acquire new values, new skills to improve their own lives, and new knowledge to rebuild the country. This process of democratisation and decentralisation also gave a strong boost to people’s spirit, as they understood that they were actually managing their own learning; and that learning benefited their own lives in addition to building community integrity.
Collaborative learning in a general sense doubtlessly began when humans came to live together in groups, a primitive form of community. It was in living and learning from one another that Indigenous wisdom accumulated, based on which community systems developed. Today, CLCs exemplify the same correlation between individual members’ learning and holistic community advancement. In this sense, kominkan are a good example of best practice.
Research initiative on CLCs in Asia
In 2013, a Regional Follow-up Meeting to the Sixth International Conferences of Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI) for the Asia and Pacific region suggested conducting country-based research in the context of the wider benefits of CLCs (UIL 2013). This was initiated by the National Institute for Lifelong Education (NILE) of the Republic of Korea, the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning (UIL) and the UNESCO Regional Office in Bangkok (ibid.). All six countries which joined the project had already worked together within the APPEAL initiative on CLCs. Not least to enable comparability, research in each of these countries (Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mongolia, the Republic of Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam) was based on a joint design and questionnaire, and results were compiled in a synthesis report (Duke and Hinzen 2016). Despite the diversity of countries in terms of their history and their political, economic and cultural history and present situation, the synthesis report contained implications and proposals which are important here:
Policy, legislation and financing. The findings suggest that to create a system of CLCs adequate in quantity and quality throughout the country, support is needed similar to what is available through the formal education system to schools, universities and vocational training. The necessary policies and legislation related to CLCs must have a sound financial basis, in this sense no different from that for formal education. […].
Assessments, monitoring and evaluation. Learning and training assessments at local level should produce data relevant to the construction, planning and development of programmes, curricula and activities. These need to be guided by forms of continuous monitoring and regular participatory evaluation involving CLC learners and facilitators. All of this, including monitoring and evaluation, are professional support services to help local CLCs to improve (Duke and Hinzen 2016, p. 28).
In the next section, we turn to Africa, where CLCs are still evolving. While focusing to some extent on Ethiopia and Uganda, where some research into CLCs has already been conducted, we do not present the two countries separately. Rather, they serve as examples of what is, as mentioned earlier, part of current policy interventions in a larger number of African countries.
The African region
The concept and practice of community-based ALE and CLCs in East Africa, as in many other parts of Africa, have evolved over time. The folk development colleges of Tanzania which started in the 1970s as part of international cooperation with Sweden and their folk high schools, are a special case, but interesting since they continue to be supported by government funding today (Rogers 2019). Local experiences of community learning are also found in Kenya, where CLCs have been brought into sustainable development efforts (Nafukho 2019); and in Lesotho CLCs are being tested as providers of ICT services for the community (Lekoko 2020). In South Africa there are attempts to combine CLCs with efforts to improve popular and community education (von Kotze 2019). A more general literature review of CLCs in selected African countries (Hinzen 2021) found that they are places where not only youth and adults, but also children and the elderly can access a variety of learning and education opportunities as well as other services (like community libraries, vocational training or internet access) provided by local government sector offices, often implemented with the involvement of civil society organisations (Hinzen 2021).
Ethiopia and Uganda
Ethiopia took action in 2016 after a delegation visited Morocco to learn more about CLCs. The Moroccan concept and design were adapted to the Ethiopian context and ten pilot CLCs were set up in five regional states (Belete 2020). As the benefits for the community and service providers started to emerge, other countries like Uganda and Tanzania became interested, and exposure visits were arranged for key government officials and NGO experts. Uganda has since set up nine CLCs across four pilot districts (Jjuuko 2021) including, as in Ethiopia, plans for upscaling within and rolling out to more districts. The interest from communities, different government sector offices and other ALE stakeholders has exceeded expectations. Therefore it is worth investigating the rationale for setting up CLCs in the region; the services and modalities to offer the services; the involvement of stakeholders from both the demand and supply side; steps to start and operationalise CLCs; and considerations for the sustainability and institutionalisation of CLCs within an ALE system. The concept of CLCs in the region is still evolving, and new pathways for ALE are being considered, so in the next section, we also look at what is currently planned for future consideration.
Why is there a need for CLCs in Africa?
ALE services are usually offered through learner groups who gather and meet within or close to their communities on a regular basis with a facilitator or trainer for adult literacy classes, different forms of skills training and extension services. While this serves the purpose of bringing ALE closer to its users, it also has limitations, especially in rural communities. In Africa, ALE trainers and facilitators have to travel long distances and cannot always reach all communities in need. Serving everyone requires more staff and more funding. Another limitation concerns the types of services offered, because equipment and materials necessary for certain types of training are not always readily available. To make provision effective, a place is needed where different ALE services can be offered as a one-stop service, and communities of all age groups can gather to conduct their own affairs. In rural African communities, such infrastructure is often poor or lacking. CLCs have the potential to fulfil the needs and interest of ALE service users and providers.
What do CLCs offer in Ethiopia and Uganda?
In Ethiopia and Uganda, CLCs have evolved as spaces that offer not only ALE services, but different forms of learning and education opportunities within the spectrum of lifelong learning. In the early days of setting up CLCs in Ethiopia, a need was identified for a place within the CLCs where mothers could leave their children while attending classes. This evolved in many CLCs into full-scale early childhood development (ECD) centres, where preschool-aged children are cared for and can start learning. Urban CLCs in Addis Ababa found that this is also a source of income for the CLC, providing affordable day care for mothers who could not otherwise afford it. The CLCs are government-funded, and the mothers pay a small amount. In Uganda, school-going children attend additional support classes at CLCs. Youth and adults have a variety of services to choose from, based on the concept and definition of ALE in both countries. Integrated adult literacy classes combine literacy and numeracy with livelihood skills training, business skills training, life skills, etc.
Establishing libraries at each CLC, with books for all age groups, strengthens the skills of neo-literates, but also provides a resource centre for all ages, encouraging reading groups. One CLC in Ethiopia constructed an outdoor garden reading room as a quiet space for these activities. Youth enjoy sport and entertainment activities, and many youth clubs have been formed. In Ethiopia, the training offered by CLCs with support to engage in savings and loan schemes has assisted many youths to start a business and engage in farming. This has contributed to changing their minds about emigrating to other countries for their livelihood. Older adults have found a space to escape loneliness, enjoy discussions with their peers, have elder council meetings and engage with other age groups. The CLCs have thus also become a place for intergenerational learning. Beyond training and learning opportunities, CLCs also provide a service delivery point. CLCs in Uganda have schedules where different sector office experts are available on scheduled days with advice and services for individuals and small groups. Health sector offices in both countries have special days for vaccinations of children, health awareness-raising, and instructions on COVID-19 and other diseases. Paralegal services are offered, and local mediation of conflict within the community. CLCs have also started facilitating market days, where trainees can promote and sell their products.
The outbreak of COVID-19 required and prompted adaptation. Ethiopia produced a series of 20 radio programmes on business skills training. This also provided virtual outreach to a bigger CLC target group and promoted existing CLCs and the services they offer. As CLCs evolved into one-stop service centres, assessment of services became a new concern, and CLCs in Uganda started using community scorecards to assess services and have interface meetings between users and providers. Local government offices and politicians alike began to view CLCs as places where good local and integrated governance can be promoted (Republic of Uganda 2018).
Who is involved?
Stakeholder involvement should be viewed from both demand and supply sides of service delivery. The different categories of service users from the demand side are highlighted above. Their involvement goes beyond the use of services: CLC management committees are elected and formed with community members acting as a board, and regularly engaging with local government service providers to discuss the types and quality of service, sustainability and finances of their CLC. These committees are provided with training to fulfil their roles. Service providers in Ethiopia and Uganda are mostly local government sector offices, some partnering with NGOs who use the CLC facilities as places to provide services and contribute resources. The sector office experts and managers have formed cross-sectoral technical committees who jointly plan, budget, implement and monitor service provision through regular meetings, promoting horizontal and intersectoral integration. These committees are mirrored at higher governance levels, thereby promoting vertical integration through the spheres of governance.
How is the CLC policy intervention implemented?
The establishment and management of CLCs take place in two phases: the first one is an establishment phase which takes care of orienting stakeholders and community members, conducting a situation analysis and needs assessment, training both the CLC management committee and the sector experts, and forming the necessary cross-sectoral committees across levels of governance. It involves selecting a space where the CLC will be established and appointing and training a CLC coordinator from one of the government sector offices. With few exceptions. all CLCs in Ethiopia and Uganda have been established in existing buildings donated by local government, with sufficient land for demonstration sites and sports facilities. Renovation costs have been shared by government and NGOs. The operational second phase starts the process of delivering different services and putting systems in place for monitoring and managing the CLC.
To ensure permanence of CLCs and the sustainability of their services, it is crucial for CLCs to be institutionalised. The East Africa region uses the Adult Learning and Education System Building Approach (ALESBA) to build sustainable ALE systems across five phases (Belete 2020). CLCs are at the nexus of service delivery, and provide an entry point to build a system for service delivery from the ground up. ALESBA’s conceptual framework considers four elements, each of which has five system building blocks (ibid.). The elements and building blocks ensure attention to an enabling environment for implementing CLCs nationally: embedding them into national policies, strategies and qualifications frameworks, as well as the necessary institutional arrangements across sectors of governance, and making space for non-state actors such as universities and NGOs to play a role.
The establishment of CLCs in Ethiopia and Uganda has exceeded the expectations of both service users and providers. As the practice continues to evolve, more services are added to the CLC spectrum. The provision of computer and other forms of digital training, including radio programmes, is currently in preparation. Governments have scaled up CLCs with their own funds in different districts, and included further roll-out in plans and budgets for the coming years. Advocacy around CLCs should continue to ensure sustainability and inclusion for permanent service delivery within these ALE systems. Ideally, the experience from and success of these projects should be rolled out to other parts of the continent.
Research initiative on CLCs in Africa
Within the broader interest in lifelong learning and the institute’s thematic priority of Africa, UIL analysed case studies from Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda and the United Republic of Tanzania a few years ago, and identified a diversity of community-based activities (Vieira do Nascimento and Valdes-Cotera 2018). In 2021, a new research initiative was launched to provide deeper insight into the potential role for community-based ALE and CLCs (Owusu-Boampong 2021). A short survey comprising 12 questions was prepared to obtain comparable data on the status of CLCs in African countries. It was sent out to 35 African UNESCO Member States, using the channel established by UIL for requesting national reports from countries for the Fifth Global report on Adult Learning and Education (GRALE 5; UIL 2022). The 24 responses received by UIL provide substantial information on related legal frameworks, policies, strategies and guiding documents to support the operation of CLCs in African countries, and a variety of forms at different stages of institutionalisation in about 15 countries. Programmes in CLCs mainly include literacy, vocational and income-generation activities. Target groups are adults, women and youth, with an emphasis on disadvantaged groups and hard-to-reach communities (Owusu-Boampong 2021).
In terms of outcomes of CLC activities, the following were reported: creating a reading culture in the community; empowering communities economically; complementing formal education; providing recreational facilities; participation in community development; creating awareness in health and hygiene; promoting girls’ education; facilitating skills development for citizenship and entrepreneurship; and enabling inter-generational learning (ibid.). Respondents considered the integration of additional services (such as basic health services) in CLCs as having the effect of increasing the effectiveness and sustainability of CLCs, embodying an infrastructure that provides access to communities which often feel deprived or left behind (ibid.). Further findings in the questionnaire include:
Nine out of 24 participating countries reported that CLCs are specifically mentioned in their national ALE or NFE policies.
Half of the participating countries identified their Ministry of Education as the main entity or stakeholder responsible for coordinating CLCs in their country, followed by NGOs and local communities.
The majority of CLC programmes focus on the provision of basic education, and only two countries mention offering equivalency programmes; while four countries provide certification.
The provision of training and access to ICT was reported by 14 countries (ibid.).
Twenty countries reported a marked interest in receiving national capacity development in the form of CLC development guidelines, as well as expressing an interest in participating in peer exchange and sharing experiences among African countries (ibid.).
Also part of the research initiative at UIL was a review of documents available on community-based ALE in Africa (Hinzen 2021), and two of the recommendations emerging from that are the following:
Governments in Africa should strengthen community-based ALE and CLC in their policies, legislation and financing from the education budget, and additionally within the inter-sectoral programmes of rural or community development, health and social services. CLCs should be integrated into international funding agendas. […]
More robust data on CLC are needed through regular collection of statistics on national, regional and global level in respect to providers, programmes and participants that could be used to inform future planning and development. GEM [the Global Education Monitoring Report] and GRALE, together with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics should get involved (ibid., pp. 38, 39).