Formal or Informal Education?

Hasmik Ghazaryan

“According to my calculations I will have pretty good and basic knowledge in all the fields which I enjoy studying with the help of trainings, courses and master classes. I can’t understand the reason why I went to university (the university is good; simply I can’t be a university product). I become mad at the thought that I will be wasting two more years at magistracy.”       

From Syunae Sevada’s Facebook note

Modern public education is like a conveyor: a similar program for everybody, uniform requirements, a definite period of time during which a definite number of students are supposed to gain definite amount of knowledge and skills, and, moreover, they are to form a definite system of values for themselves. But people differ in their capabilities. And that is only part of the problem. Actually people are also different in their imaginations, dreams, their demands, including demands for education.

The standardizing, equalizing school programs have caused skepticism among specialists-intellectuals (Ken Robinson), and some others (Ivan Illich) even reject school altogether considering it a dangerous institution.

But we need to give a definite amount of knowledge to a definite number of people in a short and limited period of time, and we need a sustainable schematic program which will provide modern world citizens with the least knowledge and skills to make their lives dignified and as successful as possible. But modern world is a wide and variable conception. So, how can we act to meet the educational requirements of people having different academic levels, and keep up space with the ever-changing world?

An adult learner considers it to be his right to meet his educational demands with informal education by participating in various courses. And what can we offer to school learners? Perhaps, it may be a club activity. Informal education is in a person's preferred, chosen field. A school learner, who has chosen a club to his/her choice, will undoubtedly enrich his/her knowledge in the chosen field; will be engaged in self-education with pleasure. In this case the teacher in his turn should use this to develop the learner's skills according to the state teaching standards. As a form of informal education club activities doesn't have any age, space and time limits or boundaries. So a club claims to be the school of life, in case it is organized as close to living conditions as possible.

“Mkhitar Sebastatsi” Educomplex has a considerable experience in organizing club activities at for high and middle school learners. The learners not only have an interesting school day, but also in some cases they turn their preferences into choice of future professions (like this year’s school leavers Avetis and Vitali did).                       

Challenging projects can be implemented with responsible learners who have chosen their fields of interests. This kind of activities turns to research methods without any tension, does project works, disseminates learners' fields of interests and has useful results in the course of work. The learners, who have chosen their fields of interests, have the necessity of showing, presenting what they have discovered and learned. Many works that have become materials for the Educomplex and social sites, are the results of club activities. Plein airs, exhibitions, performances and concerts are also the result of informal activities of the students who have chosen art. In any case school life becomes more lively this just this kind of activities, which is not appreciated by parents and community as the result of this work is not seen in figures.

And what about formal education? Formal education is as much necessary for those learners who, at least at the beginning, can’t cope with creative and free life. Formal education is also necessary for those learners who, having manifested themselves fairly well in their club activities, have problems of not falling behind in other fields of study. That is why formal education should have a definite aim. Formal public education should be simple, justified and obtainable for everybody.

“What shall I do to get at least seven”, this an expression expressed by one of my formal course students.

The aims of informal education can’t be contrary to the aims of formal education. They tend to complement each other. That is why combining the evaluation of these two activities (levels) can be effective.  Club activities can include researches in several school subjects. It gives an opportunity to evaluate learners’ skills in several subjects. For example, if a learner has chosen the Reading and Translation Club, in addition to reading and discussing activities (Literature), he also studies the period of the writer’s lifetime and also the period described in the writer’s book (History). The learner also gains skills in making speeches in public (Oral Speech Culture, Mother Tongue), discusses the literature characters from the ethical and psychological point of view (Social Studies), in case of necessity he does translations and in this way masters his writing abilities and gains knowledge in foreign languages. So the learner's knowledge and skills are evaluated in five subjects. The progress in several subjects will be recognized and appreciated by the community. I consider this to be the most convenient way of cooperating with community. But the described way of working can be put into practice only with students who are really responsible and interested. Do the learners choose their clubs within the scope of their interests?

The top priority of today’s traditional schools is to prepare the learners for higher educational institutions. With a tacit consent between school and community man's most active period of life passes away by limiting him. The learner having come to a high school, lacks courage, is under the burden of complexes and in most cases unable to make a choice. Learners usually make a choice by following their parents’ advice, and many others choose their friends to be in the same group. In some cases the teacher’s aggressive posture plays an important role (the learner thinks that he will have problems if he doesn't choose that teacher's club). Sometime the contingency principle acts and the learner chooses the club randomly. But if the club is chosen neglecting preferences, most likely there will be problems very soon.

There are learners who don’t have any preferences or the existing clubs; they don’t match any of their preferences. We put the learner into a subordinate and passive state by obligating this or that club activities. It is clear that the learner should devote the allocated time to learning. I consider it fair that the undecided students shouldn't be obligated to take up club activities; the club should be a sort of bait which may be longed for by a student needing self-expression. He will long for it, he will consider it to be the platform where he can be self-expressed and manifest his inner values. In this case the undecided learner will appear before the necessity of making a conscious choice. So he will learn to choose.

As it is admitted, informal education doesn't have officially recognized results, but the result is very soon seen in the learners' mood and in intensity of manifesting personal interests. If the learner has chosen the right club, the learner's behaviour changes; he gets rid of most of his inferiority complexes, affords himself to make experiments without being afraid of making mistakes. As long as they haven't chosen a club, its hours could be used to develop a number of skills, among them: developing the choice making skills. Eventually, a club for the undecided students, especially 10th graders, can be organized.

Informal education provides a person with an opportunity to act at ease, whereas formal education ensures any person’s adequate communication in a society. That is thanks to the general information which is acquired at school. The club members have a common language with people who have the same field of interests. Another person, if appeared among them, would not feel at ease. Formal education can be the crossing point for people having different fields of interests.

Formal education, being a traditionally accepted phenomenon in the society, can be a platform for dialogue between educators and the real clients of education. Revolution in education, however good goals it may have, is sure to lead to confrontation with large masses and will result in rejection. To present and make them acceptable we should deliver innovations to people in familiar plates. So we should use interesting and innovative methods while organizing formal education. Who said that the curriculums, subject syllabuses, standards of teaching-learning different school subjects can't be altered? Modern and constantly updated methods, using any affordable and accessible space for outer classroom lessons, leaving out some materials from traditionally fixed school subject contents will step by step combine informal and formal ways of education. Moreover, formal education is just the firm platform, where informal education can be constructed, ready for the most challenging flights of imagination.

Conclusion: both the leveling, equalizing program and giving preference to only one way of education can deter the learner. Taking into consideration the learner's individuality even hopelessly outdated methods can't be excluded; the aim of education is educating in the most suitable way for each person. Every learner has the right to expect that his educational requirements will be met at school, and the care taken of him/her will be above any principle. With this respect any way of education can’t be rejected, if it can be useful for at least one learner.


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