Non-formal education (NFE) activities declined in 2020 compared to 2019 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the report on non-formal education released by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports on March 18.

The 119-page annual report details activities, achievements and challenges that occurred last year.

According to the ministry, non-formal education consists of learning opportunities for children and out-of-school youth, dropouts and illiterate people of all ages to help them access knowledge and life skills to improve their quality of life.

This type of education includes such programmes as vocational literacy, post-literacy, complementary, equivalency, re-entry, and income-generating.

In 2020, the literacy rate of adults aged from 15 was 87.7 per cent, of which 90.9 per cent were male and 84.8 per cent were female. Adult illiteracy was 949,516 people with 51 per cent being women.

Prey Veng province has the highest female illiteracy rate at 57.36 per cent, while Oddar Meanchey province has the lowest rate at 44.60 per cent.

In 2020, education departments across the country have implemented 894 vocational literacy or learning literacy classes linked with skills, or a total of 17,694 students. Of these classes, the government has implemented 878 classes and 16 classes come from development partners. At the same time, the number of classrooms, students and teachers has decreased compared to 2019.

The literacy class was implemented in 830 villages, 551 communes in 186 districts across the country.

Literacy classes are also held at correctional centres and prisons, and at factories and enterprises. In 2020, seven literacy classes were held at correctional centres with 160 participants and in 33 prisons with 745 participants.

In particular, the re-entry programme – extra classes for helping students who have dropped out of primary school – was severely affected in 2020 with only the provinces of Kandal, Preah Vihear and Takeo still implementing the programme.

In these provinces, there were only 91 classes operating, a drop of 570 classes form 2019, or 1,742 students, a decrease of 10,069 from 2019.

Income-generating programmes – which combine skills training and lending, such as creating team building, rice banks, and communities – made up 584 classes with 8,622 students enrolled in 2020. This programme trained 40 different skills ranging from sewing and computer literacy to producing material for catching fish.

The non-formal education programme also includes community learning centres, which currently has 349 locations, but only 321 are operating. Centres that did not work were due to a number of factors, such as no clear curriculum, no teachers and little support.

In almost all non-formal education programmes, the decline in the number of classrooms, students and teachers was related to Covid-19.

In the preface of the report, education minister Hang Chuon Naron said: “In 2020, some NEF’s activities couldn’t be processed, some were delayed and changed formats of learning due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The ministry has explored all means to provide knowledge to all students through multi-disciplinary learning, home-based learning, distance learning, and e-learning by producing video tutorials for online education equivalents, literacy programmes and primary equivalency programmes,” he said.

Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said NEF focused mainly on poor, vulnerable children; working and out-of-school youth; ethnic groups and adults. Special attention is paid to children and women.