Non-formal Education for Improving Educational Outcomes for Street Children and Street Youth in Developing Countries: a Systematic Review

Publication Details

Shephard, D. (2014) Nonformal education for improving educational outcomes for street children and street youth in developing countries: a systematic review. International Journal of Social Welfare, DOI: 10.1111/ijsw.12080

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Daniel Shephard
East Asia and Pacific (includes South East Asia), South Asia, Europe and CIS, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Commonwealth of Independent States, Developed Countries
Education, Social Protection
Educational Inputs, Non-formal Education, Pre-Primary and Primary Education, Public/ Private Sector Education , Secondary Education, System Reform & Capacity Building , Vocational/ Technical Education & Training, Social Assistance
Equity Focus
Orphans and Vulnerable Children
Review Type
Effectiveness review

Main findings

Headline Findings: a summary statement

There is insufficient evidence to reach any conclusions on the effects of non-formal education on educational outcomes for street children and youth in the developing world. 

Evidence Base

No studies met the inclusion criteria. However, the author does provide a narrative overview of the findings from three studies that were excluded, but were closest to meeting the review inclusion criteria. One of these was a Randomised Controlled Trial of an NFE programme for out-of-school youth in Jordan (excluded because it was not clear whether more than a minority of the study population consisted of street children or street youth). Two other cohort studies of NFE programmes in Egypt and Ethiopia did not meet the methodological inclusion criteria. 

Implications for policy and practice

Discussion of the findings presented in excluded studies indicates the follow:

  • The ‘risk of harm’ identified in some qualitative studies of NFE programmes was not detected in either of the two studies that examined behavioural outcomes for empowerment-based pedagogy programmes.
  • There was some evidence of positive trends in behavioural outcomes, although this evidence is weak.
  • Evidence of vocational outcomes provided by one study carries a high risk of bias, and there is no evidence on educational outcomes.

Implications for further research

The author calls for high-quality research on non-formal education for street children and street youth, using counterfactual evaluation designs. Future evaluations should determine whether study participants are really street children or youth, by asking appropriate questions. They should also measure outcomes for educational skills, performance, and attainment, as well as vocational outcomes. When designing future studies, researchers should consider the role small sample size, low exposure to the intervention, and attrition when powering studies and conducting analysis. Future research should also compare various types of non-formal education. 


Millions of children and young people in developing countries live and work on the street. Typically, these children are unable to enrol or stay in school, often due to the costs of schooling or the opportunity cost of not working. This affects their chances of leading healthy, stable lives. It can also lead to a cycle whereby their own children also end up on the streets and out of education. Non-formal education (NFE) has been proposed as a solution to this problem, targeting the specific needs of street children and youth. NFE is delivered outside the formal school system, at low cost, and should be flexible to match the needs of the learner, without compromising on the quality of inputs and outcomes. It can offer basic academic skills, such as literacy, or practical vocational training, which will lead to income generation. This review was designed to systematically assess whether NFE interventions are effective in addressing the problems faced by street children and youths. 

Research objectives

The author aimed to uncover the current state of the evidence on the effectiveness of non-formal education in terms of outcomes for street children and street youth in the developing world. 


The author included randomised controlled trials, factorial trials, controlled before and after studies and regression discontinuity studies testing the effectiveness of non-formal education programmes on educational outcomes. Studies also had to focus on street children or youth aged 0-24 in countries that fell below the United Nations Human Development Index of 'very high human development' as of 2010. Primary outcome measures were formal education status and educational performance; secondary outcomes were vocational status and psychosocial well-being. The author searched the published and unpublished literature, without language restrictions, covering the period until May 2011, using 35 electronic databases, including the American Bibliography of Slavic and East European Studies, CINAHL, Econlit, EMBASE, Literature on Adolescent Health, the Latin American and Caribbean Literature on Health Sciences Database, the Cochrane Library, Ovid Medline and SCOPUS. He also searched the websites of a range of organisations, including the International Labor Organization, Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, World Bank, World Health Organization, 3ie and Poverty Action Lab. The review did not identify any studies for inclusion, but provided a narrative discussion of some excluded studies.

Quality assessment

The review has clear inclusion criteria and the author conducted a comprehensive search, covering a large number of sources of published and unpublished literature. The author provides a clear overview of the problems associated, not only with living on the streets, but also for researchers attempting to improve the lives of children through research. No studies were identified for inclusion, but the authors provide a useful narrative summary of excluded studies.  

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