Non‐formal Education (NFE) is widely seen to foster development and to provide an alternative to formal education in developing countries. The article surveys the emergence of NFE in developing countries; discusses definitions, classifications and terminology, case studies and inventories of NFE. The objectives of many NFE programmes are seen to be restrictive and ill‐considered and provision is not adapted to the real needs of target groups. General trends in NFE are outlined by region; its costs, funding and resources are analysed. Finally the contribution of NFE to development is discussed and the desirability of better integration of NFE with formal systems.