Suppose there is one bell that should constantly be ringing in Nigeria. In that case, it should be the National Open University Bell for the impact of the educational institution in Nigeria. I gave hope to those who never dreamt of acquiring degrees in their lifetimes. It is the first open and distant learning institution in the West African sub-region.
In Nigeria, attaining tertiary education seems to be outside the reach of some of these with the desire, and these individuals, one way or the other, have been forced to jettison the idea. But not anymore with the offerings by the National Open University of Nigeria through its flexible and affordable learning modules. I know of Emeka, Ayo, Aminu, and many others who have built a career through the National Open University of Nigeria. The interesting thing is that you can work and study simultaneously.
The National Open University indeed changed learning in Nigeria. It is estimated to be the only tertiary institution in Nigeria with the highest enrolled students. When the Open University system was conceptualized in 1983, nobody expressed confidence. Nobody wanted to be associated with the university. Because of this, there was a crisis of confidence in the university. By 25th April 1984, the government decided to suspend it.
In 2001, the government under former President Olusegun Obasanjo revisited it, and today its impact has been phenomenal. The dynamic nature of studying at NOUN cannot be overemphasized, as it has tailored its learning mode remotely without face-to-face contact with an instructor in a classroom.
The NOUN has made learning very easy and interesting .Students are free from the constraints of time and place compared to conventional universities. It offers increased access to quality education and skill development to students and those who are medically unfit to attend classes daily with no age barrier.
A unique nature of NOUN is that it is learner-centred; this means it has shifted from the conventional method of teaching and learning to employ other tools such as printed course readers, tutor-and computer-marked assignments, feedback systems and individualized counselling units to effective learning outcomes. This is brilliant.
It also runs a very flexible learning mode, where students can learn at their own pace. A student can defer a semester if they are facing financial constraints. A student can also reduce a semester’s course load if they cannot handle all the courses at once. These are unique attributes.
Since its inception, NOUN’s approach to learning has been to promote the ODL system of education, thus establishing study centres to allow every citizen to acquire education through technology-based learning, which the ODL mode provides.
As of the last count, there are 78 study centres spread across the country’s six geo-political zones, offering over 750 courses and about 50 programmes. Graduates of the National Open University of Nigeria can now be mobilized for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) and for NOUN law graduates to attend law school.
We must admit that open, and distance education plays a crucial role in human capital development in Nigeria. In particular, education and all education-oriented activities and investments are required to accumulate human capital. It creates an opportunity for a nation to develop its human capital, especially those who missed the chance to secure education earlier in their lives. It also creates an avenue for citizens to be educated, productive and creative and avails them of the opportunity to contribute their quota to the nation’s development.
This is on the heels that education has shifted from the traditional form of education towards new teaching and learning methods through the explosion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). The continuous advances in information technology have enabled the realization of a more distributed structure of knowledge transfer through the development of e-education.
The emergence and proliferation of new information and communication technologies (ICT) had introduced an unstoppable revolution into education, particularly in teaching and learning. With the National Open University of Nigeria, e-education had added another dimension to the issue of access by removing distance from education and helping individuals who can to access education anywhere, anytime, at their own pace and any place.
One of the tangible achievements of the National Open University of Nigeria is that inmates in correctional centres across the country also have access to studying at the institution. As of the last count, no fewer than 3,000 prisoners serving different terms across the nation’s prisons are currently studying at the National Open University of Nigeria.
For example, in 2021, eighteen inmates of the Nigerian Correctional Service studying with the National Open University of Nigeria Corrections’ Special Study Centers have graduated in various disciplines. In 2014, the best graduating student of NOUN was an inmate in Maximum Security Custodial Centre, Enugu, and the feat was repeated in 2018 by another inmate in the same Custodial Centre. And the story continues with several inmates pursuing undergraduate and graduate courses at the institution.
The technological innovations at the National Open University of Nigeria have been top-notch because students have been availed of quality education at their pace. This is exceptionally instructive, and the benefits of these are innumerable.
It is thus a statement of the fact that the contributions of the institution in the educational sector in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. It can be therefore said that the reality of underdevelopment in Africa is undeniable. The link between education and the level of economic development in any society has long been established. African countries remain underdeveloped due to a large percentage of illiterates and unskilled workforce within the adult population.
There is growing recognition that knowledge is the primary driver of development. Higher education, which aims to produce a higher level of skills and knowledge, is pivotal to any nation’s socio-economic and technological development. We must recognize the lack of capacity in conventional universities to meet the growing demand for tertiary education.
Open and distance learning is considered as a way out of the problem. Against this backdrop, it has become abundantly clear that for university education to live up to its billing in the production of high-quality human resources, the government has to seriously consider exploiting other avenues of providing access to university education in addition to the face-to-face mode and called for a paradigm shift which will facilitate a steady mainstreaming of the open and distance learning mode as a strategy for increasing access.
Open and distance mode can provide knowledge and skills to all corners of the country, ‘reaching the unreached’ thereby enabling the country to realize Education for All goals. People no longer need to move to educational institutions to seek knowledge and expertise; these are packaged and brought to them through open and distance learning. Thus, The vision of the National Open University of Nigeria is to be regarded as the foremost university providing highly accessible and enhanced quality education anchored by social justice, equity, equality and national cohesion through a comprehensive reach that transcends all barriers.
NOUN’s vision and mission depict the mandate of providing access and ensuring quality in the educational services rendered to the students. NOUN reflects a novel development in the provision of higher education in Nigeria. It is the first full-fledged University that operates in an exclusively open and distance-learning (ODL) mode of education and delivers its course materials via print in addition to information and communication technology (ICT).
In fulfilling its mandate as articulated in its vision and mission, NOUN has taken practical steps to promote equal educational opportunity through a comprehensive reach that transcends all barriers. It has provided education to reach the hitherto un-reached segment of the population, especially those denied access based on one social consideration or the other, including girls and women, the physically challenged, those in employment, those who have passed the age of admission into regular universities, married adolescent girls, girls and women who dropped out of school, prison inmates, ethnic minority groups as well as other disadvantaged people.
NOUN came to the rescue and allowed them to embark on courses of their choice within their vicinity and without contradicting any societal dictates. They are being trained and given the opportunity to contribute their quota to national development.
Education for all and elimination of adult illiteracy will most likely translate into more employment prospects and ultimately better quality of life for the people, which is the essence of national development. Therefore, reaching the unreached and marginalized in education is imperative for countries intent on bridging the development gap. These and many more are the contributions of the National Open University of Nigeria to the educational sector in Nigeria.
Udeh is an educationist and wrote this article from the United Kingdom.