Bridging the Development Gap in Nigeria: Reaching the Unreachedthrough Open and Distance Learning
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 mainly to a large percentage of illiterates and unskilled worker force within the adult population. There is growing recognition that knowledge is the main driver of development. Higher education, which aims to produce a higher level of skills and knowledge is pivotal to the socio-economic and technological development of any nation. Most developing countries like Nigeria recognize higher education as indispensable to economic growth and for their country’s integration into the global economy. However, access to higher education remains a key challenge to Africa as there are millions of people particularly marginalized and vulnerable groups who do not have access to higher education thus limiting their capacity to contribute to national development. It is difficult to develop when a large percentage of the population are excluded from access to education. The open and distance learning (ODL) which enables as many people as are willing to attain education even at tertiary level has been embraced as a plausible strategy towards achieving sustainable development. The National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) as an ODL institution is strategically positioned to take education to the doorstep of every Nigerian especially those marginalized and disadvantaged through the conventional educational system. Available data shows NOUN has made modest but significant progress in this regard. However, a lot more work needs to be done to scale up education access to this special group as doing so will enhance their livelihood and help in bridging the development gap in Nigeria and by extension Africa. Against this backdrop, the paper examines the importance of education and its relationship to development. It examines the role of ODL in the provision of educational opportunity to different sections of society and thus bridging the gap. The paper reports strategies that NOUN has employed in reaching the unreached population and the challenges encountered. It concludes on ways and strategies to further empower and provide space for the space less.
Key words: Education, marginalized group, equal opportunity, development, open and distance learning, Nigeria