Open School: Reality and challenge

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The most important of all developmental programmes is the promotion of education for it impinges upon every aspect of man. Therefore, the best way to ensure the overall development of a country is through the provision of education for all its citizens.

The Education for All (EFA) summit held in New Delhi in 1993 which was an offshoot of the World Conference of EFA held in Jomtien, Thailand in 1990, culminated in global policy declaration and framework of strategies for providing EFA. The policy declaration called for providing basic education on facilities for every child and everybody by 2000.

Actually, Nigeria has been exploiting various strategies to fulfil the commitment of EFA through the conventional modes – Universal Primary Education (UPE) 1976, and the Universal Basic Education (UBE) 1999.

These efforts have been bedevilled by a number of problems ranging from attitude to infrastructure, to implementation, among others. Where learning materials, textbooks and infrastructural facilities have not posed problems (and it is very rarely so), poor teacher orientation has. For instance, in many states the pressure of increasing enrolments have led to over-burdening of teachers, while at the same time poor working conditions, low income and irregular payment of salaries have undermined teachers’ morale, encouraging absenteeism and search for supplementary sources of income during school hours. Hence the conclusion in most academic circles that conventional school arrangements and modes in today’s Nigeria are grossly inadequate for providing EFA within the global record time. However, open school and open learning may be a panacea for the problem of accessing education for all.

Open School is a philosophical concept implying the elimination of all manners of constraints on the acquisition of education by the citizenry. Openness in this case is measured in terms of flexibility in the use of teaching/learning materials and methods and the lack of conventional restrictions on relevant and related transactions.

With its flexibility, interactivity and interconnectivity in learning process, open school or rather open learning system has increased possibilities of offering educational opportunities to those who are unable to gain entry into the formal system on account of various constraints, including the ‘dropouts’ from conventional system and those who are forced to abandon full time studies for economic or family (e.g. housewives) reasons as well as the ‘left outs’, marginalised groups such as girls and women, street hawkers, nomadic herdsmen, fishermen, farmers and the handicapped.

When, on addressing the President Commonwealth of Learning, Sir John Daniel during his last visit to of Nigeria, the Education Minister, Prof. Fabian Osuji, announced that government attention would be shifted towards the establishment of open school and open polytechnic in Nigeria. The minister was not only being current in his thinking about the country’s education, he was also and most importantly too, moving Nigeria to be in line with today’s global trends in education. When that happens, open learning system with all its inherent advantages will take its long expected root in the country’s primary and secondary school system as it has done at the university level via the National Open University of Nigeria, (NOUN).

There are many types of open school: school of the air; interactive radio instructions and multi-channel learning; e-learning; video-conferencing, and so on. Each type recognises curriculum versus flexibility; choice of technology; how much learner support, difference between quality and quantity; super-structure versus relevant and related infrastructure; partnership and competition; equity. In general, it is a holistic approach which emphasizes planning, thereby ensuring that all content, strategies, patterns and approaches, assessment, use of media, etc are relevant and ‘appropriate’, and carefully thought out before development and delivery. Its course or instructional materials are made to meet the needs of a variety of learners, taking into consideration such key aspects as content validity with correct referencing, outcome of learning, assessment, media and technology, delivery environment and instructional support. Besides, it is cost effective as costs per student are generally lower than for conventional education. It increases enrolments from both the normal and marginalised or handicapped groups as well as improves gender balance in the said enrolments.

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