Call for acceptance of Open, Distance Education intensifies
Without doubt, Open and Distance Education plays an essential role in personal, community, and national development. The increasing growth in Nigeria’s population, the accelerating demand for education at all levels and the challenge associated with accessibility, call for a more viable and robust means of educating Nigerian citizens, which Open and Distance Learning (ODL) institutes are presently doing; but a situation where law graduates from ODL institutes are not admitted into the Nigerian Law School while graduates are excluded from the National Youth Service Corps, raise questions on public acceptability of ODL as a quality means of acquiring formal knowledge. UJUNWA ATUEYI writes on the far-reaching implication of this long-term goal of eradicating illiteracy in Nigeria.
PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan, had recently in an address he presented at the 4th Convocation Ceremony of the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Lagos, declared that Open and Distance Education has categorically become an integral part of Nigeria’s educational system.
As an Open and Distance Learning (ODL) institute, he reminded the audience that NOUN was established by the Federal Government to provide improved access to many eligible candidates who are constrained by the limited spaces in the conventional universities.
The institution was initially established on July 22, 1983 as springboard for ODL in Nigeria, but was later suspended by the Military-government on April 25, 1984. However, its tremendous and unassailable role in tackling the country’s educational problems, including access, equity, and education for all became so evident that consequently, its resuscitation became imperative in April 12, 2001.
According to the President, at the moment, the conventional universities can only admit about 400,000 of the more than 1,500,000 candidates that seek university education in Nigeria, yearly. The 180,000-student enrollment of NOUN accounts for 10 per cent of the total student enrollment in the Nigerian University System.
“I am glad to note that NOUN is fulfilling its mandate and higher education is being revolutionised through open and distance education. The landmark achievements of NOUN at home and abroad underscore the vision of the Federal Government and its determination to address the challenges posed by inadequate access to quality university education in Nigeria.
“In no distant future, NOUN will attain the status equivalent to that of the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) of India that now provides access to quality higher education to its over three million students since its establishment in 1985. Education occupies a unique place in the transformation agenda of this administration. Consequently, government will continue to provide the needed support to NOUN to further enhance its performance,” he said.
Jonathan, whose address was read at the ceremony by the Executive Secretary of National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof Julius Okogie, stated that education underpins all efforts towards national development, and so the fight against corruption, insurgency and all forms of social vices, which government is poised to win, will be made easier if everyone is educated.
Religious, ethnic strife and intolerance, he added, will be reduced to the barest minimum if education is embraced by all and sundry, coupled with the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which is hinged on Education For All.
“As the largest black population in the world and with literacy level of less than 60 per cent, Nigeria has adopted the Open and Distance education mode as a veritable tool for achieving its developmental goals and objectives. The National policy on Education provides for lifelong learning through distance education and this administration is taking full advantage of the opportunities that open and distance education provides.”
“As a pioneer ODL university in Nigeria, and indeed in the West African sub-region, NOUN has created a niche for itself in the national space in particular and the global space in general. My administration is pleased to note that NOUN is operating with a strong consciousness that guarantees success as a front-runner ODL institution in Nigeria,” he expressed.
But the President’s gladness on the achievement of NOUN may not be complete if issues like denial to partake in the NYSC scheme and non-acceptability of law graduates into the Nigerian Law School are not properly addressed.
A Professor of Political Science and Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Rufa’i Ahmed Alkali, had in a lecture he delivered previously, remarked that the denials are common indication of non-acceptability of ODL as a method of acquiring knowledge.
He noted: “ODL has a number of daunting challenges that are specific to it, these challenges are related to its demand for time, effort, energy, skills, knowledge and staff resources. There are also challenges that relate to public acceptability of ODL as a mode of study whose outcomes are comparable to conventional mode of study.”
“This question of acceptability influences the existence of a state of affairs which scholars view as the marginalization of ODL courses in United Kingdom (UK) universities, of course with understandable exception of Open University of UK. This state of affairs also exists in Nigeria where graduates of NOUN are still excluded from NYSC and the Law School on the erroneous understanding by the authorities of these institutions that NOUN’s programmes are part- time programmes.”
However, this development brings so much worry to the Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Prof. Vincent Tenebe, who regretted that, hitherto, majority of the public have not accepted ODL mode as a good method of education.
In a conversation with The Guardian, he admitted that though funding is a major challenge confronting ODL programme, but “the bigger challenge is awareness ad acceptability, people do not know about ODL and people do not know about the Open University, that is why we are creating advocacy and organising lectures to bring the knowledge to the people to accept ODL and utilise it for meaningful development.”
“The challenge of not allowing NOUN graduates who were of NYSC age to participate at the National Service scheme like graduates of conventional universities and the Council of Legal Education (CLE) not giving our Law graduates the opportunity to attend Law School and be called to Bar is our collective responsibility.”
“Discrimination of ODL is witnessed not only among the educationally disadvantaged and uneducated citizens who feel reluctant to utilise ODL mode for personal advancement, but also among the elites and professionals. We need to educate the public and correct the misgiving that NOUN is not a part-time university as all its programmes are full-time and are comparable to all programmes in the conventional universities,” he said.
He, however, informed that “former President of this country, Olusegun Obasanjo, who is also one of our Ph.D students and a respected citizen in this country, has taken it upon himself to help us talk to the authorities that are in charge of allowing our students to participate in NYSC and also giving our students chance in the law school. Discussions are at advanced stage and I promise you, there will be good news very soon.”
“I assure you the quality of education we give to our students from all schools is of international standard and we do not only talk about theories, we invite the whole world, Nigerians to come and test our students, give them opportunity to compete with other students from conventional universities and then judge. We are proud of them, we know their worth and capabilities,” he stated.
Former Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, Barr Onyekachi Ubani, who affirmed that ODL is one of the best things that has happened in the country, blamed NOUN’s management for not getting definite clarifications before establishing the Law Faculty.
He said: “I don’t know the arrangement when they set up that university and put Law Faculty because I know that CLE does not admit part-time students into the Law school and the open university programme seems to fall under that part-time arrangement.”
“And so if it is not a full-time programme would that not be a violation of the standing rule of Nigerian Law School to admit part time graduates? There is supposed to be a synergy from the commencement of the programme, if you are opening up a university and you want to establish a Law faculty, I had thought that the first thing to do was to liaise with CLE and ensure the programme is acceptable by the council, so the entire process was not properly coordinated and now this is showing off.”
Speaking further on ODL he advised managers of open and distance education to keep an eye on quality and ensure the mission of ODL is achieved so as to have a large number of quality graduates in both public and private sectors of the nation’s economy.
“ODL is an arrangement that yield worldwide for people who are in employment and cannot go into full time study, so they use ODL to upgrade their knowledge and acquire new skills. Also it provides wider access to people who otherwise wouldn’t have had access to education, so it is a welcome development.”
“But the mangers need to be serious about it and ensure they do not churn out half-baked graduates because it will be very inimical and fatal to our economic development and the education sector.”
Meanwhile according to CLE’s profile, in Nigeria, the education of a lawyer starts properly at the University. Faculties of Law are to be found in the Universities all over Nigeria. The conditions or qualification for admission to study law are usually as published by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board Act. A prospective lawyer may also choose to study in a foreign university.
The content of the course of study leading to the award of a law degree, whether from a Nigerian or foreign University, must be approved by the Council of Legal Education. Only foreign universities in common law countries or teaching Common Law courses are approved by the Council. The Council usually insists that the subjects taken must include Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Law of Contract, Tort, Land Law, Equity & Trust, Commercial Law and Law of Evidence.
The Council of Legal Education runs the Nigeria Law School and all persons who have obtained a university degree in law and want to practice as lawyers in Nigeria, must attend the Nigerian Law School.
Admission into the Nigeria law School is also open to persons who have passed the final Bar Examinations of the English, Scottish or Irish Bar or the Solicitor’s Final Examinations of England, Scotland or Ireland.
After a course of study at the Nigeria Law School, the student who passes the final – Bar Part II – examinations receives a certificate from the CLE and is then called to the Bar by the Body of Benchers as provided by the Legal Practitioners Act. This is followed by enrolment as a Legal Practitioner at the Supreme Court of Nigeria.