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EDUCATION

Tackling Out-of-school Children Syndrome Using Open Schooling System

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Worldwide, Open School System is creating opportunities for countries who have embraced it to fight out-of-school children challenge. In this report, HENRY TYOHEMBA takes a look at the programme as Nigeria joins other countries to implement the scheme.

Subsequent to months of discussion, deliberation and planning between the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC), Federal Ministry of Education and other education agencies, Open School System is set to start in Nigeria to aid in the fight against out of school children.

This new initiative hopes to enroll huge number of children who are not going to school particularly nomads, farmers and every category of disadvantaged and hard-to-reach learners. This is coming after several efforts by government to curb the issue of out of school children in the country failed to yield significant results.

A recent census jointly carried out by UBEC, National Population Commission, National Bureau of statistics and other stakeholders have revealed that Nigeria has over 10.2 million out of school children and the number continues to grow. A situation that makes open school system a most needed scheme to provide access to education for millions of children who currently have no access to any formal education.

Previous records also show that from 2014, Nigeria has been battling with inconsistent figure of out of school children, ranging from 10.5 to 13.2 million. Even though the number was recently announced to have dropped from 13.2 million to 10.2 million, a lot needs to be done to put this ugly situation to rest.

To ensure progress in the fight to totally end the menace in Nigeria, the government of Nigeria has entered into partnership with the Common Wealth of Learning (CLO), an inter-governmental organisation of the Common Wealth which has the mandate to promote the use of open learning and distance education knowledge, resources and technologies to give opportunities to children and youths who do not have access to formal learning settings to find alternative ways of learning.

COL has identified the development of open educational resources (OERs) as a strategy to help countries increase the breadth and equality of access to all levels and types of education, but especially secondary education and Nigeria being one of the victims, is set to benefit from the scheme.

Open schooling which is ‘the physical separation of the school-level learner from the teacher, and the use of unconventional teaching methodologies and information and communication technology (ICTs) to bridge the separation and provide the education and training,’ is helping many disadvantaged countries confronted with out of school children to tackle the trend. It is on record that some African countries such as Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, who have kick start the programme in their various countries, are already recording success.

The executive secretary of UBEC, Dr Hamid Bobboyi, at a recent two day committee meeting the scheme where the partnership was struck, said the number of out-of-school children would continue to increase for different reasons including accessibility of educational facilities, paucity of classrooms, among other issues. “It is for this reason we thought we needed to explore a kind of strategy that can help us meet the needs of Nigerian children wherever they are and for whatever reason they are not going to school.

“One of those things that have worked in different parts of the world has been the issue of open schooling, innovative open schooling, not the one where you have people just sending text materials.

“We call it innovative because it is IT-based; you have the kind of facilities that can enable you to, without internet connectivity, draw a lot of resources on to certain gadgets. This can then help you disseminate this information and help access those students and pupils attending and registered at these centres. For instance, children who have to go to the farm or herders who have to tend cattle in the mornings will have those facilities that will meet their educational needs when they return in the afternoon.”

With the pilot programme expected to start in selected states, before the end of the year, it is believed that the programme would be scaled up after it has successfully worked in the selected states.

Bobboyi further said that, because the Commonwealth of Learning piloted the project in several countries with similar needs, the commission thought it could benefit from its technical expertise.

“It is Commonwealth of Learning offering Nigeria its own support and resources and ours is to effectively see how we integrate it into our system to make it work,” he said.

He called on all stakeholders in the basic education sector to adopt strategies and ensure their implementation in moving the sector forward. “We have to ensure that the quality of education we desire for our children is achieved in our life time. We must all cooperate and coordinate to ensure our journey to move basic education is done together.”

What makes it different from conventional educational system is that it is designed to be more flexible for the learner than the conventional education system. The learner can be taught at his/her own convenience under this initiative while the learning arrangement in conventional system is structured and sometimes rigid.

The open school initiative is hoped to improve basic education in rural areas going by the fact that it is community-based. The initiative is mostly suitable for nomads, fisher folks, farmers and all categories of disadvantaged and hard-to-reach learners.

Moreover, the involvement of community-based groups and associations such as mothers’ association would make significant impact to ensure that out of school children are enrolled again.

Tony Mays, education specialist, Commonwealth of Learning, said when the programme is fully implemented in Nigeria, it would create opportunities for children and youths who have not completed the basic schooling and give them access to alternative ways of learning. She added that it was assisting the children to complete schooling without being tied to bricks and textbooks.

While the programme is receiving technical support from the Commonwealth of Learning, Canada, it is but with a little amount in areas such as training of teachers in digital learning, modeling and scaling-up initiative. According to Mays, Nigeria was faced with real challenges especially in the basic education sector and the commission had to look for the right strategies to address the challenges and one of the strategies was adopting open school.

When it finally commence, open schooling would either be complementary or an alternative to the conventional school system, and can deliver quality education cost effectively and at scale.

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