Women empowerment is receiving world attention, United Nations has included gender equality and women empowerment in its development goals. Women empowerment is an essential ingredient for achieving all the development goals. Nigeria as a nation has adopted education as an instrument for social and economic transformation. It was spelt out in the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004), National Policy on Education that every Nigerian child shall have a right to equal educational opportunities. The efforts of Nigerian government in education has not yielded significant positive results on girls and women education, Girl-child educational attainment in Nigeria is still low as records have shown that fewer girls go to school than boys. Female enrolment dwindles as they move up the educational hierarchy (Onuebunwa, 2003). The increasing cost of schooling is the major reason why many parents cannot send their children particularly girls to school. Observations have shown that poverty is widespread and parents could not meet the private or individual cost of education. It was observed that most poor parents from rural house-holds send their daughters into domestic labour market as a source of income. This draws many promising young girls away from schools. ODL has indeed been a grace saving devise to salvage women's course as far as education is concerned
STATUS OF WOMEN EMPOWERMENT IN NIGERIA
Women empowerment is the development of mental and physical capacity, power or skills in women for them to operate meaningfully in their social milieu, thereby experiencing a more favourably level of social recognition and subsequently enhance their economic status. Education is the bedrock of women empowerment, be it formal or informal education. Fafunwa (1971) viewed education as the aggregate of all the process in which a child or young adult develops the abilities, attitudes and other forms of behaviour which are of positive value to the society in which he lives.
The level of education of women is low in Nigeria most especially in Northern parts of Nigeria. The National literacy rate for female is only 56% compared to 72% for male, and in certain states the female literacy, enrolment and achievement rates are much lower, for example, girls net enrolment in Sokoto, is 15% compared to 59% for boys. (UNICEF 2002). However, in Nigeria today, there is progress in women education with the exception of northern Nigeria (Uduigwomen, 2004). Although Nigerian women still have a long way from achieving equality with their male counterparts. A good number of Nigerian women are now found in all sorts of enterprising occupations such as Law, teaching, Medicine, Business, and the armed forces.
Political empowerment of women has been enhanced by the level of education. In Nigeria today, women are gradually occupying their rightful positions. Awareness is being created that women should participate in partisan politics. Women are discriminated against in occupying as many positions in comparison with their numerical strength. However, Nigerian women have been occupying various positions such as: ministerial positions, senate, house of representative, state Houses of Assembly, as Deputy governors, commissioners and various important political positions. During president Obasanjo first term in office (1999 - 2003), he appointed about seven women as ministers while during the second term (2003 - to date), he appointed more than seven women into his cabinet. He also appointed women as some of his advisers.
Women domestic empowerment in Nigeria is too low. Observations have shown that resources that are of great importance in the life of women for the purpose of meeting their domestic and matrimonial commitment are inadequate and not available in most cases. In average home in Nigeria women and children move in search of water, fire wood and coal for domestic uses wasting a lot of human hours, and more over female children waste most of the time they should devote to education. Fuel for cooking such as kerosene and cooking gas are preserves of the rich women. Domestic facilities like pipe -borne water, electricity, kerosene, cooking gas are not within the reach of average Nigerian therefore these problem are subjecting women and children to undue hardship.
Women economic empowerment is low in Nigeria compared to their male counterparts. Many women still live on menial jobs. Most jobs performed by women do not have economic values. All the work and activities that do not required financial reward are the responsibilities of women (Egunjobi, 2005). Women empowerment goes a long way in reducing child abuse, if women are empowered their children will receive more care and education, Poverty has been a great hindrance to women education. Low education coupled with cultural discrimination against women is a constraint to women empowerment. According to UNESCO statistics 31% of women in Nigeria are literate against 54% for men. Women made up to two thirds of illiterate adults, (Egunjobi 2005). It is believed that a woman's place is in the kitchen and they are perceived as parts of husbands' properties. The goal of women empowerment is to be directed towards restoring the dignity of womanhood as a sound, intelligent and functional members of the society.
OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING (ODL) PROGRAMMES IN NIGERIA
The development of ODL has indeed been a revolution the problems of inaccessibility, high drop - out rates and lack of opportunities that have always constituted barriers to education are gradually phasing out. ODL is the type of education that takes place outside the traditional school system, it is imparted without necessarily having personal interaction with the learners, and there is liberal admission procedure and requirements . The practice of ODL in Nigeria takes various forms which include; open university, Nigeria teachers institute (NTI), part-time programmes, weekend programmes, continuing education, correspondence education, and adult education programmes.
(1) National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN):
NOUN was established as a supplement and complement to traditional channels of delivering education to Nigerian public. The need for ODL is imperative in view of the ever-increasing growth rate in Nigeria population and the high proportion of Nigerian under the age of 15 (about 51 per cent of the total) have produced the highest number of Nigerian to be educated (Jegede 2002). NOUN provides access to tertiary education through ODL. In NOUN, the courses are organized for easy access, grasp, retention and retrieval. The programmes are made available to students at their chosen places (e.g. home, school or workplace) at affordable costs and are to be completed at the students' own time and pace (Alaezi, 2006).
(2) Nigeria's Teachers' Institute (NTI):
The NTI's pivotal Teacher training programme was designed to produce teachers through ODL for the primary schools and junior secondary schools in Nigeria. NTI uses self-instructional materials and weekend vacation contact sessions for tutorials, practical lessons and counseling. It has about 600 study centres country wide. Between 1990 and 1992, the NTI graduated 21,000 Nigeria certificate in Education (NCE holders). This figure compare with the combined total of 58,000 teachers graduated by the nations 58 conventional colleges of Education (Aderinoye, 2001). The NTI's pivotal Teachers' programme produced 19,025. 20,800; and 15,567 qualified teachers for year 2000, 2001, and 2002 respectively (Aderinoye, 2001).
(3) Sandwich Programmes:
They were established and run by many tertiary institutions in Nigeria, most especially the universities and colleges of Education. Sandwich programmes in Nigeria, dates back to the mid eighties. They are programmes that are run during the school vacations to create opportunities for working class. These programmes are made available to all categories of entry qualifications ranging from; standard six, certificate school certificate attempted, school certificate holders, grade two teachers, Nigeria certificate in Education (NCE) holders, degree holders. Many universities have been running the proramme right away from its inception in the mid eighties, although some universities later joined. Universities that are very prominent in the running of these programmes include: University of Port Harcourt, Amadu Bello University (ABU), University of Benin, University of Ilorin, Delta State University, Adekunle Ajasin University and University of Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria (UNAD).
University of Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria was prominent in running the programme. It started running Its programmes since the late eighties. Institute of Education was established in the 1987/88 academic session purposely to run sandwich programmes among others. Senate on 4 th December 1991 approved the establishment of sandwich Board of studies for Institute sandwich programmes (UNAD, 1993). UNAD however, established its Directorate of External programme in 2005 as a further step to coalesce and fortify it various ODL programmes which include; sandwich, affiliation, and part-time degree programmes. The high competition for admission to regular and traditional school systems have made young boys and girls opt for sandwich programmes.
(4) Weekend programmes:
They are run by some Universities, Nigeria Teachers' Institute (NTI), and polytechnics. These programmes were established and run to create opportunities for working class and young school leavers as a means of accessibility and opportunity to be educated and to improve on their level of education. In Nigeria today many senior secondary school certificate holders are now seeking admission into these weekend programmes. Indeed these programmes are grace saving devises for Nigerian government since the traditional school system cannot cope with the teeming population of potential students for tertiary institutions. Weekend studies have produce holders of Degree in various disciplines, National Diploma (ND), Higher National Diploma (HND), Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE), and Teacher Grade Two Certificate in Nigeria.
(5) Correspondence Learning:
University of Lagos has established correspondence studies as far back as 1974. It was formerly referred to as the correspondence and open studies unit (COSU), but today it is redefined to produce university graduates in disciplines necessary to meet national labour need (e.g. teachers, nurses etc). Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) also established correspondence, and Teachers' in-service programmes (TISEP) in 1976 which offers special training programme to prepare middle level teachers for Nigeria's primary Schools (Aderinoye and Ojokheta 2004).
(6) Distance Learning Centres (DLC):
DLC was established by the university of Ibadan's senate in 1988, it was initially referred to as The External study programme (ESP), that later became the center for External Studies (CES), and today is called Distance learning center (DLC). It was established to provide opportunities for teachers on the job to improve their skills and knowledge through on-the-job training. This in-service training enabled them to subsequently raise their status from holders of Nigerian certificate in Education (NCE) to full fledged Universities degrees holders.
OPEN AND DISTANCE LEARNING (ODL) AND THE NIGERIAN WOMEN
Nigeria government has taken ODL as an instrument to achieve its educational goal. It was stated in Federal Republic of Nigeria (2004) National Policy in Education that, the goal of ODL shall be to provide access to quality education and equity in educational opportunities for those who otherwise would have been denied. Women have participated in myriads of ODL programmes. It has been instrumental in lowering illiteracy rate, drop out rate, and furthermore creating accessibility and immense opportunities for the Nigerian Women. Many Nigerian women from all walks of life have continued to seize the opportunities of ODL programmes to improve on their education, get better job, and improve on their standard of living. Many women, belonging to various occupations such as hairdressing, fashion designing, petty trading can now boast of being educated. Many full time house-wives were able to enroll in these programmes thereby improving on their education.
ODL is a source of progress and development for women. Marriage had always been a terminal point for women education. Women rarely leave their homes for further studies because of the risk of loosing their jobs. It was believed among educated men that little education was sufficient for women just to make them literate. It was believed that educated women would not be submissive to their husbands, and hence women education met with resistance in terms of financial and moral support from their husbands. Today, ODL has brought succour to the women education and subsequent empowerment. Women can aspire to reach any level in their education through ODL programmes. A lot of women have been admitted through sandwich programme, NTI part-time programme and even weekend programme, who could now boast of reaching the height of their education attainment. Some University lecturers who are women credited their educational attainment to the opportunities through ODL it was revealed by some of them that they got married with Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) but hey are currently holders of Ph.D. in their various disciplines. Some women claimed that they dropped out of secondary school while in elementary class due to teenage pregnancy. Many of these women are now holders of grade two teachers' certificate, NCE and first degree.
NTI programme was very importance in women education through ODL in Nigeria. Teachers in primary schools are predominantly women who have benefited immensely from NTI programme. Majority of primary school teachers were initially grade two teachers but today rarely can grade two teachers certificate holders be found among them, they are nearly all holders of NCE and even many of them are degree holders. Sandwich programmes have also recorded a large turnout of women participation and attainment. ODL has started to benefit a few number of women in Northern Nigeria compared with Southern part. The problem of women education is compounded with early marriage and ignorance. Concerted efforts are being made to bring education to the northern women. The women and girls are made to learn from women development centres. At Gidan Haki in Sokoto North Local Government, women are opportuned to be educated at the Women Development Centre. Women are made to learn while nursing their babies at the same time. Some girls also abandoned street hawking in responses to peer pressure to learn how to sew and make dresses, weave baskets and practice home economics. Besides, some of the women see it as a chance to catch up one of life's missed opportunities (EFA, 2000).
ODL creates opportunities for women education today to learn throughout their life time. Education given to a woman is un-quantifiable, the spillover effect of women education on children, families, communities and the nation cannot be over-stressed. An educated woman is a better mother, wife, social mobilizer or citizen. It is worthy of note that despite the ample opportunities through ODL, there are still millions of women who are still illiterates due to ignorance, cultural hindrances and poverty in urban, rural and remote areas of the country. ODL has played significant roles in accelerating women education and subsequently women empowerment. ODL has created opportunities for women to squeeze time out to learn and further their education. It also created opportunities for women to up-grade their qualifications and skills at reasonable intervals. ODL is a veritable instrument in bringing social and economic transformation of women. Women in Nigeria have the opportunities and accessibility because available facilities in institutions are now used in educating them. Access to education has always been a problem because of inadequate funding and facilities to meet the admission demands. ODL is cost effective because government could now spend less in providing education for a large number of prospective candidates.
The opportunities and accessibility created by ODL have generated a lot of enthusiasm in Nigeria. It is a grace saving device for government to make education available to average Nigerian. ODL is only cost effective for government in running the programmes because it attracts heavier school fees more than the regular school programme therefore it is cost intensive for students. Many women are still scared by the money spent on education. The poor economic situation has pauparised most Nigerian women, hence the use of basic technological and communication gadgets are preserve of the rich people. Thus computer related telecommunication facilities might not be useful for most Nigerians, as computer is still a luxury in institutions, offices, and homes. This may make integration of necessary online resources into ODL in Nigeria difficult. The problem of electricity constitutes adverse effects on ODL, several rural areas in Nigeria are yet to have electricity while the urban areas experience irregular power supply. The prospects of ODL for women is noteworthy. Government should translate the goal and objectives of ODL stated in the national policy on education into reality, and should encourage, regulate and promote ODL programmes, Women should be encouraged through relevant ODL programmes that are designed to meet their needs . Educational Institutions offering ODL should be encouraged to expand the scope of the programmes to meet the needs of various categories of women in rural locations, urban centres, nursing mothers, market women, illiterate women and semi-literate women. Technological mediated learning should be intensified so as to get more dividend of ODL in Nigeria.
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