The livelihood of most rural women are dependent on informal sectors such as farming (crop cultivation, livestock rearing), trade (selling of fruits, vegetables, food stuff, cooking utensils), services (tailoring, hair dressing, road side restaurant), and other menial casual works. Most of these women lack basic modern skills in their daily activities which stems from lack of proper formal education. It is in this regard that Open and Distance Learning (ODL) system has become essential as a good alternative for formal education due to its simplicity, affordability and accessibility even to the inaccessible and remote rural areas. Education being the bedrock of human development is the greatest tool which can uplift these women from their demeaning existence to a meaningful life. Right application of ODL will not only improve the economic conditions of these women but also that of the entire region. This work studies the role of Open and Distance Learning (ODL) in empowering sustainable livelihoods of rural women in south east Nigeria. The study is carried out in National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN) study centres located in Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi States. Primary data are collected through questionnaire administered to respondents and analyzed using simple statistics, while secondary data are collected from different sources such as published books, journal articles, websites and government gazette.
In Nigeria, rural areas are often referred to as villages, communities or even hometowns. The inhabitants are usually poor and lack basic amenities such as pipe borne water, electricity, poorly maintained educational and health institutions. Other features of the rural areas include high infant mortality rate, lack of banking facilities, informal job opportunities, lack of housing planning, etc. Under these conditions, and in accordance with Nigeria patriarchal family system, it is expected that every man should provide for his family to ameliorate the suffering common in rural life. Unfortunately, rural women are increasingly becoming the breadwinners of their families. They have become great agents of change and prosperity and have individually and collectively contributed in improving the conditions of rural dwellers. In South East Nigeria, the women perform very important roles in families and in entire community as a whole. They are active participants in almost all informal sectors of rural life such as subsistence farming (crop cultivation, livestock rearing, production of palm oil), trade (selling of fruits, vegetables, food stuff, cooking utensils), services (tailoring, hair dressing, road side restaurant), and other menial casual works. These services by the rural women ensure not only the availability of food but also education and health provisions for the children and entire community. Unfortunately, in spite of the efforts by rural women to uplift the conditions of the rural area and to better their lives and that of their children, the rural area is still bedeviled with all sorts of infrastructural and developmental challenges. These challenges stem from the fact that most of these rural women lack basic modern skills in their daily activities due to lack of formal education. This education deficiency has limited their ability to exploit their human and environmental potentials for the benefits of their communities. Such potentials include access to soft loans, benefits of cooperative societies, recruitment into formal sectors, benefits of girl-child education, family planning and knowledge of governmental policies that benefit subsistence farmers and petty traders. Unfortunately, rural women access to formal education is limited as it is not only expensive but also inaccessible to most of them. In order to bridge this education gap, Open and Distance Learning (ODL) becomes a great alternative for the rural women to acquire education and better their lives and that of their children and community. In this work, we are going to look into the role of Open and Distance Learning as a vehicle to enhance the livelihood of rural women for sustainable development.
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