Developing the Community: The Role of Universities and Open and Distance Learning
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AbstractBuilding a well-developed community is a formidable but necessary challenge for many nations. An ideal community should fulfil all economic, social, material and spiritual needs of each and every one of its members; and meeting this end requires educated, skilled and competent people. From this angle, it is clear that education is an essential instrument in any community development strategy.//
With the increasing impact of globalisation, community development has also come under the purview of universities. As nations race towards creating knowledge-based economies, it has become even more important to equip people with higher education as a means to further enhance the quality of human capital. Resultantly, universities have had to evolve with the needs of the community – through programmes, infrastructures, delivery methods, technologies and philosophies that can reflect the community’s demands and attitudes. Open and distance learning (ODL) is one such response in this evolutionary process; an innovative approach that has allowed for an unprecedented number of people to attain new knowledge through university education, thereby adding value to the community development process. Lifelong learning, encompassed in ODL, is also a vital concept in community development – through short courses, professional training and the like; productive members of the community have a flexible and convenient opportunity for self-development and career advancement.//
This paper will examine the role of universities in community development as well as explore the contribution of ODL in enriching the community’s knowledge potential by creating an equitable, flexible and democratised access to higher education through which many major issues like the digital divide and gender disparity can be addressed. For many developing countries under the Commonwealth flagship, this is indeed a significant and positive turn. The Commonwealth of Learning (COL) as an intergovernmental organisation that champions open access to education is also in itself an important enabler for Commonwealth countries. By leveraging on technologies and forging a concrete link between universities and communities through ODL and with the support of COL may perhaps pave for a new way to advance human capital and shape an optimistic future for all communities worldwide.