‘Now that the 2014 UTME is here again, the blunt refusal of Ojerinde and his men to see reason and allow the candidates to settle for the system of their choice for the examination is causing a lot of ripples in the land’
It was meant to provide a seamless passage, but ironically, it has become a monster that is tormenting Nigerian students and also causing collateral nightmares to their parents and guardians. That is the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB. JAMB is the official examination board for entrance into tertiary-level institutions in Nigeria. The body is saddled with the responsibility of administering examinations to students who apply for admission into any Nigerian public and private universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.
In recent times, a lot of public outcry has greeted the conduct of JAMB examinations across the country. The complaints range from inability to access the body’s site, inadequate examination centres, the nearness of these centres to candidates’ places of domicile and all that. But of particular contention is the body’s Computer-Based Test, CBT, which many people have attributed to the woeful results recorded last year in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, by students who were consequently denied entrance into the nation’s tertiary institutions. Now that another UTME is holding in April, stakeholders are worried about the insistence of JAMB to give priority to the CBT and deny those students who still want to do the manual exams, that is, pencil and paper exams, the opportunity to do so by drastically reducing centres for such exams to an intolerable minimum.
JAMB had told the nation last year that it was going to conduct pilot CBTs till 2015 before it finally opts for the system to conduct its entrance examinations to Nigeria’s tertiary institutions. One would have expected the body to still tarry awhile to perfect the conduct of its pilot scheme before putting a seal of finality on it. Even in the last year’s examination, which marked the first pilot scheme, the CBT ran into hitches which necessitated the body to shift the examination for some candidates who registered for it.
For instance, the examinations suffered some hitches at a centre located at Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos. As a result, no fewer than 200 students who were scheduled to write their exam at the centre had to be moved to other centres because they could not access JAMB’s site. This resulted in the CBT starting late. A similar incident occurred at OAK Comprehensive College, Ogba, another centre in Lagos, following a power outage cum technical problems. The consequence of this was the inability to connect the internet for the 180 candidates who were to sit for the examination. This development resulted in all the candidates being moved to another centre located on the premises of Chams, an IT-based company, located at the Government Reservation Area of Ikeja, Lagos, to enable them to take the examination.
Even at that, it was not still plain sailing for the candidates. Prior to the incident, 350 candidates were earlier scheduled to sit for the examination at Chams on the day of the UTME, but with the relocation of other candidates to the centre, there was a population explosion which increased the number to 700. Since the capacity of the centre was 350 candidates at a time, the UTME at the centre was therefore postponed by another two days. The examination was invariably held in two sessions in order not to overstretch the infrastructure at the centre.
Long before the commencement of the CBT UTME last year, Nigerians from all walks of life had expressed pessimism over the policy. Their argument was premised on the fact that it might not work after all. They hinged their resentment on the shameful epileptic power supply in the country, the low computer literacy level of many Nigerian students with much emphasis on those living in the poor, rural areas who may not have the least opportunity to work on the computer, as well as the sustainability of the policy which JAMB hopes to be adopted fully in 2015.
There is no doubt that Dibu Ojerinde, a Professor and Executive Secretary of JAMB and his team mean well. The CBT may have been a good idea, especially now that the world is becoming increasingly ICT-compliant. One also appreciates the fact that the body’s target is to ensure that candidates’ papers are marked, and results released within a short frame of time after the conduct of its examination, but the body needs to make sure that it puts the proper machinery in place before the full take-off of the system. Like I said earlier, though Nigerians are not averse to Information Technology, most candidates, especially those in rural areas, do not have access to computer in their schools. Where they exist at all, they are drastically in short supply, perhaps, reducing the ratio of computers to students to like 1:100 or more.
It is also quite understandable that all JAMB is doing is to improve the quality of examinations for Nigerian students so as to be able to compete favourably with their counterparts in any part of the world. However, introducing such noble policy without enough enlightenment, sensitisation and adequate preparation of the students through exhaustive pilot scheme, casts some dark clouds on the body’s determination to succeed in revolutionising the conduct of examinations in Nigeria. It is like Ojerinde is in a hurry to bring so many innovations at once to the body, mostly those that are not in tandem with available infrastructural facilities in the country. It was not surprising, therefore, that last year’s UTME recorded lots of irregularities and raised some uproar across the country.
The 2013 UTME was taken by 1.7million Nigerian students with the hope of gaining entrance into the various tertiary institutions in the country. Unfortunately, the examination witnessed many lapses during the exercise and after the release of the results. This ugly development left many students wondering if they could ever gain admission into tertiary institutions through JAMB the way things were going. The situation is further compounded by the fact that there are limited or scanty spaces available for the candidates.
Out of the 1.7 million candidates who sat for the 2013 UTME, only a miserable 500,000 places were available for them, leaving about 1.2 million candidates stranded. And to further rub salt into the wound, even the students who scaled JAMB’s hurdle were confronted by yet another problem when the universities were closed down due to the industrial action embarked upon by lecturers in public universities nationwide. They only had a rethink in January this year after keeping the classrooms under lock and key for an upward of six months.
Now that the 2014 UTME is here again, the blunt refusal of Ojerinde and his men to see reason and allow the candidates to settle for the system of their choice for the examination is causing a lot of ripples in the land. So far, all entreaties to make JAMB to accommodate the pencil shading system, preferred by some candidates, have fallen on deaf ears. This obstinacy is creating panic and generating much furore among students and parents, who believe that the policies adopted by the body to address problems associated with the examination, is rather frustrating.
Of greater worry is the difficulty in accessing centres through JAMB portal, especially for those who have opted for the paper and pencil system. The centres are not just there. And when they are available at all, they are located in far-flung destinations. For instance, the other day, one of the parents complained loudly that the only centre available for his son is in Kaduna. Yet, another complained that her child’s centre is located somewhere in Delta State.
If I may ask, how would somebody who has lived all his lives in Lagos be asked to take his son or daughter to somewhere like Kaduna or Delta State, where they may not have been before, to write an examination? That looks more like a punitive banishment. And like James Glover Thurber (1894 – 1961), an American humourist and cartoonist, once said, “Men of all degrees should form this prudent habit: Never serve a rabbit stew before you catch the rabbit.” There is the need for JAMB to urgently address all these anomalies.