The complaints over irregularities in the conduct of this year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) call for a thorough reassessment and fine-tuning of the Computer-Based Test (CBT) model used for the exercise. Irregularities that reportedly marred the exercise include the provision of malfunctioning computers in some centres, the release of conflicting results to candidates and the sending of arbitrary results to candidates who had not even sat for the examination.
In Lagos, about 1000 candidates stormed the Lagos State House of Assembly Complex, Alausa, last week, to protest against what they described as the decision of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), to award them very low scores.
The furore over the conduct of the university entrance examinations has led to calls in some quarters for the resignation of JAMB Registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, the cancellation of the examination and a return to Paper and Pencil tests.
Some aggrieved candidates and their parents have argued that the handling of the 2016 UTME exposed JAMB’s lack of capacity to use the Computer-Based Test (CBT) format for the examination. Internet failure, power outages, posting of candidates to distant centres and the timing of the examinations were also identified as problems that militated against the smooth conduct of the tests.
On its part, the JAMB boss exonerated the examination body from blame and lampooned proprietors of “special centres” for perpetuating the irregularities. However, Ojerinde admitted some hiccups that made the board to relocate 59,000 candidates in 15 states due to challenges at some centres. Some workers of the board who were charged with the responsibility of pre-qualifying the examination centres to ensure that they were up to standard are also reportedly being questioned over the lapses at the affected centres.
The JAMB helmsman said the organisation was already looking into some of the allegations against the examination but insisted that most of the excuses raised by candidates are unsubstantiated.
We strongly condemn the sundry irregularities that characterised the 2016 UTME tests and urge the examination body to urgently address the alleged lapses. There is no doubt that JAMB has a lot to do to make the exercise acceptable to the candidates and Nigerians in general. Nigeria has never had so many complaints over this examination before. The examination body should, therefore, improve the Computer-Based Test and wean it of the teething problems that the candidates have complained about.
The aggrieved candidates and their parents, however, may have overreacted in their call for a return to Paper and Pencil Test model. We do not think that this is the proper thing to do. Rather, JAMB should strive to improve and perfect the CBT.
This is important because we are in the technological age where the knowledge and use of computers is indispensable. To ensure that our graduates compete favourably with their counterparts around the world, the use of computers for this important examination is the right way to go. Those calling for a return to the Pencil and Paper Test model should do a rethink and give the CBT a chance. Although there are so many problems associated with the CBT, the method also has many advantages. Apart from the prompt release of examination results, the method has considerably reduced mass cheating associated with the Paper and Pencil test. Nigeria cannot continue to lag behind in the use of technology to aid educational development. We cannot afford to remain in the analog age while the rest of the world is going digital.
It is also very likely that the poor computer skills of some candidates would have affected their effective use of the computers assigned to them and may have contributed to their poor scores in the examination. To address this, the teaching of computer studies should be strengthened in all primary and secondary schools in the country so that students can handle the systems confidently.
Our view is that the CBT as an examination model has come to stay. Let JAMB do all that it can to perfect the method. The agency may need to study how the CBT is used in other countries to improve their public examinations without generating rancour and protests from candidates.
We also advise JAMB to desist from fixing examinations too early in the morning and too late in the evening to avoid the challenges many candidates faced in the course of the examination, especially the reported abduction and killing of one of the female candidates while searching for a place to spend the night prior to her examination at 6.30am the following day. We consider 6.30am too early for any examination.
The examination body should also endeavour to post candidates to centres that are close to them. It is good that JAMB has said it is working hard on getting more good centres for subsequent UTME examinations. Let this be done speedily to avert a repeat of the irregularities that marred the 2016 UTME. The organisation should also address the cases of candidates who have genuine complaints.