By Manyike Chuka
I was happy to read Levi Obijiofor’s column published in The Sun newspaper of last Tuesday, 11 April 2017. The article was entitled “JAMB and UTME: A life in denial.”
I want to begin by stating clearly that there is no alternative to the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), as the central authority tasked with responsibility for conducting examinations for admission into Nigerian universities. If JAMB is scrapped and its responsibilities are handed over to universities, everyone can expect the worst. It will mean that the university admission process will be compromised and hijacked by vice-chancellors, politicians, senior government officials and people with money to influence the process. Indeed, the admission process will be subject to abuses. In that new environment, vice-chancellors will employ all their kinsmen whether they are qualified or not. The affluent members of our society will dictate and influence who is admitted into universities. In that context, university admission will become another scam.
If JAMB is scrapped, this is the scenario that will confront everyone. It means that anybody who wants to go to university but does not have somebody to help them will have to forget about university education. Poor but brilliant students will bid farewell to university education. All kinds of abuses will take place. It will become possible for students to gain admission without sitting for the entrance examination. In fact, the level of corruption in the universities will be unprecedented. The result is that our graduates and their certificates will be unemployable and worthless. Everything will be bastardised. Is this the future of university education we envision for the country? Is this what we want for our students and our universities? Is this how to strengthen the quality of university education in Nigeria?
There is no alternative to JAMB. JAMB offers equal opportunity to both the rich and the poor to acquire higher education. I sat for the JAMB examination in 1978. I am a medical doctor (paediatrician). In the 1970s and 1980s, the type of chaos and confusion that characterise JAMB today did not exist. This was chiefly because of the competence, discipline, exposure, and experience of the people who administered examinations into universities in those days. Again, the students who sat for the examinations were more mature, more committed, more self-driven and more disciplined.
What is happening today in JAMB is lack of competence, lack of exposure, indiscipline and lack of experience on the part of officials who administer JAMB. Today, JAMB is seen as a metaphor for a failed state, as a reflection of the problem with the Nigerian state. Confusion is the unofficial synonym for JAMB. Candidates spend all their time searching for centres to register for JAMB examinations. Some of the students will be preparing also for the West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE). Some of them have come from rural areas with no computer skills, no exposure to regular supply of electricity, and, above all, with all these disadvantages, the students are expected to write computer-based examinations. These students constitute what we refer to metaphorically as “dead on arrival”. The expression implies the students have failed even before they have entered the examination hall.
JAMB embraced new technologies hurriedly without consideration for so many things. JAMB introduced computer-based examinations when the infrastructure is not universally available and accessible. There is no electricity in some rural areas, no ICT centres in many rural and remote areas. How could anyone in the right frame of mind compel students, who do not have basic computing skills to sit for computer-based examinations?
Amid this injustice and unfairness, you will find that in some ICT and registration centres, the operators are as confused as JAMB officials. Students are subjected to all manner of humiliation. They arrive at the centres as early as 6.30am and stay till 8pm; that is more than 12 hours during which no one attends to them. In the end, the students return home dejected because they did not get registered. This has been the case since the registration started.
This year, JAMB made it compulsory that candidates must have their personal email addresses. This created another level of problem. Candidates spent valuable time again trying to scale the hurdle set up by JAMB. They wasted yet another time at the banks to make payments. It has all been frustration and lamentation all the way, both for candidates and their parents. When will they candidates find time to prepare, read and pass this examination? Will this happen when candidates have fewer than three months to prepare for the examination? Keep in, as stated earlier, that some of them are also preparing for WASCE. How will they cope? These are undoubtedly deliberate obstacles set up to ensure many of the candidates would not pass the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) and the WASCE.
Whenever JAMB officials appear on television to address the nation on what is happening, they appear soundly confused, providing clear evidence that they do not have answers to the problems they are trying to solve. JAMB introduced what they call mock examination. You have to ask who and what are they mocking? Now, suddenly, on the day of the mock examination, after all the candidates had assembled, they were informed the mock examination had been cancelled. What a mess? What confusion?
Regardless of this glaring incompetence, I insist there is no alternative to JAMB. Government should strengthen JAMB and make it customer-friendly by reducing and or eliminating the frustrations encountered by candidates. To achieve this, government should strengthen the leadership of JAMB. Square pegs have to be placed in square holes. The leadership of JAMB has to be competent, disciplined, exposed, experienced, knowledgeable and should have a long-range vision. Above all, the person in charge should be a performer, an achiever, and must possess people-to-people skills. High academic title should not be a prerequisite for appointment of the chairperson of JAMB. That one is a professor does not mean that one has most of the attributes to occupy the position, as the chief executive of JAMB.
JAMB should be proactive. It should stop experimentation and, therefore, toying with the lives and educational career of many youths. JAMB must stop engaging in trial-and-error. There is no reason JAMB cannot start preparations for another UTME right after concluding one. If a new book will be introduced, as was done for the 2017 examination, candidates should be informed immediately the decision has been taken, so that prospective candidates will acquire and start reading the book. Candidates must be accorded sufficient time to read any new book introduced by JAMB. We must keep in mind that candidates read books not only to prepare for the UTME but also for development of knowledge. No one should expect students to read any book exhaustively and understand it in less than three months, given the confusion created by JAMB, coupled with the fact that some of the candidates are also preparing for or are sitting the WASCE.
It is the responsibility of JAMB to ensure that the UTME does not clash with the WASCE. This is necessary because candidates preparing or sitting for the WASCE cannot cope with UTME at the same time.
It is not enough to empower JAMB. Government should ensure that all secondary schools, both rural and urban, have access to new technologies. Schools must be equipped with computers and electricity or generators to facilitate use of the computers. Without this facility, without students acquiring basic computing skills, JAMB must be compelled to scrap the so-called computer-based test.
JAMB should not restrict candidates’ choices of institutions. Candidates should be allowed to choose their institutions and courses of study, as was the case previously. Each candidate must have a choice of selecting three universities and three degree programmes. Today, candidates are restricted to the choice of just one university, a polytechnic, a college of education, etc. This is too restrictive. It does not serve anybody’s interest.
JAMB should ensure that there are as many registration centres as possible, both in rural and urban areas. Some candidates travel long distances from rural areas to cities to register, and some could not register the day they travel to a city. This raises the logistical problem of where the students will stay overnight. They encounter all manner of hardships just to register for the exam. Registering to sit for the UTME should be a thing of joy, a pleasurable exercise and not a punitive and frustrating experience. With many centres available to students, registration can be completed in two weeks. Students should not experience horrors all for the reason that they are preparing to sit an examination. The examination can be completed in one day. In the days when examinations were conducted manually (i.e., the paper and pencil mode of examination), it used to take less than three hours to complete the JAMB examination. Why can’t it be so in this digital era?
All the problems that emanate from JAMB border on incompetence and inexperience: The bane of leadership. JAMB must postpone the 2017 UTME until a week after the WASCE.