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Challenges persist as JAMB embarks on another CBT

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Candidates during a computer–based test

Candidates during a computer–based test

In 2015 when the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) decided to go full blast with the computer-based test (CBT), it had something akin to a bumpy ride on a tiger’s tail. Registration hitches, random allocation of examination centres, insufficient examination centres as well as network/connectivity failure during examination held sway.  The candidates in this year’s examination are presently experiencing some of these challenges as evidenced by the recent protests. Whether the challenge of network failure will resurface this year remains a subject of conjecture which would be confirmed in the next 24 hours as the examination gets underway across the country tomorrow. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, UJUNWA ATUEYI and RUTH ADEKUNLE write

MISS Alice Oloko, an ex- student of Mar-Yola Private School, Lagos will in a couple of days be heading for Ibadan in Oyo State, where she has been “drafted” to write the 2016 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), administered by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board.

Oloko, who resides in Lagos, had applied to write the examination in her city of residence, only to be allocated the Educational Advancement Centre, Awolowo Avenue Bodija, Ibadan, as her examination centre by the organising body.

Parents of the 17-year-old are planning to take her for a familiarisation visit to the centre before her actual examination date, which is in early March.

Ogunbowale Mosumola Wumi, a former schoolmate of Oloko also registered in Lagos State, where she hoped to write the examination. Her hopes of writing the examination in the state were, however, dashed as she was allocated a centre at Crawford University, Ogun State. She admitted registering for the examination months after the registration started.

Like Oloko, Akwa Giobe Cornelius, purchased his 2016 UTME eRegistration card in December 2015, from an Internet cafe at the Mammy Market, Ojo Barracks for N7, 000. He will be leaving Lagos for Ogun state to familiarise himself with Gateway Polytechnic, where he will write his examination on March 9th. He also did not get his wish to write the examination in Lagos.

Evelyn Ibiam registered to write the 2016 UTME at Bafuto Computers, a cyber café and in the Ikotun area of Lagos. By the time she got her documentation through, she was posted to write the test at the same centre where she registered.

According to her, “I started registration process in October last year, and it didn’t take me up to two days to complete and receive my print out. Fortunately for me, I was posted to the same centre where I registered. Apart from one of my friend that complained of difficulties and server delays, mine was a hitch-free process.”

Prof. Dibu Ojerinde,The scenario above represents what many candidates that are preparing for the 2016 UTME, which begins tomorrow are going through in the build-up to the examination proper giving the impression that the body was yet to perfect the rough edges, which were noticed in 2015 when it ran its first computer-based test (CBT)

The legal instrument establishing the JAMB was promulgated by the Act (No. 2 of 1978), and by August 1988, the Federal Executive Council amended Decree No. 2 of 1978. The amendments have, however, since been codified into Decree No. 33 of 1989, which took effect from December 7th, 1989.

Among other things, the amended laws empowered the board to “conduct matriculation examination for entry into all universities, polytechnics and colleges of education (by whatever name called) in Nigeria.

It also vests it with the powers to, “Appoint examiners, moderators, invigilators, members of the subject panels and committees and other persons with respect to matriculation examinations and any other matters incidental thereto or connected therewith; place suitably qualified candidates in the tertiary institutions after having taken into account: the vacancies available in each tertiary institution; the guidelines approved for each tertiary institution by its proprietors or other competent authorities and the preference expressed or otherwise indicated by the candidates for certain tertiary institutions and courses.”

The amended laws also empowers the board to “collate and disseminate information on all matters relating to admissions into tertiary institutions or any other matter relevant to the discharge of functions of the board as well as carry out other activities as are necessary or expedient for the full discharge of all or any of the functions conferred on it under or pursuant to this Decree.

According to history, in the first nine years of the board’s existence, test papers for its examinations were produced abroad before the government directed that the processing operations be localised.

In 1987, the board printed its first set of examination materials in the country and it remains so till date, even as the answer scripts are also processed in the country.

In its bid to evolve with the times, the examining body introduced the CBT, the Paper-Pencil Test (PPT) and the Dual-Based Test (DBT) a few years back.

Of these three tests, Registrar and chief executive of the board, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, in 2013 announced that the CBT mode would, beginning 2015, be compulsory and without the options of PPT and DBT.

Enumerating the advantages of the CBT; the board listed reduction of incidences of breaches of examination security; making Nigeria operate global best practices; lower long-term costs; instant feedback to students; greater flexibility with respect to locations and timing; improved reliability and improved impartiality.

It also stated other benefits of the CBT to include greater storage efficiency; enhanced question styles, which incorporate interactivity and multimedia; enhanced presentation of items; allowing subsequent changes to an answer without the uncertainty of knowing whether a poorly erased answer might invalidate the new selection; immediate score reporting; ability to track and display the time remaining on the examination and opportunity to review any questions on the examination among others.

When the CBT was first rolled out in 2013, with only 4, 000 registered candidates, JAMB had set up 77 examination centres around the country. But last year that a total of 1.7m candidates registered, the centres were increased to 400 across the nation.

In 2015, right from the registration stage, some candidates had stridently complained about difficulties accessing the JAMB portal in their bid to print their examination slips. That has largely reduced this year.

The major talking point this year has, however, been the scarcity of the e-registration card and the alleged “sudden closure” of the examination portal by the body, thereby shutting out some candidates, who resorted to protests.

In Benin, Edo State and in Lagos, scores of prospective applicants including persons under the aegis of Concerned and Affected JAMB UTME 2016 candidates, last week expressed dismay at the board’s purported closure of sales of online registration access cards and online registration.

The protesters who stormed the Edo State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) Press Centre in Benin said they were unable to purchase the scratch card to register for the examinations owing to this development.

The spokesperson for the protesters, Samuel Ekanem said, “We observed with dismay that three weeks to the purported closure of sales of online registration cards and online registration that there was already a scarcity of cards nationwide.”

The group, which alleged that the ineffective access to online registration was as a result of limited numbers of accredited centres in the state, said that there were only 20 registration centres in Edo State.

Two days after the Benin protest,   would –be candidates, joined by their parents also demonstrated in Lagos to express their displeasure over the alleged sudden closure of the examination portal, which they said had denied the applicants a chance to register.   But the board in a swift reaction completely ruled out re-opening of the examination portal with barely two weeks left for the examination to get underway.

The board insisted that it made it clear in the advertisement for the sale of the registration documents that the sales would close by January, but had to shift the closure to February 5th due to public appeal that it should be extended.

Head of Media, JAMB, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, who shed some light on the alleged impromptu closure of the portal said, “We have a timetable that we adhere to in the process leading up to our examination. Every step we have taken is in accordance with what we advertised. The board will not, for any reason, reopen the registration portal because we are fully aware of the game plan of some persons, who are stoking this controversy.”

“We are aware that some owners of tutorial centres are in the habit of collecting monies from parents whom they promise to get their children and wards to write their examination in special centres. We have it on good authority that some of these centre owners are the ones that would go and buy the scratch cards and hoard it with the hope that JAMB would resort to late registration, which would provide an avenue for them to sell the scratch cards they hoarded for as high as 20, 000.”

He continued, “Right now, if JAMB opens an additional centre, all these people that are protesting would flock to that centre and make it their special centre. Once there, they will begin to see how they can perpetrate malpractice there. It is for this and other reasons that we have designed our examination in such a way that you can only choose an examination city, but not a centre. We are the ones to assign every candidate an examination centre.”

Barely 48 hours after insisting that it would not re-open the portal, the body made a volte-face and handed affected persons, especially those that had initiated registration formalities a breather.

In the three-paragraph statement it said, “The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board hereby directs all candidates who initiated the process of registration for the 2016 UTME but could not upload and complete their registration process as at Friday, February 5, 2016, to do so within 48 hours starting from midnight on Tuesday, February 23, 2016 when the website will be opened to midnight of Thursday, February 25, 2016, when the website will be closed.
“The board wishes to state that the directive doesn’t cover fresh registration, but only those who had either done offline registration or visited our website but could not submit.
“The board wishes to state that all arrangements for the 2016 UTME have been completed and examination will commence as earlier stated, on Saturday, February 27, 2016. Candidates are also urged to print their examination slips for the schedules of their date, venue, the time allotted to them and other necessary information.”

Commenting on the unfolding scenario, a parent, Ikenna Urata, said “I sincerely hope that JAMB gets things right this time because last year they could not really acquit themselves. They talked so much about a 24-hour release of test results but for over 72 hours my kids and relatives never had theirs.  Even one of my children was forced to write subjects he never applied to write while registering. A relative was sent to a town he knows nobody in Enugu all the way from Abia State. But the examination at that centre just kept on starting hours behind schedule.

Even though some people are of the view that the CBT mode was fairly efficient, they maintained that another factor that took the shine off last year’s outing was network and connectivity problems, which prevented some candidates from downloading their questions in a timely manner.

A cyber café attendant in Abraka, Delta State, Uzoamaka Onyekwere, claimed that candidates did not encounter hitches registering in her centre except in January when the centre, (Delta State University ICT Centre) did not operate for two days due to server breakdown.

“I work in a cyber café in Abraka. JAMB did not give us room to register candidates, but we sell scratch cards to them and offer consultancy services such as helping them to fill their forms and generally guiding them using guidelines stipulated in the brochure, as some of them combined wrong subjects. It is after rendering these services that we send them to the centre for proper registration. The services we offer in that regard goes with a consultancy fee of N500.

She continued, “DELSU ICT is the only centre that is close to the town in the whole of Ethiope East Local Government Area. So many people come from far places hoping that it would be a day’s exercise only to be deferred and they get stranded at the end of the day.”

She, however, urged JAMB to create more examination centres, increase the number of computers for registration; and employ more resource persons so as to reduce stress for candidates and avert any seeming challenges.”

Some stakeholders are also concerned about the inadequacy of the examination centres. But  Dr. Benjamin has a different view. According to him, “This year’s examination will be conducted in over 500 centres with others outside Nigeria. This is not inadequate given the flexibility of the CBT. And again, note the improvement in the number of centres from when we started. This is an indication of the acceptability of the new examination regime by the private concern. In fact, we had to turn down some application from centre providers, and by next year, we may be looking at something in the region of a thousand.

On complaints by candidates, who applied to write the examination in Lagos, but were drafted to Ibadan and other cities in the South West, Benjamin said, “Our system is designed in a way that only examination towns are provided.  And in a state, there could be a number of towns. For instance, in Abuja, you could have Garki, Gwagwalada, Karu, Bwari etc as towns, and all a candidate needs to do is click or choose a town he or she wishes to write the examination. If a candidate wants to write the examination in Lagos, he cannot be in Ibadan as Ibadan is not a town in Lagos. These candidates who claimed to have chosen Lagos, but found themselves in Ibadan are not telling the exact position of the process.

Candidates writing UTME

Candidates writing UTME

“The truth is that these towns have capacity allocated to them based on the number of centres available, and if they are filled up, the towns are shut as such if a candidate comes he will not get the town and so has to first choose a town that is available. At no time will the programme choose a town for a candidate.

Don’t forget the candidates are given a notification indicating their success at the registration without a centre. This is a process you can find out from other candidates who equally registered and they will tell you. The catch is simple, if you want to write at your backyard, then you most go early otherwise others would have taken up available spaces in your backyard. So, the board doesn’t choose for candidates the town to sit for its examination,” he stated.

Dismissing claims by some stakeholders that the resort to CBT was premature, he said, “Some people will never be ready for any change. Even if we delay the commencement of CBT to the next 40 years, some people will still not be ready. The same CBT has been done in nations smaller than Nigeria for over 30 years and we are still giving excuses. What infrastructure are we talking about? The little challenge we ever had with CBT has also been the human components and not infrastructure. As we speak, some European nations and so many African examination bodies have come to see how we are doing it. They are proud of us but we are busy throwing spanners here and there. Nigerians should support the Board and the Prof. Dibu Ojerinde-led management as it has a lot to give to Nigerians through education.”

On what the organisation is doing differently in order to mitigate the hitches recorded last year, he said, “This year’s system will be better than last year’s because the board has invested greatly in human capacity development and also improved on the number of centres.


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