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Flurry of knocks, kudos greet JAMB’s Computer-Based Test

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nIF the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), organisers of the yearly Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) thought that administering the maiden wholly Computer-Based Test (CBT) was going to be a jolly ride with no hitches, the body was thoroughly mistaken.

In fact, the seeming modest success recorded by it in the course of the recently concluded 2015 examination has, sadly been drowned in the large amount of scathing criticisms that have trailed the avalanche of hitches the exercise witnessed.

Clearly, these hitches have threatened to take the wind off the sail of the body, which just rested two other test options: the Paper-Pencil Test (PPT) or the Dual-Based Test (DBT),

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 Computer-Based Test (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, had in 2013 announced that the CBT mode would, beginning this year be compulsory and without the options of PPT and DBT.

In 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 readied 77 examination centres round the country. But this time around, where a total of 1.7m candidates registered compulsorily, the centres were increased to 400 across the nation.
However, right from the registration for the CBT, some candidates had complained that they were experiencing difficulties accessing the JAMB portal in their bid to print their examination slips.

In addition to this, mixed messages were also sent out through candidates’ examination slip regarding the actual date of commencement of the examination. Some candidates were allegedly forced by unscrupulous JAMB officials to pay N100 extra to check their examination centres at the JAMB office in Lagos.

Shockingly, some candidates, who registered to write the examination in their cities of residence, were sent to far-flung parts of the country for the test owing to gross shortage of CBT centres in their host cities. Expectedly, some of them turned down the offer, while some took the challenge. Worst hit in this case were candidates in Lagos State, who were posted to states like Osun, Ogun and Kwara to write the examination.

Ruth Kemi Salau, a resident of Ibadan, Oyo State, with registration number 55682527JG and examination number C27807085, registered to write the examination in Lagos State. But JAMB ended up sending her to Niger State for the exercise. After some considerations, and weighing the pros and cons, she banished the idea of making the trip northwards. She will be forced to spend yet another year at home.

Another group of aggrieved candidates are those, who were unable to write the examination because their details were not found in JAMB’s data bank. These candidates also give expression to the fears expressed by some persons that the resort to wholly CBT might not be totally hitch-free as wished by JAMB.

In the 35 CBT centres in Lagos, examinations were slated to run in three sessions. The first session was to begin at 8.00 a.m. running through to 11.00 a.m.; midday session from 11.30 till 2.30 p.m, while the afternoon sessions were billed to take place from 3.00 p.m. till 6.00 p.m. But in some cases, intractable server problems ensured that commencement times were never adhered to in many locations.

For instance, in most parts of the country, the examination was stalled on opening day as a result of failure of servers. The inability of bio-data capturing machines to perform their roles during accreditation process at some centres also brought about some disquiet.

The much-vaunted 24-hour release of test results by JAMB did not hold water in all cases as hordes of candidates in different parts of the country because very worried that up to 72 hours after completing their tests, they were yet to get their results.

Strangely, candidates were also forced to write subjects that they never applied to write while registering for the examination. One of the affected candidates is Miss Adaeze Iwu, who wrote the examination at the Godfrey Okoye University, Ugwuomu Nike.

“I registered Christian religious studies (CRS) as one of the subjects for the examination, but to my utmost surprise, when I logged in to start my examination, I saw economics in place of CRS. Though I managed to answer the questions, I was not satisfied with performance because I dropped economics in Senior Secondary School Two.”

Conversely, Samuel Mfon, who wrote the test at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus, was mandated to write CRS in place of economics. He, however, appealed to JAMB to provide more computers in order to improve the CBT system in the interest of candidates.

“I like the idea of releasing the results immediately, but they should improve the system because I was made to write a subject I did not register to write. We had three batches that wrote the examination today due to lack of computers,’’ Mfon said.

Chidiebere Ibe, who wrote the test at Prince Computer School in Nsukka, Enugu State, was livid with rage after a 9 a.m. examination got underway over two hours behind schedule.

“I came from Enugu town since 9 a.m. to write the examination which was scheduled for 1.30 p.m. But to my surprise, we started around 3.30 p.m. I do not have any relation in Nsukka. JAMB should try as much as they can to keep to time. Additionally, JAMB should make the CBT optional. I do not think we have gotten to the stage of using only computers to write examination,” Ibe said.

Joel Ewenike and Amarachi Chukwu, both wrote the test at Chams City in Abuja. While the former expressed excitement after receiving his UTME result through a text message on his cell phone, hours after the examination, Ms Chukwu described the examination as well coordinated and properly organised.

“I was used to writing the Paper Pencil Test. But this CBT seems to be a better idea because it is more convenient and easy when compared to the PPT mode.”

Another candidate, Umaru Mohammed, remarked: “To me, I am used to writing the PPT, but this CBT seems ideal for an examination of this nature, but I didn’t really finish my work; that is the only disadvantage about the CBT.”

The Centre Administrator, Bafuto Computers, Ikotun, one of JAMB’s accredited centres, Mr. Adekunle Banjo, admitted that the centre indeed experienced some difficulties on the first day of the examination. “These were largely network and connectivity problems, which prevented some candidates from downloading their questions…The CBT mode is more efficient than the PPT. Good enough most of the candidates finish their tests before the time allocated and the beauty of it is that few hours after the examination, they receive their results. Despite the challenges this method is very suitable for candidates.

“JAMB has done something great, the browser for this examination is specially designed for the CBT. The beauty is that while examination is going on, nobody can hack in to spy or access the questions. Nobody has access to the questions, not even the supervisors as JAMB releases the questions from the central server few minutes before the commencement of the examination and once they are through, they submit it and it automatically goes to the central server,” Banjo said.

The Guardian observed that there were issues with biometric identification of some of the candidates. And the biometric machine operator, Familoni Folasade Grace explained thus: “If a candidate is nervous or running temperature, his/her fingerprint will not be captured but we will use exempted method to clear them since their data is correct.”

At the ETC Centre, University of Lagos, where able-bodied and visually impaired candidates sat for the examination, the Braille technical staff, Mr. Clement Ojo, said out of four blind candidates that were supposed to write only three were present.

“They were supposed to write for five hours but they finished within three hours, 30 minutes. This is to show how efficient the CBT mode is. They found the machine very flexible because of their previous knowledge of the analogue machine.”

A candidate at the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Centre, University of Lagos, Garuba Aminat said, “The migration to CBT is a good one as it enables us carry out the exercise quietly without distraction.”

Another candidate, Rosemary Onovo, who experienced delays owing to network issues lamented, “It was a tough day for me. First, it was difficult to download my questions, as the Internet was not just connecting. As this happened, other candidates had commenced answering theirs. As if that was not enough, when it finally connected, the computer tripped off again while I was answering biology questions. But all these notwithstanding, CBT is a good method.”

Okoghenun Confidence, with Examination Number: C24116023, and Centre Number: C24116, wrote his test at the Federal College of Education, St Finbarr’s College Road, Akoka Lagos State. Like his counterparts, he and his parents expected his result with baited breath for 72 hours before it finally dropped in.

Apart from claiming that JAMB officials allowed some candidates into the test centre with their mobile phones (for a fee), he experienced no difficulties during registration and the examination proper.

Okoghenun, who has no idea why his result was delayed, however, is in love with the CBT mode saying he experienced no form of hitches during the entire process.

When The Guardian visited an accredited CBT centre at Ilupeju, Lagos State, to ascertain the fate of candidates whose details were missing in JAMB’s databank, it was found out that some of them ostensibly registered in cyber cafés not approved by the examination body.

The muddled up e-slips wielded by four of the affected applicants, showed the passport-sized photograph and data of the original candidate (a candidate from Abeokuta, Ogun State). In addition to this, all four candidates, who registered in the same café, had the same registration number on their slips.

A JAMB official, who also supervised the centre, Mr. Kunle Makinde, informed The Guardian that the affected candidates failed to follow JAMB’s guidelines saying, “Candidates are meant to collect a brochure and a customised compact disc at the point of purchase of their scratch cards. All the information about accredited JAMB CBT centres are contained in it. They are supposed to read it or visit the JAMB website before commencement of registration.”

When asked how the conditions of the affected applicants could be remedied to enable them write the examination, he retorted, “I’m afraid, nothing can be done as it is because they are now like candidates who failed to register. The implication is that there is no way they can sit for the examination as their data is not in the organisation’s server. The e-slip they have is a fake. If you register where you are not supposed to register it means we do not have your information on our server. This means they will have to wait till next year.

“The difference between the original and fake e-slip is that if you have the original, the serial number and the pin number must appear on the e-slip, if this is not the case, the e-slip is fake,” he said.
Zonal Director of JAMB, Oyo State, Mrs. Bola Elushade, rose stoutly in defence of her organisation, insisting that despite the hitches recorded during the CBT, it would be wrong to label it problematic.

While expressing satisfaction with the conduct of the test in the state, she said part of the fuss generated by candidates was because the complainants had no opportunity to cheat, as was the former practice.

She also said it was amazing that candidates could come up with allegations as computers shutting down during examinations and instructions not provided prior to the examinations.

“It is rather amazing that candidates will come up with lies even after they were given instructions before the examination. If candidates don’t know how to operate computer sets at this age, then they are not ready for higher institution. Those complaining are those who did not get to cheat in the examinations.

“If 100 out of over 1, 000 candidates complained of the inefficiency of JAMB, then those 100 should be checked properly. Even the parents complaining are those that did not get the questions that they used to get with the biro and pencil type,” she said.

On the delay in obtaining results by some candidates, she attributed it to slow Internet connectivity, which would be improved upon in future outings.
“If you go to the bank and you are told that you cannot get money due to network problems, there is nothing you can do about it. Will you kill them? These problems are network-based.’’

Spokesperson of the board, Fabian Benjamin, is in sync with Elushade’s views. He insists that, “Since we are using network providers in the country for the test as well as delivery of the results, some of the challenges encountered are beyond our control, as they are from the side of the network provider. However, the number of results that are yet to be released as at today (yesterday) stands at 5, 000, out of the 1.4m candidates that wrote the test.”

On areas that need to be improved, Benjamin said, “Improvement is seriously needed in the area of examination centres because some of the centres that were accredited only went and hired equipment from somewhere, only to return them after the inspection team gave them the nod and departed.

“In Abuja, we had to move all the candidates from a particular centre to another one because they lacked the capacity to carry out the assignment,” he state.

Generally speaking, “I would say the exercise was a success as attested to by stakeholders and candidates, who have made very positive comments. By next year, there will be tremendous improvement and the exercise would be better by far,” he concluded

Impressed by the way the examination panned out, the Federal Government said it would construct over 774 CBT centres round the country.

Minister of Education, Mr. Ibrahim Shekarau, while monitoring the conduct of the examination in some centres in Abuja, said the construction of the centres in all the local council areas of the federation would help in the smooth conduct of the examination, adding that it would also eliminate abuse by some private centres.

He commended the board for the successful introduction of e testing, which he said was in tune with global trend.

“I am impressed and the purpose of my coming out to conduct this inspection is to compare with what I am reading in the office. For quite a number of weeks, we have been discussing with the management of JAMB, receiving all the compliments and observations from stakeholders and the general public. We have been sufficiently convinced in the office that all was going to be well, we are satisfied; it is a very good new innovation.

“From what I have seen, I am convinced that what we were told, what we read in the books, files, memos from JAMB are all correct. They have improved. There is hardly anything on earth that is without one problem or the other. And from my investigation, there are a few areas of complaints, which is less than five per cent. With over 400 centres nationwide, there were problems in just about four or five centres, which have been rectified,” he said.

Shekarau pointed out that the Braillenote Apex, a refreshable Braille display gadget, provided by JAMB for the 150 visually impaired candidates that wrote the examination was first of its kind in the world.

“We are catching up with modalities; we are catching up with new technology particularly for the blind candidates. It is the first of its kind on the continent,” he added.



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