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Post-UTME: Requiem for controversial examination, money spinner

By Eno-Abasi Sunday
09 June 2016   |   4:35 am
One year after Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of JAMB, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, predicted that Post-UTME) would be done away with, the prediction came to pass last week.
Candidates at a typical computer-based test centre

Candidates at a typical computer-based test centre

One year after Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, predicted that the Post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME) would be done away with, the prediction came to pass last week. Expectedly, the development has come with an avalanche of reactions from stakeholders, whose positions have been as divergent as their personalities. While this rages, universities that are also mourning the loss of millions of naira they make from the exercise, just as they claim that academically deficient candidates would once again find their way into universities. On the hand, some stakeholders are applauding government’s decision to put an end to what they consider an aberration, writes ENO-ABASI SUNDAY.

What would make a candidate that is in possession of a breathtaking Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) result, issued by organisers of the test, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), goofed so badly in a routine session with admission officials in the course of seeking admission into a university remains a puzzle.

In one such situation, in a university in the South West, a pretty lady brandishing a “good-looking” Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE) certificate, from an otherwise reputable institution, and an equally good UTME result from JAMB, left admission officers mouth agape, when she displayed immense ignorance as she was asked basic questions about her intended course of study in the university.

Dazed, the admission team changed gear and buffeted her with possible JAMB questions. Of course she still looked completely lost. Convinced that the equally good UTME result she wielded could never have been as a result of her genuine efforts, the school effectively turned down her admission request.

It is as a result of mounting scenarios like this that the Committee of Pro-Chancellors as well as other concerned key stakeholders including concerned members of the public pushed for, and eventually gave their blessings for the introduction of the maiden post-University Matriculation Examination (post-UME) screening into the country’s tertiary education milieu in 2004.

A very reliable source, however, intimated The Guardian that universities departed from the format that was initially agreed upon for further scrutinising of admission seekers.

For some strange reasons, that departure from the original model of post-UME to the recently cancelled post-UTME, was not strongly controverted by relevant parties, including the NUC, which initiated the maiden exercise in 2004.

However, since the written post-UTME test came into being, some educationists and administrators, did not think that two examinations were too many to properly sieve qualified candidates from those whose “exploits” in the UTME were indefensible, having been aided by corrupt JAMB officials and other unwholesome elements.

They further contended that with the comparison of both UTME and post-UTME, it would not be an uphill task to distinguish candidates, whose successes were aided from those whose genuine efforts paid off.

That notwithstanding, a section of highly placed academics, and education administrators, who though also believe in the usefulness/efficacy of the post-UTME test, see it as being highly exploitative as many universities in the country have turned the exercise into a revenue earner. Without mincing words, they are also of the view that the adoption of a two-pronged qualifying examination- one conducted by JAMB and the other moderated by respective institutions, was simply injustice to candidates, their parents and guardians.

Apart from its exploitative nature and the very sad duplication of efforts, which it constitutes, the post-UTME, especially the essay part exposed the very poor writing skills of secondary school leavers. Test of competence in written and oral English, critical thinking and ability to present ideas in logical sequence befitting of undergraduates is a key aspect of screening for admission into tertiary institution.

However, before the cancellation of the schools’ administered tests, which some institutions charge each candidate as much as N4, 000 (some including past question papers, which in most cases are not given), the strongest indication that the post-UTME may not go on for long was the pronouncement made by the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, early last year, when he said that the exercise would soon stop following the introduction of the Computer-Based Test (CBT) mode of examination.

Ojerinde had stressed on that occasion that the CBT, which was only in its first year then had helped to completely eradicate examination malpractice.

“If the universities are sure that the parents are not assisting their children to cheat, if the standard of examination is improved, post UTME would die naturally,” the registrar stated, adding, “With the computer-based test fully introduced by the board, Nigerian universities would have confidence in the performance of JAMB candidates.”

Despite the JAMB helmsman trumpeting that the results of CBT examination were the true reflection of what each candidate had worked for, not many universities took him by his words, hence their resolve and determination to continue administering another round of examination.

Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

Adamu Adamu, Minister of Education

But in throwing spanner in their works, Education Minister, Adamu Adamu, declared that post-UTME as presently executed would be no more, even though varsities were still at liberty to conduct screening for candidates seeking admission into any school.

Adamu, who spoke Thursday in Abuja after declaring open the 2016 Combined Policy Meeting on Admissions to Universities, Polytechnics and other Higher Institutions in Nigeria, expressed confidence in the UTME, adding that there was no need for other examination to be conducted by universities after JAMB.

“As far as I am concerned the nation has confidence in what JAMB is doing. The universities should not be holding another examination and if the universities have any complain against JAMB let them bring it and then we would address it. If JAMB is qualified enough to conduct tests and they have conducted tests, then there will be no need to conduct another test for students to gain admission,” Adamu posited.

At the event, where JAMB pegged the cut-off mark for admission into tertiary institutions for the 2016/2017 academic session at 180, Adamu also asked JAMB to stop forthwith, extra charges on several categories of changes on admissions such as the change of course, change of school among others.

As the hues and cries well up, in the wake of the annulment of the examination, the NUC has reiterated that universities were not restricted from screening students they intend to admit.

Public Relations officer of the commission, Ibrahim Yakassai, told The Guardian that universities were still free to screen students sent to them for admission by JAMB.

Yakasai said the new directive still leaves room for the elementary screening of would-be students, which include verification of their JAMB slips, crosschecking of sundry admission documents, medical test and age check among others.

Stand Up Nigeria (SUN), one of the first groups to commend the Federal Government for scrapping the examination, said step was reflective of the administration’s determination to sanitise the education sector and end years of corruption there.

The group, which also wants the Federal Government to radically expand access to tertiary education by qualified candidates, in a statement by its Secretary General, Sunday Attah, described the post-UTME test as an exploitative practice to “extort admission seekers under the guise of screening them for competence.”

The statement added, “We therefore see the scrapping of this controversial examination as a boost to the anti-corruption fight in the education sector as it will end the generation of revenue that does not get to the government coffers.”

In commending the registrar and his team for spearheading moves that they say has brought about the needed change and restored its credibility, the group said, “We all know the state JAMB was in before Prof. Ojerinde stepped in to revamp and reposition the place. Today, the confidence of the government is such that it was able to argue that there should be no need for universities to conduct internal examinations to determine the fate of candidates seeking admissions because of the absolute confidence in JAMB. The minister of education also confirmed that JAMB has built a level of confidence in terms of conducting the UTME.

“We know that those who favour the post-UTME test will soon mount a campaign for its sustenance or reintroduction. The influential parents who must manipulate the admission process for their children, owners of miracle examination centres, admission racketeering cabals in tertiary institutions are a few of those that we know will put pressure on the authorities to reverse this laudable directive. But we want to put them on notice that Nigerians will not accept a return to writing post-UTME test now that JAMB is perfecting the Computer Based Test (CBT) that renders it unnecessary to the extent that the government did the needful by scrapping it.”

If SUN expressed joy at government’s action, founder of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti (ABUAD), Chief Afe Babalola, is “more than shocked by the announcement that the post-UTME, as part of the qualifying procedure for admission into Nigerian universities, has now been cancelled.”

According to the frontline legal practitioner, “this, to me, is nothing but a most calamitous mistake, which poses danger and an irreversible adverse effect on the quality of education in this country.”

In the statement he released to that effect, the legal practitioner said was “surprised and worried that such a far-reaching decision could be taken without due and adequate consideration for how the concept of the post UTME came into being.”

Going down memory lane, Babalola recalled that in 2003, because of the discovery by university administrators that “many of the students admitted into Nigerian universities through JAMB were not only academically deficient they could not justify the high marks scored in Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations.”. .

“Cases abound whereby JAMB examination papers were being openly compromised and sold to students at examination centres while some examination centres, mischievously dubbed miracle centres, were openly but unofficially designed to guarantee high marks for some candidates.

“The most pathetic aspect of this perfidy is that we later found out that most of these students with such high marks were unable to cope academically upon their being admitted to the universities.”

He added that, “it was at this point of this national embarrassment that the Committee of Pro-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities under my chairmanship, met in Abuja, x-rayed the cankerworm and recommended to former President Olusegun Obasanjo that JAMB should be scrapped because the integrity of its examinations has been called to question.”

The legal icon maintained that it wasn’t the Committee of Pro-Chancellors alone that decided on the introduction of post-UTME, pointing out that, “The matter was thrown open with contributions from stakeholders and interested and concerned members of the different strata of the society.”

Former vice chancellor of Niger State government-owned Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State, Prof. Ibrahim A. Kolo, begs to differ from Babalola. As a matter of fact, he insists that the cut off mark of 180 for all tertiary institutions as well as the stoppage of post-UTME exercises have been by far the best steps taken in facilitating access to tertiary education and the engendering of quality to facilitate competiveness among tertiary institutions in the country.

Kolo, who staunchly defended JAMB and steps it has taken in the recent past to ensure the authenticity of its results said, “In deference to its mandate of engendering the reliability, validity and usability of its examinations, JAMB more than any of the examination bodies in Nigeria, particularly since the tenure of the incumbent registrar, has among other steps, introduced measures such as the use of external monitors, security agencies, paper and computer test approach, and now the exclusive use of computer-based test. So revolutionary had been the CBT that even the universities began to adopt it not only for the post-UTME, but also for their own internally conducted examinations.

“Indeed JAMB has taken the lead already in adopting measures to overcome genuine challenges associated with the use of technology for ease of public transactions in Nigeria while encouraging other public examinations to begin the CBT approach. The problem with us is that we are most often not patient enough to allow innovations to work, even when it is in tandem with international best practices. Unfortunately, Nigeria cannot allow itself to veer off the lane of international best practices in educational development as a core element of facilitating competitiveness in a fast globalising world.”

In picking holes in the now rested examination, he said, “the major problems with most post-UTME exercises (not necessarily post-UTME screening) include: the unnecessary psychological pressure that candidates are being subjected to, the mental trauma of another examination after at least two of the same psychometric typology (achievement testing by WAEC, NECO, NABTEB and JAMB); the tendencies for manipulations and malpractices by tertiary institutions (the same allegations JAMB is accused of); the crave for making more money for the institutions in the name of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) while putting some amount in the pockets of those entrusted with setting, administering and marking the examination internally; the vulnerability of the examination to corrupt practices; the extra socioeconomic stress, exploitation and dangers associated with having to travel distances to undertake the examinations; and above all, the lack of technical qualities in the subjective examinations, which are not subject to reliability and external validity procedures.

“JAMB may have in the past had issues with the acceptability of its examination by particularly the universities, but certainly adequate measures have been taken year-after-year in correcting observable lapses and the strengthening of the reliability of the tests conducted for use for admission into tertiary institutions. The examination body has also not closed its doors to any further complaints or suggestions meant for strengthening the testing mechanisms in use,” he stated.

“I think that it is in the light of the above that we stakeholders should seek to work more closely with JAMB in conducting the UTME to attain more of the status of international best practices and standards, rather than seek to have the procedure revert to paper and pencil modalities or the scrapping of JAMB. Doing so will only make us a laughing stock in the international community in an era in which Nigeria’s battered image in the international community is just beginning to be mended. Our concerns should be how to have the communications technology sector further facilitate the CBT-based UTME; enhancement of the transparent conduct of the UTME; facilitating the transition required by JAMB to migrate from academic achievements testing to the development and use of academic and professional aptitude testing for pre-entry and pre-career entry purposes for the tertiary education system; more technically guided involvement of the tertiary institutions in the conduct of the UTME; and the elimination of tendencies for double or multiple admissions as spelt out in JAMB’s guideline…”

“Conclusively, let it simply be noted by all JAMB stakeholders (tertiary institutions, parents and candidates) that the directive “scrapping” the post-UTME refers to conducting and charging money for another examination after the UTME results. It does not preclude screening and verifying the credentials of candidates, as has been the practice.

We know that those who favour the post-UTME test will soon mount a campaign for its sustenance or reintroduction. The influential parents who must manipulate the admission process for their children, owners of miracle examination centres, admission racketeering cabals in tertiary institutions are a few of those that we know will put pressure on the authorities to reverse this laudable directive. But we want to put them on notice that Nigerians will not accept a return to writing post-UTME test now that JAMB is perfecting the Computer Based Test (CBT) that renders it unnecessary to the extent that the government did the needful by scrapping it