Weaning Unity schools off admission disparity, mediocrity
The scramble for admission into the 104 Federal Government Unity Colleges for the 2023/2024 academic session has begun in earnest, with National Common Entrance Examination slated for June 3. IYABO LAWAL examines the subtleties of unity schools’ existence amidst the North-South dichotomy.
For many parents and stakeholders in the education sector, the rescheduled National Common Entrance Examination may well be the start of another unending controversy over who eventually makes it into the final admission list, and from what region of the country.
Not that the whining is an unnecessary fuss by some parents who failed in their bid to secure a slot in the unity arrangements, the griping has always been that admission policy into those federal colleges is skewed in favour of the North even though the preliminary intent of the unity colleges is to foster unity among Nigeria’s over 300 ethnic nationalities.
It is also worthy of note that each Federal Government Secondary School is more competitive than the other. King’s College, Queen’s College, FGCS Benin, FGCS Akure, are among the best federal secondary schools in Nigeria and are highly competitive. This is so because of the performance of the students in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) and national competitions. Also, the volume of applicants seeking JSS 1 admission into the schools is high.
To keep the hope of getting on the admission list, the cut-off mark system requires candidates from states in the Southeast and Southwest to score significantly higher marks than their contemporaries from the North, or those states dubbed educationally disadvantaged.
In other words, a pupil from the south seeking admission into any of the unity schools must score at least 140 points out of a possible 300 to stand a chance of securing admission. But a candidate from the north doesn’t need to stress himself as such to be considered for admission.
In the 2018/2019 session for instance, cut-off mark for a male pupil from Yobe State is two, it is four points for the male candidate from Zamfara, while the male candidate from Taraba State only needs three points out of 300 to be a proud student of any of the Federal Government colleges he so chooses. But the minimum score is 139 for any male or female pupil from Anambra State, nursing the hope of a heave into a unity college.
The cut-off lists released by the Ministry of Education for the 2020/2021 academic year, showed the huge disparity between the cut-off marks, which candidates from southeast and southwest states should have, and what candidates from north should obtain.
According to the breakdown, Anambra has the highest cut-off of 139 marks for both males and females; Imo 138; Enugu 134, Lagos 133; Delta 131, Ogun 131, Abia 130 and Edo. 130.
Osun and Oyo were also among the top 10, with the highest cut-off with 127 marks.
The least 10 cut-off marks for Unity Schools are all northern states; Gombe 58; Nasarawa 58; Borno 45; Jigawa 44, Bauchi 35; Kebbi has nine for males and 20 for females.
Also, Sokoto has nine for males and 13 for females; Zamfara has four marks for males and two for females. Taraba and Yobe are the least states with Taraba having three for males and 11 for females, while Yobe has two for males and 27 for females.
For the 2022/2023 session, Abia 130; Adamawa 62; Akwa-Ibom 123, Anambra 139; Bauchi 35; Bayelsa 72; Benue 111; Borno 45; Cross River 97; Delta 131; Ebonyi 112; Edo 127; Ekiti 119; Enugu 134; Gombe 58; Imo 138; and Jigawa 44. Others include Kaduna 91; Kano 67; Katsina 60; Kebbi nine (male) 20 (female);
Kogi 119; Kwara 123; Lagos 133; Nasarawa 58; Niger 93; Ogun 131; Ondo 126; Osun 127; Oyo 127; Plateau 97; Rivers 118; Sokoto nine (male) 13 (female); Taraba three (male) 11 (female); Yobe two (male) 27 (female); Zamfara four (male) two (female) and FCT, Abuja 90.
Yet, in the spirit of diversity rather than unity, there are only 12 Unity Schools in the entire Southeast, 18 in the Southwest and 16 in the South South, where more than 65 per cent of candidates are said to have come from. Northeast has 15 schools; North central has 24, while Northwest has a total of 18.
Also, former minister, Adamu Adamu, disclosed that the selection exercise employed the national merit criteria of 60 per cent, equality of state 30 per cent and other factors (exigency) 10 per cent.
From the records, registration for the 2022 Common Entrance Examinations showed that 69,828 candidates sat for the examination.
A breakdown of the figure indicated that Lagos State registered the highest number of candidates with 19,516, while Kebbi State had the least with 74 candidates.
Of the over 69,000 candidates that registered for the examination, 36,855 were female, while 32,000 candidates were male.
In 2021, 76,855 candidates registered, 92,521 in 2020 and 75,000 in 2019. 71,294 candidates registered for the 2018 examination as against the 80,421 that sat for the exam in 2017. But the declining interest of parents in the country’s Federal Government colleges did not just start with the 2018 enrollment. The figures for 2018 and 2017 pale in significance when placed side by side with registration for 2016 where 89,231 candidates sat the examination and 87,000 for 2015.
The release of discriminatory admission cut-off marks by the Ministry of Education for the 2020/2021 admission into the unity schools forced the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohaneze Ndigbo, to pillory the federal ministry of education for continuing in its discriminatory cut-off point in Federal Government colleges in Nigeria.
The group lamented that under the guise of educationally disadvantaged areas, some states are unduly favoured with very low cut-off marks, while others have unacceptably high cut off points.
For instance, it said whereas Abia State has 65 points for male and female, some states in the north have as low as seven points for female and 10 points for male. For many stakeholders in the education sector, the spin-offs of a refusal to rethink the unity schools’ admission policy is dire. For one, diminishing interest from the public is setting in gradually. So, it didn’t come as a shocker recently when Adamu expressed government’s concerns over the dwindling enrolment of candidates for the NCEE for admission into Unity Schools.
They also wondered why parents should continue to jostle unnecessarily for a space in unity schools as was the case, where for years on end, the 104 unity colleges did not post any pace-setting academic records, especially if those who gain admission to the schools continue to flunk the minimum academic requirements and capacity to proceed to a tertiary institution.
And the argument has always been that if the students could not make it to tertiary institutions after their six years sojourn in the unity colleges, how then will they be able to create the desired ethnic unification impact that impelled the establishment of the unity schools in the first place?
A parent, Mrs. Janet Adegunwa, said the criterion that mandates admission from every state is an exception rather than the norm. She noted that parents favour unity schools nearby to enrol their wards, leading to a situation where admission quotas are over-subscribed in some schools especially in southern parts of Nigeria, while some states have high numbers of unused slots.
Experts in the sector who bared their minds on the issue condemned a situation where some children are robbed of their rights because they are from certain states of the federation.
This, they said, is an endorsement of inequality in learning and insincerity on the part of the government.
Dr. Paul Ugorji, an educationist, lamented that the system is geared to encourage mediocrity.
Ugorji queried why some candidates would be given preferred treatment when all the schools in the country are using the same curriculum, and the students are meant to work in the same labour market.
“This is destroying our education system, and it is very dangerous,” Ugorji warned.
On his part, Dr. Tony Ejiofor, said while disparity in the cut-off mark is to bridge the gap between educationally disadvantaged states and the rest of the states, one would have expected that the gap would have been narrowed after decades that the policy was introduced.
He said: “It has become counter-productive because it has not encouraged seriousness on the so-called disadvantaged states. By now, one would have expected the states concerned to come up with deliberate policies to encourage their students to compete with students from other states.”
A lecturer at the University of Calabar, Dr. Jackson Udom, said: “You can’t be denying a region admission into unity schools, while other regions are trooping in with little or no score, in the name of less education in a disadvantaged state.
“The cut-off mark should be uniform, the same way the JAMB cut-off mark is. Chinedu cannot score 120 and is denied admission in unity school just because he is from Anambra, while Adamu from Katsina will score 20 and gain admission into unity school because he is from Katsina State,” he said.
Deborah Laoye, a public analyst, said the cut-off mark system, which requires candidates from southeast and southwest states to score significantly higher than their counterparts in the north, is an unfair practice that not only upholds injustice, but also promotes mediocrity.