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Farewell to contentious, multiple admission interviews, exams

By Eno-Abasi Sunday, Ujunwa Atueyi and Cornelius Essen
04 August 2016   |   3:21 am
Since making that declaration, the protagonists and their antagonists are hard at work, in their bid to outdo each other, as their “superior arguments wafts across, even with some commentators also calling for the outright abrogation of the UTME.
Candidates at a typical computer-based test centre

Candidates at a typical computer-based test centre

While the dust stirred by the proscription of the Post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME) still swirls, the Federal Government penultimate week announced the cancellation of the second interview test, conducted by the National Examination Council (NECO), for admission into the 104 unity schools with effect from the 2017/2018 academic year. ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, UJUNWA ATUEYI (Lagos) and CORNELIUS ESSEN, (Abuja), write on the reactions that have greeted these decisions.

Clearly, the cancellation of the post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (Post-UTME), and the annulment of the second interview test, conducted by the National Examination Council (NECO) effective 2017/2018 session, appear to be the two decisions taken by the Federal Government that have given rise to an equal amount of protagonists and antagonists.

During the 2016 Combined Policy Meeting on Admissions to Universities, Polytechnics and Other Higher Institutions in the country, which took place in June in Abuja, it took the Education Minister, Adamu Adamu just a few words to put an end to the post-UTME.

That declaration was this simple. “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.”

Since making that declaration, the protagonists and their antagonists are hard at work, in their bid to outdo each other, as their “superior arguments wafts across, even with some commentators also calling for the outright abrogation of the UTME.

One of those, who are in favour of the abolition of UTME, is an educationist, Amu Gabriel Idogbo, who is of the view that “UTME, post-UTME are unnecessary in a 21st Century educational system.”

Insisting that these processes were unnecessary in the first instance, Idogbo said, “The world is civilised today and things have changed for the better. The issue of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations, or the post-UTME is gone and JAMB is obsolete. The ideal thing should be, let admissions into tertiary institutions be through concessional entrance examination. Let government stop the modifications going on in JAMB because they are not relevant again.”

He cited Ghanaian universities, where there were no unified examinations to pre-qualify students for admissions, adding that out there, students secure admission into tertiary institutions with only the basic requirements of five credits in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), and other relevant examinations. He, therefore, is in favour of the Federal Government scrapping JAMB as an examining body responsible for admission into tertiary institutions.

His words: “Let universities conduct concessional entrance examination for their students. This is what is obtainable in Europe, and what is popular all over the world today. Students stay in their rooms with computer sets, make requests for admission forms, within 24 hours they are offered entry into tertiary institutions.”

The education consultant maintained that admission processes should not be cumbersome as has been the case in recent times in the country adding that, “We are faced with a challenge of no spaces in our universities and unfortunately, there is also the misplacement of the available vacancies. That is why Nigerians are talking about UTME. All these are not obtainable in civilised societies.

“As stakeholders in education, government should begin to partner with the private sector by sending surplus students who have no space in their first, second choice universities to the 57 private colleges of education in the country. They can assure them admissions because there is desire and propensity for education in the Nigeria child,” he said.

He further noted that a situation where 1.5 million applicants write the UTME, and only 500,000 are offered provincial admission was highly unacceptable, and causing confusion in our education system as students are limited to their first and second choice universities.

Idogbo deplored the excessive emphasis placed on paper qualification and not on knowledge acquisition in the country, saying in advanced democracies, practical education, which is lacking in the country, holds sway out there.

Former executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), Prof. Peter Okebukola, begs to differ from Idogbo and his companions who wish that JAMB was done away with.

He submitted; “On the matter of the relevance of JAMB, I am unshaken in my belief that at this time in the nation’s higher education development, JAMB is still a relevant player. The important thing is for JAMB not to overstep its bounds by infringing on those areas, where the universities should exercise their autonomy.”

He continued, “Post-UTME, as originally conceived in 2004, not in its present adulterated form, is still a must if we are to get better quality students for our higher education system. Rather than shut the door on post-UTME, we should take away whatever the universities are not doing right and not throw the baby out with the bath water,” he stated.

Former vice chancellor, Niger State-owned IBB University, Lapai, Prof. Ibrahim A. Kolo, is one of those that is in favour of the ban on the post-UTME, and he is even pissed with the unending controversies generated by groups and individuals in the wake of the proscription.

According to him, the attendant furore has continued to fester for two main reasons: the failure by many to understand the role of JAMB as provided for it by the law setting it up, and a gross lack of understanding of the technicalities of standardised tests.

In a article titled, “Still on the Musings Over Post-UTME Proscription,” Kolo said, “The emotional and in some cases irrational outpourings by several groups and individuals in the past weeks that have greeted the proscription of the test components of post-UTME exercises, as conducted by universities and other tertiary institutions have only pointed to two issues: A lack of understanding of the technicalities of standardised tests as a key basis for setting minimum standards for determining eligibility for admission into higher institutions of learning; and the misunderstanding of the role of JAMB as provided for it by the Law setting up the body in the first place.”

He stressed that by law, “JAMB is an educational outfit meant to ensure examination technical factors (tests development; test items banking; tests administration, test items efficiency and psychometric properties) for preserving the validity, reliability and usability of the examinations to be conducted. It is such technicalities of public examinations that have been taken for granted that led to misunderstandings, which brought about the introduction of the Post UTME.”

The former vice-chancellor added that the reality from educational psychology point of view is that the examination, which teachers and lecturers set and administer to students after teaching them courses of instruction do not have the established and verifiable technical qualities expected of standardised tests as developed and administered by public examination bodies set up to professionally organise examinations for determining the required academic and aptitude qualities of candidates examined.

Kolo added that it was also erroneous to assume that the post-UTME testing eliminates academically incompetent candidates with presumably high scores from the UTME saying, “Foremost, there is yet to be any incontrovertible empirical evidence to prove the assumption.”

He further explained that, “Contrary to the widespread belief that JAMB sets the criteria for admission for universities and other tertiary institutions, the practice is that all heads of institutions (and not JAMB) collectively determine the UTME cut-off marks after JAMB would have presented the general performance of candidates during a particular year’s exercise. This usually takes place during the annual policy meeting of JAMB under the chairmanship of the Minister of Education.”

He said it was surprising that some are even canvassing for a return to the days when only about five universities existed in the country and conducted their respective entrance examinations for much less number of candidates. Those canvassing the return to institutional autonomy over admissions don’t seem to know that JAMB was partly a recommendation arising for the change of the educational policy which abrogated the Higher School Certificate (HSC), making senior secondary leavers eligible for admission as well as the envisaged proliferation of universities and tertiary institutions meant to meet the increasing number of candidates seeking for university admission.

As divergent opinions continue to trail the nullification of the post-UTME, the Federal Government announced the cancellation of the second interview test in the National Common Entrance Examination (NCEE), conducted by the National Examination Council (NECO), for admission into unity schools with effect from the 2017/2018 academic year. This year’s exercise had already been concluded.

This was, however, at the request of the immediate past NECO registrar, Prof. Abdulrashid Garba, who suggested the combination of the two tests into one composite examination.

In granting the request for the abolition of the second interview test, which gave many parents sleepless nights, Adamu, in a statement signed by the Deputy Director of Press in the ministry, Bem Goong, described the second test as an unnecessary additional financial burden on parents/guardians.

The statement quoted the minister, as saying that the era of multiple examinations attracting prohibitive fees cannot be accommodated by the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration, especially against the backdrop of government’s determination to increase access to education as a platform for breaking the cycle of poverty.

Adamu, therefore, directed the National Examinations Council (NECO) to strengthen its examination processes with a view to achieving a quality and credible NCEE for admission into unity schools at the first test.

He stressed that his administration was working towards strengthening JAMB and NECO, which have been established by Acts of the National Assembly, and charged with the responsibility of conducting admission into federal public secondary and tertiary institutions respectively to deliver efficiently on their mandates.

NECO, through its Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Zonal Coordinator, Abdul Mustapha in a swift reaction says it has adjusted the examination in line with the education minister’s directive, and the first and second tests now collapsed into one.

Mustapha told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that, “In line with the minister’s directive, NECO has already taken care of the technical aspect of the examination by re-adjusting the first test. The first test, which is mainly achievement test written as paper one and the second test, which is mainly aptitude test written as paper two, are to be written at one sitting within the same time frame of the existing timetable arrangement. So, from NECO’s perspective, the one exam will technically yield the same result,” he said.

The abolition of the second test is an idea that sits well with Mrs. Chinwe Ukeje, a parent who silently craved for it.

Ukeje, who resides in the Ikotun axis of Lagos, saw her daughter posted to Victoria Island Primary School for the second interview test, where she claimed she was extorted by NECO officials.

She alleged that the NCEE scratch card, which official charge was pegged at N2, 500, ended up being sold for between N3, 000 to N5, 000 by individual vendors at NECO offices.

“If you aggregate these amounts to the total number of applicants year, (including the second interview test), you would agree with me that NECO is making huge financial gains.”

She said, “Examination is an assessment intended to measure candidates’ knowledge, skills, aptitude, among others, depending on the purpose. One test is enough to assess pupils. The kind of stress and hassle that I went through in the last edition was very frustrating and unsatisfactory.

“I’m happy with some of the decisions the present administration has taken in the education sector so far, particularly as it affects parents and their wards. It means this administration, to an extent has the interest of parents at heart.”

The Guardian checks revealed that 88,444 candidates sat for the examination in 2013; 95,926, in 2014; a total of 86, 000 candidates wrote the examination in 2015; while 90,786, partook in the 2016 edition. Of all these numbers, only 26,000 candidates for each set were/would be admitted, in line with the carrying capacity of the unity colleges.

For Mrs. Mercy Nnenna Okoro, another parent, the second interview test provided a veritable platform for officials to perpetrate illegalities and sundry fraudulent practices, “as many desperate parents/guardians are usually out to ensure their children gain admission, whether they are qualified or not.

“This is what I observed during the last interview test, which my child confirmed. When parents resort to things like these, children who genuinely prepared for the test are discouraged. So, with the cancellation, adequate preparation and security arrangement should be put in place so that concerned pupils will know that what stands before them and admission into unity colleges is one composite examination.”

Executive Director, Amville School, Ilupeju, Lagos, Mrs. Mosun Owo-Odusi, shares the same views with Ukeje and Arua, insisting that the second test is “irrelevant, unnecessary and a repetitious exercise, which not only subject pupils to undue pressure, but also put a strain on parents.

“In countries like Finland and the United Kingdom, children are not stressed like this. These are kids between ages nine to 11. One examination is enough to ascertain their eligibility for junior secondary school education. What do we need two tests for? Government has done the right thing; because there is no reason why parents and pupils should be subjected to undue stress and attendant risks associated with the second exercise,” she stated.

Owo-Odusi continued, “The first test can be modified to accommodate different learners’ style, since we have children that learn differently. May be schools should do baseline tests, to see different levels at which the children learn to know how to place and teach such children, if necessary,” she said.

An education marketing consultant, Mrs. Bimbo Obasuyi, who also lauded the decision, stressed that scores from one test were enough to promote pupils to their next academic level, adding that the extraordinary emphasis placed on the second interview test by NECO before now was, at best, pointless.

She said, “By the time you subject children to second examination, there might be unfair treatment on those who should actually merit it. The second examination could be prone to some kind of funny practices. Once a child is above a shoreline, he/she should be admitted. Conducting a second test is open to some kind of unfair treatments. It is another form of stress for the child and the parents. The best might not come out of such child.”

A director in the Lagos State Ministry of Education, who does not want his name mentioned, said government saw the exercise as extortion, just like the post-UTME. “They might have also seen some untoward conducts on the part of the examining body.

“If we repose confidence in examination bodies and they are doing the proper thing, then we don’t need more than one examination to test a pupil. Multiple tests are prone to extortion. What we do in Lagos State is one test for our model colleges, which is highly subscribed to, and one for the general placement test. This is open to all pupils in the state who want to attend Lagos state secondary schools and there is no fee attached to it,” he said.