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Much ado about educationally less developed states

By Abosede Musari, Abuja
07 November 2016   |   2:32 am
If you check the print out of a school like Ife, you may be surprised to see about 300 people scoring 250 and above. But when you come to using merit for admission, you pick the highest marks.
JAMB candidates

JAMB candidates

In a bid to ensure a uniform development of the country’s educational sector, the Federal Government, over 25 years ago, formulated a policy of granting some preference to candidates seeking admission into universities across the country, from states that are termed educationally less developed.

Most states of the north, and a few ones from the South-South and Southeast fall in this category. They include Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Jigawa, Zamfara, Adamawa, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Gombe, Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba and Yobe.

However, 25 years after the enactment and execution of the policy, stakeholders are still of the opinion that it is not yet time to stop though a certain section of the populace think the policy is denying others who merit admission, the opportunity to gain access into higher institutions of their choice.

Head of Information at the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), the body responsible for admissions in Nigeria, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, told The Guardian that though the policy, which favours the educationally less disadvantaged states will have to continue, because the gap it was intended to close has not yet totally been bridged.

He explained that giving preference to candidates from these states goes beyond merely giving admission to students, but was designed as a means of uniting the nation by giving everybody from every state of the country, an opportunity to be educated and as well, have a sense of belonging because every Nigerian is a stakeholder in the polity.

He was, however, quick to add that the fact that the candidates get admission under the provision of educationally less developed states does not mean that they didn’t get the required cut-off point for admission. He also noted that it does not mean that these states are given scores of slots, but that the slots are always not more than one per state, such that only one person from each of the states is given admission per session in a Federal University outside their regions.

“Admission is defined in areas of merit, catchment area and educationally less developed states. Merit gets 45 per cent. That’s the best on whatever criteria you are using. 35 per cent is for catchment area. Each university is localized within a number of states. Those states get 35 per cent. And 20 per cent goes to educationally less developed states”.

“It is not as if those given admission under the educationally less developed states are not qualified. In fact, they must meet the minimum requirement. But the essence of giving them admission under the educationally less developed states is to have universality, and you must bring everybody on board. Otherwise, you will admit only local people.”

“Even abroad, they have a quota for foreign students and if that quota is not filled they will go to certain countries and give scholarship to people that will be admitted to fill the quota. Because they want to have a university they can beat their chest about.”

Benjamin noted that if admissions are based only on merit, it might happen that institutions will only have candidates from certain ethnic nationalities, and that will bring about lopsidedness in the process. “When you have a school, and you conduct an examination, and maybe it’s located in Lagos and only the people in Ikeja qualify based on merit, are you going to admit only Ikeja people? By the time you do that for four years, your university would have become Ikeja University, producing Ikeja people for Ikeja people. The right thing to do is bring people from diverse backgrounds.

He also argued that the whole noise being made about the preferential admission for the educationally less developed states was based on misconception because it is not as if those given admission from these states are not qualified.

“Those given admissions from educationally less developed states don’t have lower marks than their counterparts. That’s a misconception that is out there. A lot of people think that when you talk of people from educationally disadvantaged states, you go and pick just anybody. No, they must meet the minimum requirements”.

“If you want to admit 100 for medicine for instance, and somebody applies from Zamfara for medicine in Ife. Ife says their cut off point for medicine is 250, they won’t admit someone with 180 for medicine in Ife because he is coming from an educationally disadvantaged state”.

Benjamin, however, admitted that in the process of giving admission under the educationally less developed states, some of those who may have had a chance to enter under merit would not be able to get the admission slot. He however, added that this does not mean that the person getting the admission under educationally less developed states is less qualified. And that the policy, which seeks national inclusion, must be followed.

“If you check the print out of a school like Ife, you may be surprised to see about 300 people scoring 250 and above. But when you come to using merit for admission, you pick the highest marks. If you start from those who scored 280 for instance, maybe by the time you get down to 265 you would have picked the 45 per cent. Then you start with catchment area and educationally less developed states. Because you said your minimum requirement is 250 and this man coming from Zamfara has scored 250, you give him admission. His other colleague that has scored even 260 from another state may not get the admission because he has to enter under merit. But this Zamfara man couldn’t make it under merit but he made it under educationally less developed states,” he explained.

Giving an insight into how the policy came about, Dr. Benjamin said it actually began in the 1970s after the Nigerian civil war. “There was mutual suspicion among the ethnic groups and government was looking for a platform to unite the people. JAMB became one of these platforms that could bring the various ethnic groups to form a nation. The policy was designed to accommodate this interest,” he narrated.

He added that since then it was agreed that 45 per cent candidates should be admitted based on merit, 35 per cent based on catchment area and 20 per cent based on educationally less developed states. He also explained that at the time the policy was formulated, there were only six universities. ABU, UNN, Ife, Lagos and others.

Each university was located in each region, and was to cater for people in that region. “Gradually when the second generation universities started coming up, that was when the problem started. Before, it was very easy to get admission, but with second generation schools and population increase; it became difficult to get admission. Some candidates could get admission in three universities while some didn’t get any.”

“Those who got three admission slots blocked the chances of others. That is because all three universities will expect that single candidate to resume and they will keep the slots for him. Meanwhile, he can only resume in only one university while the other two slots are wasted; at the time when other persons are sitting at home because they couldn’t get any admission slot.”

“The policy was, therefore, designed to put a stop to the rancorous situation. When JAMB came into being to coordinate admission, in order to ensure one candidate does not deny another candidate a chance of getting admission, and to have a central data so that if you get admission here, you won’t have in another place, the need for a formula for admitting the candidates became necessary. So they agreed to do it with percentage. And this policy evolved.”

Supporting this stance is the Deputy Director Press at the Ministry of Education, Ben Bem Goong. He confirmed that most states of the north and some southern states are on the list of educationally less developed states in Nigeria. Goong said it is a good policy that has helped the system over the years.

He is of the opinion that rather than stop the policy, it should be strengthened because of the number of youths who are yet to be educated in those states. He added that those who gained admission through this process have eventually done a lot better during their training in the university.

“It’s a wrong impression that the policy is meant for some parts of the country alone. Government should rather step up action to strengthen the policy. When you educate people, you save them and yourself, a lot of stress. No nation can rise above the literacy level of its population,” he said.

He also suggested that the Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) be strengthened to further give Nigerians more access to education.

The Interim Joint Matriculation Board (IJMB) was established in 1976 by the government of the Northern region of Nigeria, to cater for the education of people of the region. It is a post secondary school educational arrangement, which sees to the proper academic training of students in preparation for admission into universities.

It provides an alternative for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB), as it is a window whereby those who could not obtain five credits inclusive of Mathematics and English at the O’level, can prepare themselves better and obtain a certificate for onward admission into 200 level in the university.

Over time, the IJMB programme was extended to the states of southern Nigeria; and today, most universities in the country accept it for admission into 200 level.

In Goong’s view, “the programme is helpful. Those who gained admission through it do a lot better in the universities, even more than some of those who went straight to universities after secondary school. IJMB is helping not just the indigenes of the educationally disadvantaged states but also those of other states. To avoid social crisis, those who didn’t make five credits including English and Mathematics should be accommodated in a way through policies such as this.”

He explained that every year, over one million candidates write the West African Examination Council (WAEC) examination and the National Examination Council (NECO), and the failure rate has remained over 60 per cent. Meaning that every year, the system has a backlog of more than 600,000 candidates who have not been able to gain admission because they couldn’t make the compulsory five credits inclusive of English and Mathematics.

According to him, when this is added to the over 11 million out-of-school children, the figure becomes astronomical, and the situation might generate social crisis if something is not done. He therefore, urged that every policy that will give Nigerian youths access to education should be encouraged and further strengthened.

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