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FURORE OVER UNITY SCHOOLS ADMISSIONS

Question: What’s the work of people in the above building?

NECO answer: To set National Common Entrance exams, mark the papers and pass the results to Federal Ministry of Education (FME) for placement of candidates into Fed. Govt. colleges

NIGERIANS: We’re not comfortable with the bit about marking and passing results to FME; we’re afraid of our high-scoring wards being shortchanged and failing to make the list

FME: Your fear is unfounded; just wait and see what happens when the postings come out in July

John Adams, Minna and Fred Ezeh, Abuja

As parents and other Nigerian stakeholders continue to express their frustrations over the politics of admission of pupils into the Unity Schools across the country, the body saddled with the responsibility of conducting the exams, National Examination Council (NECO) has exonerated itself from the controversy surrounding the placement of candidates into the schools.

The body says section 7 of NECO enabling act gave the council unrestricted and unfettered authority over its mandate which include the general control and conduct of National Common Entrance Examinations for admission into federal government colleges and allied institutions.

The council says its mandate stops at conducting the National Common Entrance Examinations and forwarding the results to the Federal Ministry of Education, the supervising Ministry, pointing out that NECO has no hand in the placement of candidates or pupils into schools.

The Head of the Information Unit of the council, Mallam Abdulazeez Sani told The Sun Education in Minna that the exam body cannot be dragged into the politics of placement of candidates into schools as the organization’s mandate is clearly spelt out in the act that established it.

Mallam Sani maintained that the body is not aware of any other qualifying test being conducted by schools before admission of candidates, stressing that “I am aware that, sometimes ago, when some schools were alleged to be conducting qualifying tests for candidates, the Federal government came out with a strong warning, asking such schools to desist from such practice. But like I said our mandate here at NECO is just to conduct the exam and then forward the result to our mother ministry. NECO does not even determine the cut-off points in the admission into the schools.”

NECO not mere exam conducting agency

He dismissed the insinuation that the inability of the organisation to have a say in the placement of candidates into schools has reduced it to a mere exam-conducting agency. “We have a mandate which is our guiding principle, and I don’t think it will be right for NECO as an organisation to exceed its mandate, which is to see to the successful conduct of the examination,” he said.

Sani disclosed that 80,421 candidates sat for this year’s common entrance examination after the payment of N2, 500 into the Treasury Single Account (TSA), adding that the NECO is alive to its responsibility in the conduct of all examinations within its mandates.

According to him, the council is committed to maintaining some high quality in all of its examinations so that the results can be trusted worldwide for their credibility. This will, in turn, make the body to become a major player within the global assessment industry, assuring that “in line with our core value, we are also committed to redefining the future of the Nigerian child through quality assessment.”

Stakeholder on raging controversy

But his reassurances have not, in any way, done anything to douse the controversy raging on concerning the exam, as views expressed by some stakeholders show. According to the former Vice Chancellor of the Niger State-owned Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida University (IBBU), Lapai, Prof. Ibrahim Kolo, the current intrigue in the admission of pupils into the Unity Schools is the same scenario that has been playing out between the university system and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation (JAMB) as shown in the conduct of UTME.

Prof. Kolo pointed out that unlike the practice in the past where NECO conducts the common entrance examination and the Federal Ministry of education invites Principals of the Unity Schools for a screening process to separate “the wheat from the chaff,” after which admission is given based on merits, and with less regards to quota system, the reverse is now the order of the day.

The Unity Schools later decided to arrogate another power to themselves by conducting another screening exam for pupils in order to collect additional money from parents and thereby rendering the Common Entrance Examination conducted by NECO useless.

The don pointed out that all these controversies between JAMB and the universities and NECO and the Unity Schools show lack of clear demarcation on the type of text to be conducted by these examinations bodies, whether it should be academic achievement text or aptitude text, adding that from all indications they are all conducting achievement text.

“Why I am saying is that if the examination bodies are to conduct academic achievement text, let the schools conduct aptitude text so that the two results can be brought together and based on the performances of candidates in the two texts, admission can be given.”

He said another reason for the controversies is that because the schools are not adequately funded, they are trying to make money by conducting another screening examination for the pupils. The same scenario, he notes, plays out with the universities in their bid to improve on their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), through the conduct of post-UTME screening exam.

On the way forward, Prof. Kolo suggested that the high level corruption in the system must be checked because NECO itself is not free from manipulations, alleging that, “sometimes candidates come out with results that they are not entitled to; the same thing applies with regard to JAMB. There should be serious clean up and high level of sanity in these exam bodies so that the outcome of its exams will not be subjected to another scrutiny, be it Unity Schools or universities.”

Parent blames FME

A lecturer in the Department of Education, Niger State College of Education, Minna, Mallam Isah Mamman, who narrated how his child was admitted into one of the Unity Schools in 2015 academic session after some harrowing experience, put the blame on the mess in the admission system on the Federal Ministry of Education.

“Why is it the ministry that should do the placement?” he queried. “That is where the whole problem started from, because there is a lot happening after NECO conduct of the exam. The situation is that, it’s either you go to the ministry and bribe your way for your child to get admission or you go to the school of your choice and work your way through.”

Describing as unfortunate what he sees as the politicization of admission into the Federal government colleges, something he warns portrays a great danger to the development of education in the country, he insists that what is happening in admission of pupils into Unity Schools is a confirmation of the “serious rot” in the education sector in the country, stressing that, “corruption is deep-rooted in the education system and things are really falling apart.”

He therefore appealed to government and lawmakers to, as a matter of urgency and in the interest of country’s future generation, review the entire process of admission into Unity schools.

FME denies culpability

But in her reaction, the Director, Press and Public Relations, Mrs. Chinenye Ihuoma, exonerated the ministry from any irregularities regarding the 2017 NECO common entrance exam as being speculated by “some mischievous people.”

She said that neither the Minister, Mallam Adamu Adamu, nor any ministry official has the access to the result of the exam, not to talk of tampering with it, even though students’ scores were not uploaded alongside their admission status on the website.

“It is pure mischief for anyone to accuse the Minister of Education of doctoring the result of the examination to favour anybody,” she insists. “Instead, the Minister alongside ministry and NECO officials have worked tirelessly to correct the identified anomalies that have been responsible for the barrage of complaints by parents in the past and leading to the inability of their wards to secure admission in the schools of their choice despite passing the exam with good scores.”

She noted that it was the collective decision of the Ministry of Education and NECO not to upload students’ scores on website, adding that the students have been informed of their admission status.

“It was clearly stated on the website that placement would commence in July for those who are qualified,” she further noted. “The placement of thousands of students that sat for the 2017 common entrance exam is not what could be done in few days. So, the Ministry was putting strong and transparent measures to ensure seamless placement exercise when it begins next month.”

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