The Sun News

JAMB and UTME: A life in denial

This is becoming like a yearly ritual. Every year, hitches develop over the conduct of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) overseen by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). It is possible that JAMB is incapable of managing examinations to decide candidates who are eligible for admission into universities. Something has to be done in the interest of students who suffer every year as a result of blunders committed by JAMB. Parents have to bear the trauma of watching their children suffer the indignity of preparing for an examination that has been postponed. In other parts of the world, the conduct of examinations of any kind does not constitute a problem for organisers or candidates.

On Saturday, 8 April, JAMB announced to distressed students and their parents that it would postpone the 2017 UTME that had been scheduled to commence on Saturday, 6 May 2017. JAMB says the examinations will now start on Saturday, 13 May, and conclude on 20 May. JAMB also said it would extend by two weeks the current registration for the UTME. The organisation said it was suspending the mock examinations that would have started last Saturday, 8 April.

According to a report in the Vanguard edition of last Sunday, 9 April 2017, JAMB registrar Professor Ishaq Oloyede, said the changes were caused by logistical problems. The registrar did not clarify the nature of the logistical problems. Logistical problem is a perfect ground for shifting responsibilities when an organisation fails. We have heard and experienced this monotonous excuse before. It is common to hear spokespersons for domestic airlines in Nigeria explain through public address systems that delays in flight schedule were caused by “operational reasons”. Passengers are left to figure out what “operational reasons” might be.

It is a shame that JAMB has continued to fumble the conduct of examinations for admission into universities while the Federal Government looks the other way, believing incorrectly that JAMB is doing very well, that the public needs to have more faith in the organisation regardless of its shortcomings. The government also insists that JAMB will remain the only authentic authority to conduct examinations into tertiary education institutions. This again points to poor leadership.

Here is an irony. In June 2016, the government through the Federal Ministry of Education announced that it had banned the post-UTME scheme, implying that universities were no longer authorised to conduct the much abused post-UTME test.  The Education Minister sounded like an authoritarian when he announced the ban. He said: “Under no circumstance should any institution violate the directive. The responsibility for admission into public tertiary institutions lies solely with the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) and, under no circumstance, whatsoever, should anybody or institution take over that responsibility by proxy.”

The minister continued: “For the avoidance of doubt, any educational institution after secondary education is regarded as a tertiary institution. Therefore, all tertiary institutions, polytechnics, colleges of education, universities or by whatever name it is called after secondary education, must be subjected to admission through JAMB.”

I cannot understand why the government will continue to place power in the hands of an organisation that has consistently failed to carry out its obligation to society. Whose interest is being served by retaining JAMB when its performance record shows it has failed? Why can’t Federal Education Ministry officials and the minister see there is something wrong with JAMB and the way it has conducted examinations? Is JAMB beyond reproach? Has JAMB become too big and unmanageable for the government that set it up?

Everything seems to be falling apart in Nigeria. There is lack of leadership. Everywhere you look, it all seems like no one is in charge. Ministers are mostly inconspicuous. I have often wondered whether we still have federal ministers in the country. Where are the ministers? What are they doing? Why are they silent and invisible? Why do we retain ministers who are not doing the job for which they were appointed? Do we need ministers whose job is to count the calendar in anticipation of when their monthly salaries would be paid? Why is civil society not asking questions? In whose interest is a weak and pathetic civil society that does not understand its responsibility to scrutinise government officials and to make them accountable to citizens?

Generally, citizens should be interested to know what their ministers are doing, how they are travelling on the job, the personal attributes of the ministers, the kind of men and women who are occupying positions of trust and responsibility, and the extent to which ministers can be seen as role models for the society. 

JAMB may have done very well in the early years but it must acknowledge the situation has changed significantly. The number of students sitting for examinations for admission into universities has far outstripped the number of students who sat for admission when JAMB was established in the 1970s. The challenges have increased fourfold and so too has the level of sophistication of students who are applying for admission into universities.

JAMB registrar says the organisation is overwhelmed by logistical problems even though we were not told what the problems might be. Unfortunately for JAMB, logistics is just one part of the problem. JAMB has to deal with more than logistical problems. It has to grapple with infrastructure that has either broken down or non-existent. It has to deal with a large number of students who lack basic computing skills. It has to deal with the disparity between students in urban areas and those who have lived their lives mainly in rural areas.

When we talk about the “digital divide” that separates those who are technologically endowed and, therefore, have access to more information and those who lack access to technology and are, therefore, less informed, we will see a similar situation among students who originate from city centres and those who reside principally in rural locations. Digital divide manifests in various forms within countries and between countries.

JAMB has to deal with instability in electricity supply even though it continues to argue that it has secured electric generators that will supply power for the duration of examinations. Even with uninterrupted electricity supply, other problems exist. JAMB has to deal with the sophisticated methods students adopt in cheating during examinations. With the emergence of new technologies has emerged new forms of criminality. JAMB has to deal with duplicitous administration staff who operate on their own rules rather than the rules issued by JAMB to govern the conduct of examinations. Additionally, JAMB has to deal with the dishonest character of officials appointed to invigilate examinations.

The point is there are more unseen and, therefore, unknown problems that have the potential to undermine JAMB examinations than the organisation would readily admit. Unfortunately, JAMB officials continue to live in denial. They deny their lack of preparedness and inability to handle diverse problems.

JAMB might claim, as it always does, that it has a foolproof masterplan to overcome challenges. Nevertheless, these problems continue to undermine the organisation’s ability to conduct hitch-free examinations. Unfortunately, the innocent victims of incompetence shown by JAMB are students who must put up with the inanities of the organisation’s officials and their irritating bureaucracy.

Public examinations for admission into universities are heavily compromised, JAMB or no JAMB. Where do you begin to solve the problems? Who do you hold responsible? This is where you will find officials with expertise in evading responsibility. When something fails, they are quick to point to other people or causes. The nation cannot continue to accept the yearly excuses that JAMB tenders when it fails to perform, when it subjects students to hardships and intolerable inhuman conditions.

When you confront JAMB with questions about problems, you are likely to hear in the usual language that there is no problem, and that everything is under control, even when everything is falling apart. You are likely to hear: “We are on course to manage examinations without a glitch.” If you believe those assurances, you are likely to believe anything. 

JAMB has refused to admit that conditions have changed, that the environment has changed, that the number of students has tripled, that human needs have changed, and that new technologies have created problems that JAMB did not foresee many years ago.

By continuing to deal with JAMB, by continuing to empower JAMB as the only organisation qualified to conduct examinations into universities, the government seems to be living in an unprotected cavern. Whether the government likes it or not, JAMB has outlived its usefulness and it is struggling to convince students, parents, and other stakeholders that it is still a relevant organisation.

Only time will tell how much longer the nation would continue to put up with JAMB. Indeed, how much longer will everyone be prepared to be force-fed the poor services provided by JAMB? Do we need to ditch the organisation now and find a more competent body that will cause less stress to parents and students? The times have changed and JAMB has to change or disintegrate and dissolve into history. There is no better option.

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Editor, Online: Ikenna Emewu
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