THE national uproar that followed the computer-based test used in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) for students seeking admission into universities shows quite clearly that something patently wrong and baffling occurred during the examination.
Complaints by students showed the examination was marred by many problems, such as computer breakdowns, poor Internet connectivity, instability in supply of electricity, inconsistencies in communicating examination scores to students, inadequate examination materials and late arrival of officials that led to late starting time. These were not by all means all the problems that confronted students during and after the examination.
There were numerous accounts by students, who experienced nightmares during and after the examination. Perhaps, the most enigmatic account by all standards was narrated by a student who told a newspaper last week: “I applied to study Mechanical Engineering at University of Ilorin. I wrote the exam at a centre in Ipaja. At 6.30am, I was already at the exam centre. I logged into the system when the exam commenced but the system logged me out. I logged in again but it logged me out the second time. I complained to the JAMB official immediately but he asked me to wait for some minutes before logging in. I later logged in and completed my exam in Physics, Mathematics and English. I was doing Chemistry when the system logged me out. I logged in again but it logged me out. I checked my result later and got another shocker, ‘Absent from exam’.”
This student’s experience must be considered the most absurd and tasking. Rather than concentrate on the examination questions, the student had to grapple with faulty computer systems that intermittently shut down mid-way during the examination.
Another student also narrated his own strange experience thus: “The first alert I received on the telephone from the board with regard to the examination showed that I scored 218. The second alert read 186 while the third one read 286. The surprising thing now is that I cannot print any of the results. On the website, the board claimed that I did not sit for the examination. Meanwhile, I sat for English, Government, Economics and Literature-in-English. I am confused. I do not know what to do now.”
These problems underline the high level of disorganisation and administrative incompetence that exist within JAMB. These issues also signal the inability of JAMB to cope with the problems created by its own pigheadedness to proceed with the computer-based testing system without adequate preparation and without consideration of the difficult circumstances faced by students from different backgrounds.
When many students complained openly, angrily, and persistently about the numerous problems that undermined the integrity of the examination, we need not ask if anything went wrong during the examination. There were too many problems that spoiled the examination, particularly as they had nothing to do with equity, fairness, excellence or merit in an examination situation. For that reason, someone has to rise and take a decision to stop the rot.
Many students have lost faith in the integrity of public examinations conducted by JAMB. How do we repair the damage that has been inflicted on the psyche of young students?
Not only were there glaring inconsistencies in the scores that JAMB conveyed to students, there were also serious computer problems that undermined students’ efforts to answer the questions during the examination. How does anyone, for example, expect students to deal with a situation in which the computers they were using in the examination consistently logged them out? When the affected students complained, the examination officials asked the students to restart their computers or to wait for a few minutes before attempting to log in again. In the 21st century, students should not have to put up with this kind of nonsense in a tense examination situation.
JAMB has demonstrated that it lacks the capacity to conduct examinations for admission into Nigerian universities. The absurdity is that JAMB officials have insisted the examination body did nothing wrong. Many candidates have countered that farcical and indefensible position by stating forcefully that many things went wrong before, during, and after the examination. It is not right for JAMB to engage in verbal exchanges with candidates who, by the way, are JAMB’s clients.
The most arrogant and stubborn response by a JAMB official to all the complaints appeared in an interview published in The Sun newspaper of Saturday, 19 March, 2016, in which JAMB’s head of public relations said angrily: “In this part of the world, nobody accepts failure. We must look for excuse. For those that scored high, the system worked but those that failed the system must have done something wrong. I have not seen anybody that will say he or she failed genuinely. We conducted examination for over a million five hundred candidates and I don’t think we were expecting everybody to get the same scores. Those that scored high, where did they write their own?”
This kind of response showed just how cocky, how thoughtless, how inconsiderate, how tactless, how insensitive, how thick-skinned and conceited senior officials of JAMB were over genuine complaints raised by students. I couldn’t help but shake my head in disbelief.
Let us not forget that JAMB was established to provide a service. It has the duty and indeed the social responsibility to provide the best service to the satisfaction of its clients. What JAMB gave to students, who sat for the recent UTME test could not be regarded as service. If JAMB cannot live up to its obligations, it must be dismantled and a replacement examination body put in place. JAMB ought to be taught a few lessons on the consequences of poor service delivery. When JAMB treats students spitefully, someone has to tell the senior management that the behaviour is inappropriate and cannot be tolerated.
The first time I wrote a critical essay on the plan by JAMB to introduce the controversial computer-based testing system in 2014, I was nearly impaled by JAMB’s head of public relations, who made it clear the computer-based testing system had undergone thorough tests and, therefore, must be implemented. I argued in that article that “Computer-based testing of students in an environment in which access to computers is highly limited is an unwise, inequitable, prejudiced, and discriminatory method of testing candidates seeking admission into Nigerian universities.”
I also expressed concerns about the difficulty of JAMB providing uninterrupted electricity that would power the computers throughout the duration of the examination. My view was based on the history of regular interruptions in electricity supply across the country. The question I posed to JAMB was: How could computer-based tests be conducted without hitches in all examination centres when JAMB lacks the capacity to guarantee steady supply of electricity?
I cautioned that JAMB should not rush to introduce computer-based UTME tests simply on the basis of the benefits associated with computer technology without regard to the prevailing circumstances in the country. It is true that JAMB, like many people, believe that computer technology is a crucial device that has the potential to put an end to all forms of examination malpractice but that would be stretching optimism to the highest level. While computers help people to do things better and faster, there is no clear evidence that computer-based testing will eliminate examination malpractices given the inventiveness of students.
Introduction of computer-based testing to replace the paper-and-pencil UTME test must be preceded by sustained research to enable JAMB to understand how computer technology can transform secondary school students in a situation in which the students lack access to computers.
JAMB’s head of public relations reacted prickly and quickly to my article. I was not going to let him run away with his constricted view. I clarified why the introduction of the computer-based UTME test might not be appropriate and could not work in our environment at the present time. He was not going to hear any opposition to the idea. As far as he was concerned, those opposed to the introduction of computer-based UTME tests were holding the nation back. In his view, those who opposed the system were yesterday’s men and women who could not see anything good in technological innovation.
Rigidity has a way of blurring the mindset of JAMB officials. The fact that computer-based examination system has been introduced in many parts of the world should not imply that Nigeria must introduce the same system. Our circumstances are different and this is the point no one in JAMB wanted to hear. By proceeding to introduce computer-based UTME tests without consideration of the likely problems, JAMB officials have decided to shut their minds to the huge technological challenges and hitches, the logistical problems, and administrative impediments that are likely to make the system unworkable in our society.
Let me end by repeating the point I made in my article in 2014. How many secondary schools teach students basic courses in computer appreciation and use? Nigeria has all the resources to make computers available to students in primary and secondary schools. Unfortunately, that has not happened because of so many reasons, such as lack of willingness on the part of government and the private sector to provide computers to schools, lack of training opportunities for teachers who will teach students basic computer knowledge, underfunding of schools, embezzlement of limited funds provided to schools, theft of school equipment, lack of basic infrastructure that will support the use of computers in schools, such as uninterrupted electricity supply, subscription to Internet service providers, and so on.
JAMB has committed far too many blunders. It is time for the examination body to be scrapped.