By Israel Abiodun
Of course, in what was clearly a case of stampede by the Upper chamber of the National Assembly, a resolution compelled the Governing Board of the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) to approve a three-year validity life-span for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). No doubt, some students and parents/guardians’ applauded the decision without the least consideration of the dangers it posed ahead for their wards craving for higher education.
Before now, JAMB exclusively conducted exams into Nigerian universities, which it christened the Universities Matriculation Examination (UME). But in 2010, the exams body expanded its tentacles to include entrance examinations to polytechnics, colleges of education and monothecnics under the tag of UTME.
So far, JAMB has not fared badly, especially under the current Registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde; with yearly innovations to improve the standards, as manifest in the introduction of the Computer-Based Test (CBT) intended to gradually supplant the analogue Paper and Pencil Test (PPT) to curb exam frauds.
However, Professor Ojerinde has admitted that nearly 1.8 million candidates sat for the 2016 UTME in March and placement spaces in the about the 120 universities in Nigeria and even with a dozen polytechnics, colleges of education and monothecnics across the country, available vacancies is infinitesimal in the range of about 500, 000 (Five hundred thousand) spaces in all the institutions combined.
By implication, there is high demand for admission slots yearly from post primary school candidates angling for higher education. The scramble for these few slots is also massive and unarguably stiff competitive.
Nonetheless, it is the considered opinion of most Nigerians that these circumstances should no warrant the lowering standards for candidates, seeking for higher academic qualifications, as the three-year validity period seems to espouse.
The Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which engineered the decision of the three-year validity period for UTME results never articulated any reason. And JAMB Board too, approved it without considering the repercussions and the peculiarities of the Nigerian educational system.
But from inference, it is clear the decision must have sprouted out of the pressures of parents, who perhaps, complained of repeatedly spending much money for the same admission process of their children. This is a worthy lamentation and the dilemma of parents/ sponsors of candidates is deeply appreciated.
But Nigerians should not forget that quality education liberates the individual and the nation. It gingers development in all spheres. And to provide quality education anywhere in the world is quite expensive. It explains why the United Nations has prescribed the allocation of 26 percent of annual budgets, especially of developing countries to the educational sector.
And Nigeria as a developing country has been faced with the almost insurmountable challenge of according its citizens qualitative education. The degeneration and decay in the education sector is so massive and loathsome to the extent that the craze to acquire certificates, at the expense of knowledge is propaganda mounted on Nigeria beyond its shores.
It is evident that in the past 15-20 years or more, some students who claim to be graduates would hardly spell their names correctly. To ask them to justify the certificates they flaunt in various fields is synonymous with the Biblical proverbial Camel passing through the eye of a needle.
There are instances where final-year students display helplessness in even accurately copying questions in an exam for a course they have studied. Years back, a former Director-General of the NYSC drew the country’s attention to the pathetic brand of graduands churned out yearly from the higher institutions, when he encountered some graduates who could not fill their personal data on NYSC registration forms at orientation camps. It may sound like tales from Arabian Nights, but this is the true picture of the unhealthy state of education in Nigeria.
Based on this backdrop, Nigeria as a country should be worried over this development. It is important not to leave any stone unturned in reversing the steady decline in education as manifest today. Therefore, it is incumbent on government to enforce proper checks at all levels of exams to ensure those who cross the rubicon merit the marks and grades they earn. And every segment of the educational structure in Nigeria should rather be actively supported to accomplish this feat.
JAMB has a critical role to play at this point; hence it bridges the gap between secondary education and higher education. By its status as the only legal body empowered by law to organize and regulate the conduct of entry exams into higher institutions in the country, JAMB should truly be the final bulwark of education for students who dubiously plot their academic progression.
In effect, allowing JAMB results to last for three years, after which the candidate may re-take the exams again, upon failure to secure admission, is a direct order to the candidate to “go and sleep.” In a country where, poor reading culture stares national pride in the face, coupled with the age of social media (facebook, WhatsUp, twitter or movies etc), the decision of three-year life span of JAMB results is a murderous stroke on Nigerian adolescents, especially the majority, who rather seek for certificates than knowledge.
Educational psychologists would attest that for a student who has stayed for three-years without any compelling reason (like exams) to read, returning to the same task three years after, would be so alien to him. It is inherently destructive because it would even relax the spirit of those who would have improved their performances through constant trials and the pride to level up.
Although, the three-year validity period policy is yet to fully take-off, but UTME is almost a global phenomenon and best practice observed by even other countries, including Africa. But no country has the record of incubating JAMB results for three years, as presently canvassed in Nigeria.
Besides, knowledge is dynamic. It explains why some books undergo constant reviews or fresh ones replaced old one assumed to have become outdated. It is same reason even workers frequently go for refresher courses on the job. Just imagine what trauma a student who suddenly faces new set of textbooks for exams, after three years of academic inactivity.
While not ignoring the lamentations of parents and sponsors of candidates for JAMB organized exams, the government, JAMB board and parents could dialogue over the cost implication of writing JAMB and arrive at a consensus. Cost concessions could be extended to candidates who are retaking the exams; cost of forms, scratch cards and so forth, could be slashed to very affordable rates, among multiple other options.
But to incubate UTME for three years and then exhume to use is obviously counter-productive. It is a death knell on the quality of education in the country. It is on this score that a revisit of the policy and its possible reversal is canvassed.
Abiodun is a public affairs analyst based in Abuja