2016 UTME: Another harvest of errors
FOR the second year running, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board has demonstrated an apparent lack of capacity in conducting the computer-based test for the 2016 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination. The hitches recorded and candidates’ lamentations will compel any discernible person to query its adoption when the infrastructure for its success is grossly inadequate.
Reports of internet failure, computer glitches, power outages, incompatible questions and answers, difficulty in down-loading question papers, computers without mouse or with keyboard problems, posting of candidates outside the state they registered for the examination were rampant; as was the case in 2015. But most unusual were the 40 marks awarded to some candidates extremely handicapped by these difficulties, and the double results JAMB issued in some cases. That marks were arbitrarily awarded was an admission of grave error, and it raises integrity questions on this year’s exam.
The exam, which began on February 27 in 521 centres across the country, ended on March 19. The Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, who was at one of the centres in Abuja on an inspection visit, expressed concern about the plight of candidates who had not been accustomed to using a computer. He said, “I have sympathy for candidates who are not computer-literate and there are many of them. I think we should combine CBT with paper examination for sometime but definitely, the future is for computer.” Absolutely!
Many candidates and their parents share the minister’s concern, too. A distraught mother to a candidate – Tobiloba, who sat the exam at MTI College, Surulere, Lagos – is seeking another test for her daughter because she believed that her daughter is brilliant, and could easily have passed the examination, but for the challenges she did not create that day. Her computer tripped off repeatedly during the test. She logged in and saw mathematics, chemistry and physics papers complete. But when the computer tripped off again, a second log-in showed as follows: mathematics 46, chemistry 25 and physics 25 questions, instead of 50 each.
Desmond Peters, another parent, posits, “It is obvious that we are not ripe for this technology yet.” The JAMB Registrar, Dibu Ojerinde, will be hard put to dispute this assertion. Although the CBT mode was fully introduced last year to address the challenges posed by the paper-pencil method, its release of results within 24 hours and serving as an effective bulwark against cheating are not sufficient grounds for the board to overlook the inherent mounting obstacles or complaints thereto. This is why the House of Representatives on Thursday advised the Federal Ministry of Education to direct JAMB to return to the old system or alternatively, make it optional. Earlier, some candidates had protested in Lagos, demanding the cancellation of this year’s test, following the lapses that attended it.
Apart from a few elite schools, the majority of which are privately owned, computer education in secondary schools in the country is a non-starter. This was attested to last year by one of the teachers who participated in the national competition for the Teacher of the Year Award. He told the interview panel chaired by Pat Utomi, “In my school, we teach computer on chalkboard.” Such schools are aplenty; even more are colleges where students have neither theoretical nor practical knowledge of computer. Yet, these schools present candidates for the CBT.
It is this category of UTME candidates that rush to learn how to fiddle with computer keyboards at cybercafés just to sit the examination. They leave the exam halls with forlorn faces, terribly upset and conscious of the fact that they did not perform well, not because they are not intelligent, but because the system failed them. This has gone on for two years, denying admissions to otherwise brilliant youths, whose future is jeopardised in the process. This cannot continue.
The minister should, therefore, demonstrate that his sympathy for this group of candidates is real by ensuring that CBT is made optional in the 2017 edition. It will reduce the degree of failure orchestrated by hitches; and narrow the chances of a candidate from Lagos being given a centre in Warri, or candidate, like Juwon Medaiyese, from Ilorin going to Minna to sit the test. A level playing field has to be created for all the candidates, otherwise, JAMB will largely be seen as fleecing the candidates and their parents annually.
It should be acknowledged, however, that the board meant well by introducing the CBT, as it aligns with modernity and advances the frontiers of Information Communication Technology education. But the bitter truth is that there is a mismatch between the present level of our education and the computer literacy culture being imposed on it.
What’s more; Nigeria is ravaged by infrastructure deficits like gross inadequacy in electricity supply, broadband penetration and alternative source of power. As the UTME lasted, power supply nationwide dipped to 3,449.53 megawatts for a country of about 170 million people, according to statistics from the Ministry of Power. Progress will remain a mirage with the UTME’s CBT if the country does not get these indices right.
Many universities, which had for long passed a vote-of-no-confidence in JAMB’s UTME with their conduct of post-UTME tests to select their students, will be reinforced by this year’s CBT short-comings to deepen the process. Globally, any university worth its name admits its own students; we believe it is the right way to go. It will guarantee quality and autonomy badly needed in our universities.
Punch Editorial Board