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Hitches in the conduct of UTME, inexcusable

UNIVERSITY admissions in Nigeria are fraught with pains, misery, physical danger, and corruption. Centrally administered by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, the 2021 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination was no less arduous for the candidates and their long-suffering parents. Across the initial 700 Computer-Based Test centres nationwide, widespread technical hitches, delays, electricity outages and gross incompetence marred the exercise, according to media reports. Having transitioned from the manual test system to the CBT a few years ago, these hitches and stress are inexcusable.

Secondary school leavers desirous of tertiary education experience innumerable encumbrances as they seek admission to universities, polytechnics, and colleges of education. Their collective trauma includes but is not limited to the tedious online registration process, fees, restrictions on the single use of a mobile number for a candidate and sharp practices by officials and test centres. With candidates struggling with ePIN and USSD payment systems, JAMB had to extend the registration to May 29.

This year, their woes were aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. On examination days, many travelled long distances to reach their test centres early in the morning despite a nationwide curfew that ends by 6am. Some candidates had to travel across states, paying exorbitantly for transport and lodging to sit the examination. For a computerised examination, this is totally unnecessary, a financial and physical burden for parents that are struggling to get by.

Another ungainly aspect of the 2021 UTME is that JAMB pretended not to be aware of the dangers associated with the coronavirus pandemic by directing candidates to obtain their National Identity Number before they could register for the UTME. This reflects Nigeria’s inability to think out issues. During a pandemic, the heavens will not fall if candidates did not register for the UTME without NINs. This amounts to treating the youths – regarded as the future of the society – with disdain.

In contrast, other countries accord dignity to youths. Instead of conducting the ‘A’ Level Examination, which is the requirement for university admissions, the United Kingdom authorities shelved it and asked teachers to provide their assessment of candidates that needed to apply to universities because of the pandemic-induced lockdown in 2020. To reduce potential overcrowding, the UK universities cut down admissions by as much as 20 per cent in 2020 and 2021.

Apart from that, the registration for NIN by the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy is anarchic, sordid, and primitive. At an early age, it exposes the candidates to the prevalent open corruption in Nigeria. Many of the candidates paid to get enrolled for NIN. This alone should have made the Federal Government and JAMB shelve the NIN requirement for 2021 until it becomes seamless.

On the initial examination day, some CBT centres could not cope due to digital hitches. In a Badagry, Lagos State, centre, power failure marred the examination. In some other centres like Ikorodu and Ogba, those scheduled for 9 am could not sit the examination until late afternoon. In the end, some of the papers were cancelled. This is traumatic for the candidates who had prepared all year only to experience such a harrowing time. JAMB estimated that it lost an income of N5.8 billion because of the NIN requirement.

Worse, JAMB unilaterally closed 24 CBT centres on the first day. By the third day, the number had climbed to 50. JAMB Registrar, Ishaq Oloyede, accused those centres of poor conduct, incompetence, and aiding examination malpractice. This does not add up and it misses the point. It is wrong for JAMB to ask candidates to re-register and sit their examinations at different CBT centres. JAMB is laughing all the way to the bank, but who is paying the cost of the trips to the newly allocated centres? What of the stress and danger that come with the disruptions? It could partly explain why some undergraduates are running helter-skelter at the point of graduation because JAMB had not issued admission letters to them. These are youths and are still fragile; they should be better treated.

On a good note, it (JAMB) said it was able to weed out over 500,000 duplicate and fake registrations. From the initial figure of 2.2 million, the applicants were reduced to 1.41 million. Unlike in the past when candidates waited for months, the results of the UTME are already out. That should be sustained, although checking the result via USSD ran into a technical hitch after a few days. There is however a possibility that some candidates could not register for the UTME because they could not obtain their NIN.

Still, the annual ritual of hitches might not end because JAMB suffers from one main affliction: it is a centralised omnibus examination body for universities, polytechnics, mono-technics and colleges of education. And like all bureaucracies, the competitiveness that drives efficiency and effectiveness is sorely missing. Worse still, the examination body is carrying an avoidable burden. It should be reformed.

Unlike the monolithic JAMB, admission into tertiary institutions in so many countries is highly decentralised. In the UK, former Cambridge Assessment, now, Cambridge University Press and Assessment, a non-teaching department of the University of Cambridge, provides educational assessments for over eight million candidates in over 170 countries; scripts are marked by over 30,000 examiners every year. There is also the Russell Group, a collective of 24 high-level educational institutions across England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland that share admission processes. This is the way to go.

Source: PUNCH

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