Two of the critical mandates for the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board are (1) to conduct the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and (2) to coordinate and oversee the admission process into tertiary institutions in the country. Unfortunately, until recently, these two missions were hardly successfully fulfilled, because JAMB’s attempts to fulfill them always fell into the cesspool of endemic corruption that has gripped the country.
JAMB only began to record appreciable successes after Professor Is-haq Oleyede took office on August 1, 2016, as the new Registrar of the Board. It is not clear how much of the Board’s activities he knew in advance of his new role. What is clear is that he quickly initiated several changes to enhance the quality of the Board’s examinations and the efficacy of the admission process. The changes were wide-ranging, from who applies and how to apply to who takes the exam, where the exam is taken, how it is taken, and, ultimately, how a candidate is admitted or otherwise.
The questions the new Board sought to answer included: Was the person who applied for the exam the writer of the exam? What illegal “ammunition” was brought into the exam hall? Did the exam hall meet necessary requirements for the security of the exam and its invigilation? Did the exam questions test appropriate competencies in the relevant subjects? Did all relevant stakeholders (candidates, testing centres, parents, universities) play by the exam and admission rules?
It took only one examination cycle to figure out that these questions revolve specifically around examination malpractices and the fraudulent practices of associated with the admission process. And the answers require following the candidate from the application process all the way to placement in a higher institution. It was hoped that the sanctity of the exam and the admission process would be assured if this journey were properly monitored.
This explains why Oloyede steered the Board toward a crusade against exam malpractices. The range of malpractices and successes have been heavily documented in Nigerian newspapers (see, especially, Daily Trust, April 29, 2021). The outcome of this effort includes the pervasive use of technology for candidate registration and monitoring at exam centres and admission processing; the delisting of over 100 Computer-Based Test centers, the installation of CCT cameras in all existing 700 or so CBT centers throughout the country; the variation of questions in the same subject across candidates to limit knowledge sharing in the exam hall; and the introduction of a Central Admissions Processing System to curb under-the-table admission. Today, UTME exam malpractices have been reduced to below 0.01% of its past peak.
Nevertheless, as Oloyede admitted on two recent occasions, the obstacles to free and fair UTME exams in Nigeria are many, because exam candidates are not the only offenders. Parents, hired exam mercenaries, CBT centres, invigilators and security officials are all accomplices. Some parents participate in cheating or encourage their children to cheat, because they want their children admitted to the university at all cost, regardless of their abilities. Other accomplices want to make quick money off the parents or the exam candidates.
The foregoing only goes to show that the Board’s task is, indeed, an uphill battle. For one thing, UTME exams cannot be divorced from exam malpractices elsewhere in the country. Nor can exam malpractices be divorced from the endemic corruption that has gripped the Nigerian society from top to bottom.
The implication then is that JAMB’s effort to cure exam malpractices can only be a drop in the bucket in a country where fighting corruption is a continuous government project, revealing fresh corruption cases daily without any indication of abatement.
Even universities and other higher institutions are victims of this national malaise. For example, JAMB’s effort to sanitize the admission process by implementing the government’s guidelines continues to be undermined by higher institutions and the parents, who corrupt the process.
Here’s how Oloyede put it to a Senate Committee as recently as last week: “There’s also indiscipline from the tertiary institutions who admit against the federal government’s policy guidelines as mandated by the Ministry of Education. At the end of the day, after admitting outside these policies, they put pressure on students at the final moments towards graduation to come back to us for what they call regularisation.”
This is not at all surprising given the corruption associated with the appointment of Vice-Chancellors, who are the Chief Executives of these institutions (see, for example, Professor Ayodeji Olukoju’s The way Nigeria selects Vice-Chancellors is deeply flawed, The Conversation, April 5, 2021). This goes to show that the whole fish eventually stinks once it begins to stink from the head.
Initially, JAMB’s crusade against exam malpractices elicited some negative responses. In particular, questions were raised as to whether JAMB was not outstepping its bounds by policing examinations. The Board was also criticized for interfering with university autonomy with regard to admissions. Having participated in JAMB’s policy meetings and evaluated the nature and range of malpractices, I am more than convinced that higher education in this country may have no future without JAMB’s ongoing crusade against UTME exam malpractices and the effective monitoring of the admission process through CAPS.
What is important now is how to institutionalize the ongoing changes and in order to sustain the gains made so far. Much too often in this country, the light from good vision often dims with the exit of the visionary. True, there are now structures in place to sustain the changes. The question is whether there is sufficient human capital to sustain them.
In this regard, JAMB needs to establish or strengthen two units, one focusing on quality assurance and the other on security of the examinations and the effectiveness of the admission process. The quality of the exams in each subject needs constant improvement in order to ensure the global competitiveness of exam candidates. The same unit will also ensure that higher institutions follow due process in the admission protocol.
The job of securing the sanctity of the examinations also needs special hands with security backgrounds, who will also be computer literate enough to use technology in its surveillance activities. Both of these units should work hand in hand with the Board’s ICT department to ensure the optimal application of technology to problem solving.
The new JAMB is on a good course. And there should be no going back.
Source: The Nation
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