JAMB: A mission to decree capacity

The Editor of the Guardian, Mr. Abraham Ogbodo

What is this story about lowering scores in the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) conducted entrance examination into tertiary institutions in Nigeria? From 180 and 200 it used to be, the new proposal brings the pass mark to 120 out of 400. In percentage, that is about 30, which is grossly below average.

While school examination may not represent completely the true measure of cranium depth, it helps to create an acceptable template for assessment when supply outweighs demand in the school system. For instance, if 1000 persons are available for a class of 100, an assessment test would be needed to get a most qualitative enrolment.

I would not know the exigencies that tend to make examination appear obsolete in the school system. It is now more about volume rather than value creation. Universal Basic Education (UBE), which made basic or the first nine years of education compulsory for every Nigerian child has obliterated completely qualitative selection at the post-primary level. Movement from primary school to junior secondary school is automatic at least in public schools.

Good as it is, the aspect of fitness is neglected on a wrong assumption that every child that goes through primary school is good to continue to secondary school. But I will say that if government means well, a precursor to the successful implementation of the UBE policy is an enthronement of an order that ensures fitness. To decree compulsion without fitness is antithetical, the result of which was on display in the celebrated Chibok girls, many of whom could not speak simple English even at the point of taking the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE).

And I dare add that the secondary school system especially in the northern part of the country, are loaded with so many Chibok girls and boys. These are the people that may be uploaded into tertiary schools through the new cut-off mark regime of JAMB to be trained anyhow for competition in a new world that accepts only the best. It explains why mediocrity has become a defining trait of the national character.

The school system is the soul and future of a nation. We cannot treat it like Chinese production lines where emphasis is almost always on quantity and not quality. At all times, the subsisting generation should make good effort to make the succeeding generation a lot better in all ramifications. That is the only way to ensure the survival of the Nigerian species in a global ecosystem that is constantly fine-tuning.

In Nigeria, policy makers are not rigorous. They are always seeking short-cuts in matters that require full-scale approach. Issues are hardly properly framed for determination. The truth today is that a great deal of the policies in the educational system could also be called balancing acts to bridge the huge literacy gap between the South and the North. Whether it was about nomadic education, the Almajiri school system, the scandalous differentials in cut-off marks into unity schools between states in the North and states in the South, or the contentious new JAMB’s cut-off point, the objective is the same: to close that gap between the North and South in educational advancement.

Affirmation as a re-ordering tool of the social system is only effective if properly applied. To leave things completely undone at the upstream and mid-stream levels and then hope for sudden high tide at the downstream end is an unrealistic dream. If for instance a governor that should build and equip primary and secondary schools spent eight years playing politics and did nothing and he was applauded sai baba by his people, the arising deficiency in terms of the incapacity of the school children from that state to compete on a national stage cannot be addressed by the affirmative act of lowering the entry point into tertiary schools.

There is the belief among Nigerians that things will work well even when nothing is done to swing them on course. Recent report put Taraba State among the best six states in WAEC performance in Nigeria. This is a good story to take to town any day. It wasn’t a fluke. The state government would have worked towards it. Anambra and states in the Southeast have consistently led the pack even when my dear Delta State, which used to be up there, has turned 180 degrees to almost become educationally disadvantaged.

Enough to say that capacity is developed not decreed. The world ivy leagues, including Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge and Stanford Universities were developed not decreed into glory by fiat. Nobody plants cocoyam and reaps yam at harvest. That is not the way of nature and society. Even Yobe State with less than eight percent literacy rate can climb to the top if the state government starts today to plant the right seeds.

On the new entry point for admission into universities, JAMB’s director of public affairs, Dr. Fabian Benjamin has attempted some justification. He said the lowering, which was done in conjunction with stakeholders’, is to help some institutions to meet their admission thresholds. He explained that candidates rejected by universities in Nigeria usually flood neighbouring and other African countries for placements in higher institutions in those countries. He specifically mentioned Uganda, where he said Nigerians constituted 70 per cent of the population of foreign students. He concluded that it made little sense for Nigerians to migrate to other African countries in search of higher education when institutions at home operate below their enrolment thresholds.

It was a poor afterthought. Dr. Benjamin sounded too simplistic. He made it look as if the cut-off mark of the exam board is the sole reason students go outside the country to study and deny home institutions of the associated benefits. In effect, he is saying that 120/400 new cut-off point will stem the migration of Nigerians students, as well as create enrolments for under populated institutions.

I am not convinced. On a scale of one to 400, 120 is a misfit. In the matter of higher education, selection should be conducted among the fits not misfits. The hitherto base point of 200/400, gave an indication of fitness, even if marginally. But the fresh suggestion of 120/400 is like saying because we needed to assemble a team of 11 players for the World Cup and we could only get six good footballers, we should go on the streets to pick the remaining five players to complete the team.

The Joint Admission and Matriculation Board was established in 1978 by law to unify entrance examinations into universities, which before then, were conducted separately by the universities. The law was amended in 1989 and 1993 to give the board the responsibility for admission into monotechnics, polytechnics and colleges of education. Instead of Joint Admission and Matriculation Examination (JAME), it became the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) to reflect the new status of the board.

As it is with most things in Nigeria, JAMB has not fared better with age. In fact, at some point, the integrity of its selection tests attracted doubts prompting a mass revolt by universities against using the outcome of the UTME alone to determine admission. This marked the beginning of what became known as post-UMTE test by individual institutions to further ascertain the suitability of candidates cleared by JAMB for admission. The Post-UMTE test was suspended by this government, apparently for the same reason of trying to make the playing field less challenging for misfits.

The Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu announced the re-instatement of the test only last week to prepare the stage for this new controversy over cut-off point for admission. I want to believe that part of the sacred role of JAMB is to make university education worthwhile. Prof. Is-haq Olarenwaju Oloyede, the fifth registrar of JAMB since its inception is doing very well. He has reportedly improved the board into a revenue agency, contributing billions into government coffers. It seems that is all he can do well and the board may have to recruit a second registrar for academics and standards.



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