JAMB and Cut-Off Marks: Nigeria’s Need for Better Educational Value, By Omotayo Fakinlede
The present high-octane exchanges on JAMB and its cut-off marks will not change anything for good. I am not calling for a scrapping of JAMB, it can still become a useful institution when it lives up to its name of a “Joint” Admissions and Matriculations Body. In that role, it may be taught to understand that setting cut-off marks should be done with the responsibility of giving specific value to society.
JAMB is in the news again! Many people are talking about its cut off marks! As usual, when it comes to important developmental issues such as the education of our children for a competitive global economy, we ask the wrong questions. And as we do so, our answers are bound to be in error, no matter how smart we are!
Up until the late seventies, there were no cut off marks. Admissions were made using the GCE/HSC results or via own entrance exams by each university. At that time, students were admitted directly and there was no JAMB. The spaces were limited, and each university used its own judgment to decide on the best way to fill those spaces. Things were not perfect but many of the people admitted were proud of their achievements. For the others, it was “Try Again Next Year”!
We pretend that things have changed fundamentally now that we have an Admissions and Matriculations Board. I have deliberately avoided the superfluous “Joint” in the name of the institution that is presently making the news. For it to merit the name “Joint”, there will have to be the input and agreement of the collaborating institutions with its processes. Right now, it behaves like an extraordinary body issuing orders from above! The government should make up its mind: Does it want an Independent Admissions Body (IAB); or An Extraordinary Admissions and Matriculating Board (EAMS)? It is our country and we can decide what we want. But whatever you call it, can JAMB’s pronouncements really improve the chances of admissions to the universities?
Many people seem to think so. The reality, unfortunately, is that JAMB is essentially powerless in admitting more students to the universities despite all its pronouncements! The situation that existed in the seventies still exists today. The only real difference is that we have an extra bureaucracy to pay for! By the JAMB law, a student cannot get into a Nigerian University without the JAMB examination. The irony is that the same SSCE results that will not gain you admission in Nigeria can get you admitted to university in several countries overseas! Is there something we know about the magic of JAMB that is unknown elsewhere?
Now tell me, what effect will the lowering of the cut off marks have on this situation? Some programmes are simply oversubscribed and we can only change the pain by expanding facilities, so as to increase the available spaces. Merely lowering cut-off points by JAMB can only exacerbate the suffering of parents…
Who admits to the universities? Whether your ward will get admission to the university is determined largely by the admission spaces available. In competitive courses such as Medicine and Law, setting the cut-off marks does not increase the number admitted to any university. In a particular year, a certain university set the mark of 260 points cumulative between the JAMB results and the university “screening” for admission into the Law programme. Parents whose wards scored, say 250, thought they had a realistic hope of admission. Unknown to them, the number of candidates scoring between 260 and 250 was as many as two hundred! Which was close to the entire number of spaces available. That was a time when the cut-off point was at 200. Now tell me, what effect will the lowering of the cut off marks have on this situation? Some programmes are simply oversubscribed and we can only change the pain by expanding facilities, so as to increase the available spaces. Merely lowering cut-off points by JAMB can only exacerbate the suffering of parents in the following possible ways:
1. It will force the universities to invite more applicants for “screening”;
2. These additional students would not have increased chances of getting into the universities;
3. The same government that has claimed to be protecting parents from a multiplicity of fees will eventually make the same students pay again for more candidates when there has not been any increase in the admission spaces;
4. In many cases these students will travel to the screening centers on damaged roads. Avoidable journeys ought not be encouraged on these roads to avoid risks to these young lives!
At the end of the day, the same old constraints of spaces available will eventually dictate who is admitted. We are back again at the same point after all the hot air!
The proper arm of government to assist in improving the chances of your children’s admission into universities is certainly NOT JAMB. Take the University of Lagos College of Medicine. In its nearly 55 years of existence, why is it not able to double its admission quota of roughly 300 students into the medical programmes? The main bottle neck is at the teaching hospital facilities which have not seen any serious expansion in more than two decades. The Federal and State Ministries of Health can change the situation if they consider it a priority. They can deliberately expand the facilities at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and ask the university to increase the staff strength at the College of Medicine. Even a state ministry of health can approach the Hospital and university authorities and have an arrangement that can increase the admission into these programmes by removing the bottleneck preventing expansions. Law admissions are restricted not just by the capacity of getting lecturers to teach and adequate facilities in the universities but also by the quota set by the facilities in the law schools where the completion of the legal training takes place. In Engineering, most of the universities are unable to provide proper laboratories and even the effort of accrediting programmes fall far below what will give our children competitive engineering training in the global economy.
Why should the admission cut-off be 120? Why not 50? Why not 250? What is the logic? What value is accruing to society by setting a cut-off mark? If the examination it sets is appropriate for the level of students for whom they are set, why opt for failing grades?
So much for the so-called professional programmes. The total number of students in Nigerian universities with a population of more than 170 million is about the same as Canada, with less than a quarter of the population. No matter what JAMB declares, that will not change anything apart from giving parents false hopes that their children can fail woefully in JAMB and still get into a university.
The infrastructural deficit in most Nigerian universities creates environments that do not support learning. And Nigerians will not take anything less than attend universities. Nobody wants their children to attend trade and vocational schools, despite the reality that gone are the days when university degrees provided immediate employments in mostly government jobs. The Government-owned Yaba Trade Centre of old, for example, has now become a tie-wearing institution that looks more like an overcrowded grammar school! Yet we go to Togo, Ghana and other neighbouring countries to get tilers, masons and carpenters when we need to do the work well.
The present high-octane exchanges on JAMB and its cut-off marks will not change anything for good. I am not calling for a scrapping of JAMB, it can still become a useful institution when it lives up to its name of a “Joint” Admissions and Matriculations Body. In that role, it may be taught to understand that setting cut-off marks should be done with the responsibility of giving specific value to society. Why should the admission cut-off be 120? Why not 50? Why not 250? What is the logic? What value is accruing to society by setting a cut-off mark? If the examination it sets is appropriate for the level of students for whom they are set, why opt for failing grades? What makes it impossible for the Nigerian youth to pass exams in their own country and culture? Why can JAMB not operate quietly like other examining bodies that simply release the scores and leave universities that have learnt to respect those scores alone to take their decisions? How come most universities have little faith in JAMB?
In the United States, if a university wants to ascertain your competency in English, they don’t waste their time conducting an exam; they simply ask for your TOEFL scores. Bodies that conduct GRE, SAT, GMAT etc. are independent of governments and yet, they earn legitimacy and trust by simply conducting exams and releasing the results of same to institutions that want them. These results don’t have the short shelve lives of the JAMB results that become void each year. Is it not time for Nigeria to rethink its educational policies for the sake of future generations? The people in power take enough from the coffers to give themselves alternatives in foreign lands. Nigerians that don’t have access to such alternatives need to call their rulers to account.
Omotayo Fakinlede is a professor of Systems Engineering at the University of Lagos.