JAMB: Quantity Vs. Quality, By Dele Agekameh
Now, applicants with cut-off marks of 100 out of 400 will head to colleges of education and become the teachers of tomorrow in the same jaundiced and defective system that produced them, thereby creating a cycle of mediocrity.
The recent announcement of the new cut-off mark by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examinations (UTME) in the 2017/2018 academic session, has sparked mostly unfavourable reaction from Nigerians. The outcry is not only justified, but it shows to some extent that we have not lost our minds as a country and, more importantly, that there is a will amongst the populace to see the education sector restored to past lofty heights.
No one needs any further evidence of the rot in education in Nigeria. Employers routinely groan over the throngs of unemployable graduates that besiege them during recruitment exercises. Many of the graduates get into public offices where they continually display their ignorance with abandon. Sadly, Nigerian students who have received their instructions in English their whole lives are often required to take compulsory English Language tests to qualify for admissions into educational institutions outside the country. This is an indication that those institutions must have had experiences taht are unflattering of Nigerians before resorting to such measures.
Anyone of those institutions wondering why an English speaking country with English as the official language of instruction in its schools, would produce some of the products they do, would have gotten some insight into the roots of the problem if they got hold of a Nigerian newspaper last week. JAMB had announced a cut-off mark of 120 for universities and 100 for monotechnics, polytechnics and colleges of education, out of the possible 400 marks. In effect, intending university students can scale through with the equivalent of a fringe “E” grade, which is 30 percent, and a prospective polytechnic or college of education student will be qualified with what would otherwise be an outright failure or “F9” grade, which is 25 percent, under the grading scale ordinarily adopted in Nigerian educational institutions.
JAMB was created in 1978 as a way of addressing a perceived problem of admissions that plagued students in the years of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s military regime. The supposed problem was that the federal universities that numbered seven in 1974 and the additional six established in 1976, conducted their own entrance examinations. That led to a multiplicity of admissions. This was somehow seen as a problem and wastage of resources in conducting examinations. JAMB was then established and its lowest cut-off marks had been 180, at the least, since sometime in the 1990s.
However, in all these years, both private and public universities had gone on to conduct their own entrance examinations, known as post-UTMEs, or adopt higher cut-off marks than JAMB prescribed. This has been as a result of the decay in the standard and reliability of the examinations conducted by JAMB over the years. It seems JAMB, which was supposed to be a solution to a “problem”, has now become the problem itself. Therefore, some warning signs have been there for us to have anticipated what finally happened last week.
No matter how loudly we lament, it is obvious that the system has been rigged for failure right from its foundations. What this actually signifies is that the public school system is effectively dead and we are only just propping up its carcass and trying to pass it off as credible.
In June last year, JAMB announced the scrapping of the post-UTME tests conducted by Nigerian universities that have apparently lost faith in JAMB’s effectiveness. The decision was met with almost the same outrage by the academia at the time. That decision was only lifted the week before last, with the Board admitting that the decision was a mistake. The farce unfolding would later lead to last week’s announcement of the new cut-off marks. If one did not know better, it would seem that JAMB was trying desperately to further destroy our already ruinous educational system.
But in its response, Professor Is’haq Oloyede, the registrar of JAMB, said the decision was made by stakeholders comprising vice chancellors of universities, alongside rectors of polytechnics, as well as provosts of colleges of education in a vote-style decision process. This makes the announcement even more depressing to take, as this explanation suggests that some heads of public institutions of education are complicit in the degrading of the educational sector. In further explanation, Oloyede stated that the cut-off marks were the minimum allowable, while 180 remained the upper ceiling prescribed by JAMB. It was also pointed out that the post-UTME examinations by the schools are still allowed and as such, the universities ultimately decide where to draw the line.
The problem with that reasoning is that JAMB has created a leeway for the exploitation of a system that was already plagued by malpractices and underhand activities. The same JAMB lamented that up to 17,000 students were illegally admitted at the last intakes after scoring less than the official cut-off marks of 180, only to turn back to effectively “legalise” the defaulting students. In the last 10 years, about 40,000 students gained admissions into Nigerian universities through this way.
There are many ways to view JAMB’s recent decision, but one thing is certain; it is bad for education in Nigeria. Even students, under the banner of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), who one would imagine may not be so averse to the news, took up placards to protest the decision at JAMB headquarters in Abuja, following the announcement. No matter how loudly we lament, it is obvious that the system has been rigged for failure right from its foundations. What this actually signifies is that the public school system is effectively dead and we are only just propping up its carcass and trying to pass it off as credible.
While we are expressing outrage about the crashing of the threshold for entry into the universities, we should stop to think about the products that are going into those universities. In 2013, the lowest cut-off marks from different states for entry into the Unity Schools through the National Common Entrance Examinations was two (Yobe), three (Taraba) and four (Zamfara), out of a possible 200. The highest cut-off marks were 139 (Anambra). It is unclear, but it seems the highest cut-off marks now may have dipped to 68.
…nothing short of declaring a state of emergency in the education sector, with urgent measures put in place to correct the fault lines in the system, will do. The present administration has begun with free food in schools, but the mental rejuvenation and development of the children should take priority…
It is bizarre for us to feign surprise, because some of those students are the ones that possibly need 120 and 100 to get into tertiary institutions now. Where federal character is applied in the education sector in what has been described as a “celebration of mediocrity”, what do we expect? Now, applicants with cut-off marks of 100 out of 400, will head to colleges of education and become the teachers of tomorrow in the same jaundiced and defective system that produced them in the first instance, thereby creating a cycle of mediocrity. It shows that JAMB’s move is nothing but an effect of the rot that begins way up the line. Measures like the one taken now by JAMB are the things that ensure the system stays rotten. The much publicised Computer Based Test Centres introduced by JAMB are a welcome development, but it is ironic that some students that have never been properly instructed in the basics of computer operations will have to take tests in those centres. This may have also contributed its own quota to the “mass failure” experienced this year.
To be frank and sincere, JAMB may have clearly outlived its relevance. A spokesperson described it as a clearing house for the public tertiary institutions and one has to wonder what use it really serves if the decisions are made by the heads of those institutions. If that is the case, the body should be scrapped, and the computers and all other resources deployed in maintaining the body should be sent to the schools where they are needed most.
Now, the waste of resources is in maintaining JAMB itself. If it will not be scrapped, there is no reason why it cannot be reduced to a department under the ministry of education that oversees matriculation examinations conducted by the institutions themselves with resources provided to them.
Therefore, nothing short of declaring a state of emergency in the education sector, with urgent measures put in place to correct the fault lines in the system, will do. The present administration has begun with free food in schools, but the mental rejuvenation and development of the children should take priority, even though food is also important.
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