JAMB's ineptitude: Post UTME to the rescue

A couple of weeks to the event of the 2013 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination(UTME) news filtered in that the federal government is set to scrap the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board(JAMB) alongside NECO. This ordinarily should prompt the board to conduct one of the best exams. Antithetically, it administered what has been widely referred to as the worst JAMB exam ever.

Though the JAMB Registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde held a different view as he opined, "The general performance of candidates in this year's examination shows remarkable improvement compared with that of last year," the fact that the board is reducing this year's cut off mark to 170 from the 180 mark of last year contradicts his position.

What then is the premise on which Professor Ojerinde hinged his assertion that this year's UTME result trumps that of last year? It is based on the fact that only three candidates scored 300 and above in that of last year while in the present as much as 10 candidates achieved same feat. Is that enough reason to celebrate? I don't think so.

This is because just two years ago in 2011, a mammoth 2,892 candidates obtained the 300 and above mark. Then the cut off was 200 but now it has fallen to a miserable 170. I still can't fathom how a country that produced this number of brilliant UTME candidates in 2011, cannot reproduce same or even more in 2013.

Our standard of education has so fallen to the extent where should 1, 629, 102 candidates sat for an exam only 10 would come out tops. Tops is not even as if they are scoring 400 over 400. It's just that they fall within the range of 300 to 400 and am sure you will hardly find any exceeding 350. Is it in this precarious state that we would tolerate whatever further lowers our standard of education? No, of course!

With the way JAMB exams have continued to turn out over recent times, it is as if JAMB has been bitten by the same bug that struck INEC which causes its ultimate exercise to be a degeneracy of the penultimate. We had thought INEC as the only sufferer of the malaise, little did we knew that JAMB has caught the fever. That terrible illness that turns progress upside down and triggers a progress in error.

Many a student who sat for the 2013 UTME paper pencil test do not believe what they saw as their score as a replica of what their intelligence offered. They indeed feel unjustly cheated out of their real score. The other Thursday, some candidates who took part in the exam embarked on a protest in Maryland, Lagos State over the mass failure that trailed the exercise.

The protesting candidates alleged that most of them were failed by JAMB because the board believed that examination questions paper leaked days before the date of the exam. This, it was claimed, led JAMB into deducting a specific mark from the aggregate score of those who wrote the exam as JAMB was afraid that the leakage is bound to provoke the prevalence of high performance among the candidates.

Let's give JAMB a clap for resisting the urge to use that avenue to greatly increase the number of candidates who would have scored 300 and above. After all the knocks the exam body got for having only three candidate emerge 'excellent' the last time, the easy way would have been to turn a blind eye to the leakage so that this time round as much as 10,000 candidates will come through with 300 and above. So let's make the applause more resounding.

But had JAMB been this true to its calling it wouldn't have allowed the questions paper leak in the first place. Even after it got wind of the leakage, it shouldn't have waited to use a marking scheme that has produced mass failure as alleged. The right thing the exam body would have done after it got to know of the anomaly was for it to cancel the exercise and scheduled another day for the examination to be taken.

Had this been done, it would have saved JAMB the embarrassment of having its Registrar to be summoned by the House of Representatives Committee on Education to explain why there was the mass failure of candidates who participated in the now controversial UTME.

Moreover, had the board towed the right path when it got to know of the percolation in the examination questions paper, it wouldn't have landed us in this outrageous situation where the university cut off mark is reduced to 170. It is really unbelievable that we have no shame pegging our varsity entry requirement at 170 over 400.

An examination that is marked over 400 apparently has its pass mark as 200. Using 170 as a pass mark explicitly depicts our students as not being intelligent enough as to score an ordinary average in a test of knowledge. To be fair to JAMB, the board based its decision to reduce the cut off on the need to carry along candidates from education less advantaged areas. But this isn't enough reason to reduce our standard.

The decision by JAMB to lower the cut off mark will in the final analysis lower our standard of education. This is as students will now see no need in studying hard to get high scores in UTME owing to their acknowledgement that a modest score of 170 can see them through.

Given that JAMB is concerned with the plight of those from education less advantaged states, the board had better started mulling the possibility of setting a different set of questions for them. This is to allow it use a marking scheme that differs from that used for candidates from other parts of the country, instead of pegging cut off at a mark that reduces student's morale to read.

We should be mindful of not, in trying to carry a few along, undo ourselves and the greater majority. For we would be undoing a greater majority of students by not giving them a reason to strive for excellence. This we have done by allowing them settle for 170 when once upon a time, the cut off mark used to be 250. Yes you heard me right 250!

This then begs the question, were those JAMB is today securing their quota not being admitted into universities at that time? It all boils down to the fact that JAMB has allowed the Nigerian culture of compromise to thrive in its system. This detracts from our quest for educational advancement, if we have the quest at all.

We can't keep trading off standards especially in the education sub sector and expect our students to attain academic excellence. Now that we have reduced the cut off to 170, if someone who could not score 200 in UTME later succeeds in being admitted to the university, what guarantee is there that such a student will graduate with a grade as low as second class lower.

I guess JAMB never thought of that when it reduced the cut off mark. Perhaps, it was more concerned with heaving the burden off itself without minding who eventually bears same. It is on this account that the various tertiary institutions should rise to the occasion. Thank heavens they still have the right to screen out those who are not qualified to get into school. They should through their post UTME make JAMB realise that not everybody is cut out for furthering his or her education.

But then, there appear to be more to the haste with which JAMB reduced the cut off mark to 170. Perchance it is guilty conscience at play. It may be that what the protesting candidates claimed is dinkum ergo JAMB has no option but to suit its conscience.

It is sad for officials of JAMB, who were quick to issue threat and condemn government's reported plan to scrap the board, not to comport themselves in a manner that curries goodwill from the public who will speak out for them should government seek to effect that plan. JAMB should therefore wake to its responsibility before it is confined to the dustbin of history.

Ugochukwu writes from Lokoja, your reactions are welcome through [email protected]

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Articles by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi