Varsities set irrelevant post-UTME questions and blame candidates for failing - Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, JAMB boss
The Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Prof Dibu Ojerinde, in this interview with ADELANI ADEPEGBA sheds light on controversies surrounding university admissions in the country
What informed the Computer-Based Test?
We believed it's one of the ways we can reduce examination malpractices. The global trend now is the use of technology and we felt we should not be left behind in Nigeria. On the other hand, the issue of problems being encountered by the candidates in terms of missing results, malpractices and things like that will be eliminated totally. These are some of the reasons and in any case, we think also that it would improve the technological know-how of our kids in this country.
Did the board take into account the literacy level in the country before adopting the CBT?
Our design is such that if you can use a mobile handset, you can do our exams; you can do the CBT if you can read ABCD. When the answers come up for you, and you know that the answer is A or B or C or D, you punch and that is it. You don't even need to use the mouse except you know how to use it. If you don't know how to use it, you don't need to. The cursor goes up to your right then, to your left, that is all and we give them maximum of 15 minutes orientation and before you know it, they are coping. So, that is our experience so far and it's been very wonderful.
What are the measures and arrangements you have in place to make the CBT succeed?
Last year, we had 55 centres all over the country but now, we have about 159. That is about three times what we had last year which is a very wonderful development. The tertiary institutions that we didn't use last year have now come up; even private establishments, institutions and individuals have established computer-based test centres. We had about 300 applicants, willing centres, but when we screened them, we discovered that we could use only about 159 for this country. I think we are lucky that a lot of people are now anxious about the use of CBT and we discovered that last year, they performed relatively better. There were no examination malpractices or missing results; no hues and cries. So, I think we should continue. On our part, we have constructed about 10 centres, at least in nine offices outside Bwari. In our own centre in Bwari here, we can take about 250 candidates. In other offices across the country like in Jigawa, Niger, Kwara, Oyo, Ekiti, Delta, Abia, Taraba and Benue, those places can take about 120 candidates each and we hope with time, we will be able to expand our horizon to other parts of the country. But our centre in Abuja here can take 250 candidates at a go and that is our plan for other places too, if God helps us.
With the epileptic supply, how is the board addressing the issue of power supply at CBT centres?
When I said 300 establishments applied (for the CBT centres), they did not all qualify because they didn't have back-up electricity like inverters or generators. In fact, we have told them we will consider generators rather than public power supply because it can fail us. But if they have inverters that can last for the next 20-30 minutes before they change to generators, so be it. If you don't have all these facilities, we won't accredit you. And that is what has led to a sharp reduction from over 300 applicants to 159 acceptable applicants.
So, what would happen to candidates in the rural areas who have no access to computers?
Well, I have said it, if you can use a handset, then you should be able to do our exams. It has been designed. I think seeing is believing, when we are conducting exams, just come along or go to a rural place where the examination is taking place and see the reaction of these young kids in the various centres. It is not a sophisticated design; it's a very simple one. Of course, in future, there will be what we call multimedia approach. In terms of the things in place, do you know that prison inmates are now ready to take our CBT? We have about 150 or so in Kaduna prisons and another 25 or so in Ikoyi, Lagos. We are going to give them opportunity to take the exams using the computer-based approach.
Is it true that JAMB deliberately reduced the number of candidates that took the pencil test this year?
We didn't reduce the number; we just told them these were the available spaces. Look, we have about 1 million who sat for the paper pencil test and if they say we reduced it, I won't say we reduced it because we told them these were the available spaces and some of these spaces are not even full. Of course, it depends on where you are; some of the places were not filled up, to the extent that a place that would normally take 540, we had 400, in some places, 295. I know, particularly in my town, we had only about 442 candidates instead of 540. In fact, multiplied by about five centres that were available, so it was not deliberate; that was what happened this time around. It seems to me people are getting more conscious, more aware and are appreciating the use of the computer than paper and pencil.
Why does the board ask candidates to pay for admission letters by asking them to buy cards to print out letters, isn't that extortion?
Pay for admission letter? They are not paying for admission letter. We are only saying, go and print your admission letters. Instead of mailing the letters which may never get to them because of unknown addresses or instead of telling them, 'come and collect your letter here,' we say 'don't worry, go to the internet and print your letter of admission.' That is all. You see, we do five things online; you register online; two, you check your result online; three, you change your course or whatever you want to do or your name; four, you print your letter of admission and you don't pay for it. That has reduced the crowd in our office here and other state offices. If you see anyone coming here, trying to cram into this place, they are not coming to say they don't have their letters of admission, they may have other things to say or to worry about; this is the truth.
There are allegations that JAMB did not set questions on the literature books it asked candidates to buy. Why?
Who said that? This year, and even last year, 15 questions were set on the recommended literature texts. You see now, they give you wrong information; That is the point. If I bring a typical question for you, whether you are a science student, social student, engineering, agric, education, name it, they are supposed to answer those questions. Why are we doing it? To increase the reading culture of Nigerians and that's it. And you now discover that they are not reading and that is why most of them are failing. They are not even reading their text books.
How true is it that the authors of some of the books are close to JAMB?
They should be close to us; we are using their books or should we use our enemies' books? (Laughter). Obviously, they will be close…let me tell you the procedure. We said we wanted books that Nigerians can read; we approached the National Library of Nigeria. We also approached the Association of Nigerian Authors. So the two bodies worked together to say these books are good for the Nigerian child, we therefore went ahead and they recommended the books. And the books went through the normal procedure of acceptance. In fact, the Nigerian Education Research Development Council was also involved before we accepted it, but we don't necessarily have to go to the NERDC. But in any case, that is the situation. I don't even know Chukwuemeka Ike, I don't know whether the author is still alive. They chose his book for us and we accepted it. Sincerely, that is the truth.
How many examination cheats has JAMB prosecuted since inception?
They are many. The only thing is that we are not supposed to be the prosecutor; we are supposed to be witnesses. What we do is to send them to the police and when the police take them to court, we become witnesses. But unfortunately, it's not very easy, going by the penal code. It's very difficult to prosecute them, but a lot of them have taken us to court before for all manner of reasons such as 'they didn't release my result,' 'they cancelled my result for no reason,' but they have never won because we tell them, we know what we are doing, they have never won. There was a case of somebody who dragged the suit until he got his Master's degree. Do you know that last year, his result was finally cancelled, even though he appealed, the Court of Appeal said JAMB was right. He joined the University of Ibadan and JAMB. He got Bachelor's degree wrongly from UI and UI protested. He went to court and the court said, 'let him continue his education' and the case was going on. He finished his Bachelor's degree, went for Master's degree and now the case has been decided and all the Bachelor and Master's degrees are null and void. Just last year, so things are happening.
Is it the intricacy of the penal code that is hindering the prosecution of exam cheats?
I am not a lawyer, but they know their tricks here and there, but we have a law, the 1999 Examination Malpractices Law, Act no 33. But it has been very difficult to implement it. I think now, the National Assembly is working on a new law for WAEC which we think would apply to us also. As soon as that law is passed, we are going to implement it.
Some parents are complaining of extortion on forms and scratch cards. What's your reaction to this?
Well, they will always complain. If you want something good, you must be ready to pay for it. Service is being delivered, but what is the extortion? Let me tell you: if you came around here around 2006/2007, you would see the crowd by the gate. They came all the way from Port Harcourt, from Lagos, from Maiduguri asking for their results, their letters and so on and we are saying no, forget it. Don't come here again, stay where you are and you get it online. The money you'd spend to come from Lagos to Abuja, to Bwari here and back is about 10 times of what we are asking you to pay for services rendered in the comfort of your room. Well, if they don't want it, let them leave it. We are not forcing them to check their results. When we are ready, we will send their result to the institution of their choice, so they can go and check it over there. It's not extortion. As far as I am concerned, it's more of paying for the services that are being rendered. Documents are on the internet and we have a bandwidth which the documents are occupying; the Internet Service Providers will not give it to us free. Are we going to pay for the bandwidth from the little money candidates pay for registration which is not even sufficient? Government is still subsidising. I am sorry, that allegation of extortion is a new dimension. Nobody said that last year, nobody said it two or three years ago when they were getting it easily. Now because they don't read their books and they are failing, they are now saying we are extorting them. I don't believe that is the way it should be. Let us learn how to pay for services being rendered. You can't give me a copy of your newspaper free of charge because you are not a welfare organisation; you should make money from your enterprise. Of course, I am not saying we are making money from this exercise, but let people pay for the services. The Yoruba say, 'ogun ti a ko ba fi owo ra, ehin aaro lo ngbe' meaning, if there is a medicine that you did not buy with money, the tendency is for you to keep it behind the oven where it would get burnt. That is what is happening.
How will the board tackle the problem of hackers and slow internet during the CBT?
Slow internet? The bandwidth must be increased. When we started, we used six units. Then, when we increased it to 12 units, we discovered that it was getting faster and now we are using between 18-24 units and it's now quite fast. And that is what has happened. Now when we send a piece of information from the office here, within three minutes, it has landed anywhere in the world. So, that is one achievement, but of course, because of one reason or the other, it may last up to six to seven minutes. If I tell you what we are doing, I hope the hackers won't go and counter it. But we are making efforts to ensure everything goes on smoothly.
In your own opinion, why do we still record mass failure in the UTME?
In my own opinion, there is nothing like mass failure. You see, there is no fail-pass dichotomy system in JAMB exams. Have you seen or heard about a candidate who scored 270 and could not gain admission into any tertiary institution, whereas, somebody scored 220 and he is admitted? Such things do happen, depending on your choice. A prospective medical student who scored 270 could not gain admission two years ago; it will still happen this year. But if you are applying for agric, education, environmental sciences, with 250 or 230, you will be admitted into a university. You will think that because 270 is greater, that the student should gain admission, but the fact is that the students did not sit for the same subjects, or apply to the same school. These are the things causing the discrepancy in the system in terms of who will gain university admission and who would not be admitted. The only thing we can argue about is that if somebody scores 280, and another person scores 240 or 260 and we are now giving admission to the candidate that scored 240, then we can query it. But of course, the caveat of post-UTME is there. You have to undergo further screening from the various institutions to prove that you are the rightful owner of that score. One of the things that would help us in this exercise is the Computer-Based Test so that when you get your CBT score, you know it's your result. Nobody helped you, you didn't spy, it's your ability and therefore, if they confront you with another Computer-Based Test at Post-UTME, you will be able to say it is your result and you will prove it. We have seen that and it correlates more with the Post-UTME than paper and pencil. People don't fail UTME, only they are not admitted. For example, if you have two million spaces in our tertiary institutions and only 1.6 million candidates took the examinations, and they have the prerequisite of SSCE, we will take all of them, you don't even need to take JAMB again, but there is competition now, it is the survival of the fittest. That is what is happening.
Why do you think some candidates who did well in UTME could not repeat the same feat in the Post-UTME screening?
Passing exams takes many things into consideration: What are the types of questions they are giving the candidates? How prepared are they for the exams? What is the reliability of the child himself? In other words, you as a child or candidate, how consistent are you? Reliability is talking of consistency; that is, you as a child, how consistent are you in your ability? Let me give you an example, somebody wanted to study medicine in a typical university. You know the questions we gave them are based on physics, chemistry, biology as well as English. You now go for post-UTME where they are now asking about Tsunami and who was the president of Ukraine. This is irrelevant. It's so irrelevant to what he wants to study. Yes, you may say they are doing general studies, but the concentration must be on the profession he wants to study. What is the correlation between who is the president of Ukraine and medicine? The subjects that are related to medicine are biology, physics, chemistry, even English, go straight to that. So how can they say they passed well in UTME and they did not pass well in Post-UTME? Even if they give them biology, physics, chemistry, let us look at the standards of the questions they give. How did they come about the questions? How professionally were they developed? These are some of the things that go into examinations. With due respect to my colleagues in the university, they are good teachers, good examiners, but they are not trained to be item developers, not all of them were trained for that purpose. They are trained to teach science and to examine science the way they want to examine it, but a professional will do it in a different way and I can bet it, if I take typical objective test items used by our institutions to assess these children, by the time we tear the items into pieces for you, you will be surprised. There are roles for such a thing. I am not saying they are not doing the right thing, but if you are a nurse, you are not a doctor; the doctor is supposed to know more than you in terms of diagnostic approach. When you look at it holistically, the nurse is to dispense, in Nigeria, anyway. In some other parts of the world, it may be a different case.
Have you raised this observation with the university authorities?
Well, we say it, we tell them every time. How can you be asking a medical student, who is the president of Ukraine, the Russian president and things like that? Ask them things related to their courses. We have been raising it and now, this is another way of raising it.
Why is the validity of UTME result limited to one year? Some believe JAMB limited its validity in order to make money.
If they say we want to use it to make money, so be it. If they want, let us now use it for four, five years and then see who will complain again. But let me tell you, what we are doing now is more of achievement test, rather than aptitudinal test. If we do aptitudinal test, it's different from achievement. Aptitude is a thing that goes with you from time to time, whereas achievement test is based on syllabus. If we say this is apptitudinal test, everybody come and do it, Nigerians will still complain. Of course, that is the way it is. Punch