It normal for people to resist change, innovation and the unfamiliar but it is prudent not to overdo the phobia for novelty especially when the benefit outweighs the downside.
An article by Wale Fatade, published online and titled “JAMB’S computer-based torture” however went to the extreme in its criticism of the just conducted Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UMTE) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB). Such criticism pose the danger of further creating a sense and culture of entitlement among candidates who would erroneously think the system should be watered down to suit their indolence as opposed to stepping up their game to excel as young people.
Being that is was subjective, there is no point trying to change the writer’s perception of the extent to which the UMTE was a success or otherwise; from the onset he established himself as someone that will describe a half full cup.
But this does not mean the dangerous mindset he is attempting to create should be left unchallenged.
The few glitches, which are not out of place when a new system is being rolled out, became for the writer ” tales of woes upon woes” without being fair enough to also admit the majority of the instances in which the exercise went smoothly.
The reason for this pessimistic assessment became evident when he delivered the barb about JAMB no longer being relevant. The relevance of JAMB is a discussion for another day but a summary response is to stress here that Nigerians will not be hoodwinked into accepting the scrapping of the one organization that ensures those that are financially disadvantaged still have hope of getting admitted into higher institutions.
Interestingly, the anecdotes chosen to portray JAMB as a failure rather confirmed the examination body as being proactive. If candidates are re-assigned to examination facilities in less dense towns because the optimal population has been achieved in heavily populated cities, the intention of ensuring the candidates are able to write the exam should be recommended instead of vilified.
Instead of encouraging youths to be computer-illiterate we should be teaching to see their computers and mobile devices as productivity tools that could deliver as much fun as they could also add value to life. No discerning youth should allow men who have charted their own paths in life to discourage them with excuses like being poor or being resident in semi urban and rural areas.
Computer skills can be picked up from anywhere and the hardware should be considered investment in self improvement even for the indigent.
Meanwhile, while the writer thinks Computer Based Testing means JAMB is playing catch-up with global trend, the reality is that JAMB and Nigeria by extension are trendsetters in this regard. Incidentally, it will be counterproductive for JAMB to keep waiting for other variables like IT and telecom infrastructure to improve before rolling out innovations that are revolutionizing the education sector. We should rather be encouraging investment in IT infrastructure while pressuring service providers to deliver improved quality of service so that connectivity would no longer be an issue in future examinations.
Asking for the mock examination to be mandatory sounds like a good idea until the technical, legal and moral feasibility are subjected to objective analysis. Once made mandatory it would no longer be a mock examination but a two tiered test. Should that happen, those in the mold of the writer will take JAMB to task citing how candidates do not have enough meals to eat for two sets of examinations.
To link the plight of unemployed youths with the conduct of an examination that will set candidates on the path to acquiring life improving education is stretching it too far. Additionally, any youth that sees mandatory use of computer as torture is definitely not preparing to be relevant in the future that is less than one decade away.
In conclusion, the responsibility fall to JAMB and its Registrar, Professor Ishaq Oloyede to stand strong in the face of unwarranted criticism like the one contained in the article in question. The organization must however respond appropriately to the lessons learnt from the last examination with a view to addressing the hitches observed. Once it continues to refine the process to address identified problems as suggested, Computer Based Test has come to stay same as JAMB is here to stay.
By David Abutu
Abutu, an ICT expert writes from 18 Bakut Crescent, Jos, Plateau State.