I was part of a meeting of Critical Stakeholders on admission to tertiary institutions in the country. Participants included members of the National Assembly, State Commissioners of Education, Vice Chancellors, and representatives of Labour, students and parents. We have 41 Federal Universities, including the newly berthed Nigeria Maritime University, 44 State universities and 68 private ones. Our polytechnics are 104, Colleges of Education, 66 and Mono-Technics and related institutions, 82. Taking these into consideration and the fact that we have over 1.7 million applicants wanting to squeeze themselves in, the admission process cannot but be critical.
We were also conscious of the fact that we live in a world of ideas; that knowledge in itself does not lead to the transformation of society; but the process of transformation and development, has to be knowledge-driven. We knew that since tertiary education is fundamental to the production, acquisition and communication of knowledge, the integrity of the admission process is quite important.
Organised by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, the agency with the sole franchise to admit students, the meeting was designed to analyse the 2017 process, challenges, and how the country can be sensitised on the admission process.
JAMB Registrar, Professor Is-haq Olarenwaju Oloyede who was called to the job in August, 2016, painted a picture of his entry into the office: “in order not to derail a moving train, I quickly tried to take the driver’s seat while on motion with little knowledge of my crew members and a fair knowledge of the passengers but with adequate information about our destination”. He said the quick renegotiation of subsisting service agreements reduced the production cost of the entrance examination by N2 Billion. He reported that part of the crisis in the 2017 that led to long queues and delays, was caused by the banks who he said stayed back in their offices rather than set up outlets at the Computer Based Test Centres. Some of the problems, he also laid at the door steps of the Computer Based Test centres some of whom he said “did not even believe that the technology could work as programmed”. He gave the example of a centre whose system was configured to allow up to 100 registration points simultaneously, but preferred to run only fifteen.
In 2017, there was public outcry against JAMB; its one month registration period was so short that it led to frustration and ugly scenes at registration centres leading to the House of Representatives ordering a two- week extension. Oloyede blamed the problem partly on the transition from the old management, a learning curve and the short period to run the innovations introduced. Despite overcoming these, JAMB to the satisfaction of the meeting decided on a two-month registration period for the 2018 admission exercise. Also, the $100 application fee paid by candidates in African countries, and the $150 by those outside Africa, were slashed to a $20 flat rate.
The JAMB Board also reported that given the advance of technology, cheating in the entrance examinations is becoming quite sophisticated. The meeting had no hesitation adopting its proposals that in addition to banning telephone in the examination hall, other items including wrist watches, any electronic gadget or device, any form or type of pen, should be banned while eye glasses will be scrutinized. Given the ban and to assist candidates, JAMB is to provide two clocks in each examination hall while only pencil will be used.
JAMB under Oloyede appears to be on top of the admission situation in the country, and to that extent, he is like a poster boy for this administration. However the old arguments about a centralised admission system and what it portends for the country will not go away. This is because they have lots of merits. Why does a country of 183 million that hopes to lead Africa, concentrate all its tertiary admission in one portal when it can have multiple and ensure a more efficient system? Yes, it can be argued that today, the system appears to be delivering; suppose we have a team that cannot deliver? Does the Briton not have a trite that you do not put all your eggs in one basket? JAMB is a human creation run by human beings; supposing there is a derailment, it means that the entire tertiary system and our knowledge base will be compromised.
There are other fundamental questions. For instance, can we culture knowledge if our tertiary admission process is based on 45 percent merit? If every Nigerian has a right a right to live in any part of the country, why should we have “catchment area” which means giving admission advantage to candidates said to be indigenes of the state where a tertiary institution is based, or states said to be contiguous to such an area? There is also the issue of giving advantage to applicants from states that are supposedly, disadvantaged educationally. This is an archaic policy that has been abused. After 57 years of independence and preferential treatment, the states classified as being educationally disadvantaged need to be assisted to grow out of this syndrome, and the best way is to abolish it. But so long as they are bottle fed, they will continue to crawl. Also, we must not forget that we are in a competitive world, and that the rest of humanity will not wait for us. In any case, why should a Nigerian child be punished or discriminated against because his parents happen to come from a state deemed educationally advanced? Why should there be discrimination between two children born in the same area, attending the same primary school and taught by the same teachers? Why should one of them score 110 in a post-primary school entrance examination but is denied admission into a Federal Government College while his classmate with 40 marks is admitted based on the states their parents come from? This policy which was well intentioned now breeds bitterness not just in the minds of parents whose children are short changed, but also in those of the affected children. How do we imbibe patriotism in a child that feels manifestly cheated?
These are matters beyond JAMB. However, JAMB that seems to have embraced information and communication technology must realise it is still operating at the primary level; schools are no longer so much about physical structures, virtual tertiary institutions are multiplying across the world. This should rub off on JAMB which can have a five-year plan within which candidates will write their examinations from the comfort of their bedrooms.