By Kayode Ojewale
THE 2019/2020 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, UTME, recently conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, which featured over 1.8 million registered candidates, was not hitch-free as some candidates complained of inability to be verified by the thumbprint scanner during the biometrics verification exercise. Since the only condition for allowing candidates into the exam centres was by biometric verification process, those whose thumbprints could not be confirmed by the computer were not allowed into the exam hall, while others were delayed but later allowed in after several attempts.
Other irregularities that marred the UTME were poor functioning of network servers of some Computer Based Test, CBT, centres and late kickoff of the exams. It was, in fact, worse at some CBT centres where candidates experienced abrupt network cut-off midway into their exams only for the networks to be restored few minutes to the end of the exams. These candidates couldn’t complete their exams within the given time as the time was running while network went off and they watched helplessly.
One would have expected JAMB to do better than it did given the ample time it had to prepare after the initial exam postponement occasioned by the general elections. With the exam board’s experience over the years in conducting CBT exams after phasing out the paper-and-pencil test, one expected smooth conduct but it wasn’t so. Few weeks before the commencement of the examinations, JAMB declared full readiness for the conduct, yet there were many complaints of hitches at some CBT centres. It will be recalled that some accredited CBT centres were de-registered early last month by JAMB on grounds of infractions like technical hitches, deceit and fraud. All these measures taken by JAMB were apparently not enough as some CBT centres still had many challenges, particularly thumbprint scanner rejection of candidates, network issues and abrupt system shutdowns.
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Candidates and other keen observers of this year’s UTME have accused JAMB of double standard in their mode and method of fielding questions to different batches of candidates who sat for the exams. It is not new that the exam body, in a bid to curb exam malpractice and other forms of cheating during exams, had long adopted the “different-type-question” method. And this has been in use for a while. This method involves setting many questions in a particular subject and then randomly dishing out the required numbers for each candidate. This implies that two students writing the same subject at the same time may likely not have the same questions.
This is good and highly commendable, but the allegation of double standard may have indeed played out when, for example, in Physics, some candidates claimed they had many calculation-based questions, while others said many of their questions were non-calculation related. Now juxtaposing these two claims one can infer that some candidates may be lucky to get easy questions and others, difficult ones. Although the double standard allegation may not be justified since all questions (whether calculation-related or not) were taken from the required JAMB syllabus for that year.
It was also observed that the poor computer skills of some candidates might have affected their effective use of the computers assigned to them. JAMB is exonerated from this as it is not part of the board’s statutory responsibilities to teach candidates how to operate and handle computers. This challenge can be tackled head-on from the grassroots – compulsory teaching of computer studies in all primary and secondary schools!
JAMB has also created some form of worry and concern by the delay in releasing the results even days after the completion of the whole exam as against the previous years when results were released within 72 hours. The exam board, however, said it is screening the results of candidates, hence the delay. JAMB said the screening was informed by the fraudulent activities identified during the exam.
JAMB’s Head of Media and Information, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, few days ago said the results are ready but not yet released because they are still being ratified. He added that the board is carrying out all the checks and balances regarding the results by way of viewing the CCTV camera as well as attend to all findings brought before it while the examination lasted.
A weekly official bulletin published by JAMB during the exams stated that, as a result of its intelligence gathering mechanism, the board was able to uncover and arrest over 50 fraudulent persons who are professional examination writers in centres spread across the country. These arrested impersonators were mainly Master’s degree holders and tertiary institutions graduates. According to the bulletin, the development led to the decision of the board to revalidate all biometrics of candidates that have taken the board’s examination in recent times. The bulletin further stated that the timely action will enable the board to not only fish out and dismantle this registration cartels and racketeers but also bring them to book along with their collaborators.
How long will the said screening of candidates’ result take? Why were perpetuators of the fraud and malpractice not nabbed during the exams? What will be the fate of candidates who were disallowed from taking the exams because the computer scanner could not verify their thumbprints? What about those affected by internet failure and malfunctioning computers in some CBT centres? These questions are waiting for answers from JAMB.
For smooth conduct of subsequent examinations, I urge JAMB to be more proactive and ensure that contingency plans are always put in place to immediately address any form of challenge that may arise in the course of the exams. The examination board should carry out a thorough evaluation and reassessment of the conduct of this year’s examination and look into areas where there were hiccups. Genuine and substantiated complaints from all quarters should be well examined by JAMB for improvement in the years ahead.
The examination body is also advised to post candidates to centres close to them. The late kick-off must also be addressed in subsequent examinations by the board. If these complaints are thoroughly perused and worked upon, a repeat of all the irregularities that marred this year’s UTME will be averted.