Rethinking The Ban On Post UTME, By Eyitayo Owa
If the widely reported decision of government to scrap PostUTME is anything to go by then it would be safe to conclude that education is now following the larger economy into the recession that it has been on since two years now. While the policy has yet to become effective according to the the Deputy Director, Press and Public Relations at the Ministry of Education, Mr Ben Gong, who said: “There was no official statement from the ministry about post-UTME”, the earlier it is nipped in the bud, the better.
JAMB was established in 1978 as a ‘clearing house’ to coordinate the admission process into Nigerian universities. However, those who now posit that JAMB ought to be more of an institution other than being the public corridor to the university that it already is or that JAMB should seek to operate as the headquarters of the over 200 Nigerian universities’ admissions offices are peddling doomsday. JAMB’s coming into being draws out of the well of sheer concerns dug deep by the fears that without JAMB, admission problems would: obstruct the equal access drive of the government; undercut the efforts at even distribution of human capital development opportunities; and permit outright compromise on merits.
JAMB qualifies candidates for admission into Nigerian post-secondary institutions by means of examinations which used to be two-pronged; the universities matriculation examination,UME and the Monotechnics, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, MPCE. This was before Prof. Dibu Ojerinde’s time as registrar when the two examinations were fused into what is now known as the Unified Tertiary Matriculations Examination, UTME. The UME was the more popular and the elitist of the pair. Its 3 yearly best scorers won laurels and accolades and brief information about them were captioned at the back of the syllabus for the next session under the sponsorship of the defunct Afribank. However, it was a wonder but no surprise that in the earlier years of UME, these best students could only muster scores range of between 240 and 285 which were to become ordinary scores in its latter years.
In the twilight of UME, starting from mid-90s to mid-2000s, a score of 285 was below the 290 required, on the average by schools like Unilag, Uniben or Unilorin, of their prospective students into, say, Economics Department. The academic inflation of the time would soon hit courses like Medicine and Pharmacy whose cut-off points peaked at around 300. The natural question to ask then were: was there a sudden rise of a genius race in Nigeria or did the students outgrew the examination’s potency, or maybe, just maybe, were the scores real or a fluke? To the latter question, the answer is yes! Imagine. Anyway, we already know what is real about the scores, at least to the extent that the scores did fetch candidates real admission slots in the universities, so the discussion here would rather border on what is fluke about the scenario.
First, the design of UME with respects to scope, intensity and timing schemes ordinarily, does not allow for the extra-high scores that would later become prevalent among candidates. The “I-achieve-pass-them” prestige of university education in Nigeria and the imperative of paper qualification for anyone aspiring to a decent life in Nigeria altogether made the pursuit of the means of gaining admission become a must-get.
By the way, is the penchant for paper competence over creative, productive competence not what has precipitated the PostUTME debate afterall? And this was to be expected because wherever an end is desirable, the means becomes inevitable. Consequently, admission seekers began to demand the services of “miracle centres”. Miracle centres sprang up in cities and campus areas across Nigeria. These miracle centres raked in millions yearly and had hitherto built the capacity to get results against all odds even if they had to decimate institutional anti-malpractice mechanisms.
The centres were almost always successful because how many JAMB or security officials would the stretch limits of their ‘truthfulness’ not be surpassed at the instance of a request as this; “can you let us make a photocopy of the question papers with you for 10million naira, cash and, rightaway?”. A typical Nigerian public official would begin to reason thus: how much can I probably earn in all of my years in public service?; this sum would relieve the socioeconomic pressure on me; and by the way, how could it ever be known if a material had been photocopied(I can safely get away with this anyway)? People who renege on holding themselves to higher standards do so out of causes deeply rooted and bolstered by the bandwagon mentality that everyone is doing it! And the scenes would play on and on while the fabric of examination integrity buckled under the weight of moral decadence.
The consequence of this misgivings was academic inflation; high UME scores were getting lesser courses than they used to get. With UME score of 269 in the early 2000s when PostUTME was yet to be, yours sincerely gained admission into OAU, Ife. Need I mention that the score was the least on list? We were about 180 in Part 1. After 2semesters, about 90 students had been ‘advised to withdraw’. They really wished they could turn down the advice! This mirrored the situations in other departments. Yet there was a scary paradox in the fact that majority of those withdrawn came in with the best UME scores. News were also rife around campus then of a withdrawn student in the Law faculty the session before who had been the overall best UME student for the year.
Other things aside, consider that about 400000naira of tax payers’ money was invested yearly into educating one undergraduate and for most of the admitted students, these investments never tarried till fruition. And where is the validity in the notion that university education is sine qua non for a successful life? Sheer waste of public fund and wrongful channeling of energies and times of youth indeed. This is especially so when stricter admissions control mechanisms like PostUTME could have helped prevent this unfortunate situation in the first place.
Another consequence was that universities soon became the dumping grounds for cheats, dullards, misfits, mediocres, cultists, ‘aristos’ etc. as all you needed to do to enter the university was to recognise which miracle centre to patronize. For those who ask where the crop of “watery” professionals, bankers, lecturers, lawyers, engineers, public officers, politicians that we now have all over the place came from, they may not have to go far for answers.
In the light of the foregoing, it became a no-brainer that a better quality control mechanism was direly required in terms of inputs (as quality of output is a derivative of quality input) hence, the introduction of PostUME. UME was to serve as preliminary test and PostUME, a confirmatory test. The Ife PostUME experience was simply amazing. Young, bright candidates were being admitted and the drop out rate slowed to less than 5% on the average as rarely were students asked to withdraw on academic grounds after one year stint at the university. The glaring disambiguation between UME and PostUME scores was simply unbelievable too.
After many years of studying Nigeria, one is almost compelled to wanting to believe that Nigerians are ‘short-memoried’. Or how else does one explain the sensibility in the arguments that the Abacha years were better than the present day Nigeria. This time was when ‘eruku oshodi’ had replaced beverages, sawdust stoves displaced kerosene stoves, when soyabean cake turned to meat, semo had virtually disappeared, when the rare news of a new car or a new house were told not only far and near but also for too long. If a child was asked, have you eaten? and he said I’m not yet full, he gets reprimanded for wrong answers. How we forget so soon!! Why anyone would argue against the continued conduct of this all-important examination, especially a minister of the Federal Republic and a PhD holder to whom quality is supposed to matter not only stands reason on its head, but is jaw-dropping. Maybe the advise of Chief Afe Babalola that Nigeria reconsiders its federal structure is instructive. If this issue teaches us anything, it is the reminder that our educational aspirations do not seem harmonisable.
PostUTME is one of the reasons why a few menace that bedeviled university education in Nigeria in recent past had subsided and quality was beginning to have meaning again in the university system. Let there be no doubts that it is popular belief that Dibu Ojerinde’s JAMB has innovated immensely by leveraging on ICT. However what JAMB and other opponents of PostUTME fail to realise in their hasty validation of UTME’s integrity is that JAMB’s CBT is heavily flawed as there is little correlation between candidates’ scores and their abilities. The conduct of the exam is still marred by irregularities as attested to by the registrar himself and the computer programs used by JAMB is, at best, ineffective.
JAMB’s questions database seem obsolete as candidates say the database is replete with old questions. The grading system is highly incongruent too as anyone who works with students would readily observe. Also, how about the reported cases of multiple results or some candidates who got result notifications on the way to the examination centre, before taking the exam? There is no integrity about UTME yet and good people should not trumpet it as having such!
The Minister of Education ought to think about the embarrassment he caused Mr. President for having to later apologize over the issue of the misguidedly sacked 13VCs of the new universities and not compound it by usurping the autonomy of the universities. If he determines for the university how and who to admit, would he also determine how and who they are to graduate?
The criticism of schools using PostUTME as revenue-generating avenue, assuming this is the worst sin, should also include a query on how the billions raked in yearly by JAMB is spent and possibly, that JAMB reduces the fee it charges on application. JAMB should also desist from sending Lagos candidates to Kano examination centres except if Nigerian parents, according to the critics, truly prefer such long haul to a pre-admission visits by their wards to their universities of choice.
Quality should not be sacrificed on the alter of access or quantity. It is about time education took its rightful place as the driver of the larger economy. This is achievable only with patriotic and thoroughly reasoned policies of government. The conduct of PostUTME was not decided hastily so its discontinuity should be hinged on facts and guided evaluations instead of on ill-motivated grounds. Let change not be misconstrued as outright reversal of the existing system. Change is on one hand discontinuing moribund programs and on the other, making working systems work better.
Eyitayo Owa tweets from @eyitayoowa.