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Senate’s JAMB Bill & the Ban on Post-UTME: A Conspiracy to Kill Public Education

Education is about to take a turn for the worse in Nigeria and I am not certain many can see it yet. Beyond the regular rhetoric of falling standards, which in any case has been a recurrent phrase since I have been conscious, there is presently a calculated and hypocritical method to kill off public education in Nigeria.

Education minister, Adamu Adamu has been one of the most silent members of the cabinet since inauguration in November 2015. His assistant, or as official designation goes – minister of state – Professor Anthony Onwuka makes a statement now and then but with due respect, his articulation is far from inspiring confidence.
The two ministers mentioned above and the band of yes-men at the National Universities Commission (NUC) led by Professor Julius Okojie, as well as accomplices at the national assembly, are in the minimum inadvertently plotting a total collapse of the education sector, with tertiary education to begin it. Sadly, this hatchet job is being carried out with the veil of populism as a ruse.
In the last two years, the Joint Admissions Matriculation Board (JAMB) has experimented with computer-based-testing (CBT) for its annual Universities and Tertiary institutions Matriculation Examination (UTME) to disastrous ends; flaws which have been neatly covered up by the conspiratorial silence of all regulators and stakeholders.
Examinations are to test the competence of candidates and as such should in entirety reflect premium accuracy in grading. Much more, examinations like the UTME determine the immediate fate of over a million secondary school leavers whose ability or luck to immediately proceed with their studies determine a whole lot of things, including self-esteem and commitment to life dreams.
The 2016 UTME was not only disgraceful in that it was haphazardly organised and candidates suffered such inconveniences as computers shutting down before time, but also these same candidates were made to bear the brunt of the inadequacies of all the government agencies involved. Persons known to me had their results from an examination supposedly conducted with computers – which should guarantee some level of accuracy, go from 201 to 241 and 199 to 239 within a day of checking same results. Parents who checked with the JAMB office in Lagos were told there was some issue with the software used. The integrity of the whole exercise is of course in doubt and we can never be sure the scores reflect the present abilities of the candidates. Worse, no decisive action was taken to address the anomaly and many have moved on.
In moving on, a substantial number of the affected candidates will be jostling for limited spaces in Nigeria’s public universities as new academic sessions resume in August/September. Just before then however, a few days ago, the ministry of education and its parastatals announced that universities were now prohibited from organising additional pre-admission tests. One reason given was that such tests were a financial burden on parents and students. A second reason was that it would help to check corruption in the universities who have allegedly turned the post-UTME exercise into a money-making venture. Both reasons are not only riddled with hypocrisy and ignorance but are also dangerously myopic.
The post-UTME tests conducted by universities have over the years added some transparency to the admission system even if it meant students had to go through some extra stress. The tests which have now been cancelled had both administrative and educational benefits. By setting cut-off marks for both UTME and the post-UTME tests, schools eased out a certain number of candidates and had less records to go through in determining placements. The likes of Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), University of Ibadan (UI) and University of Ilorin, in the last three years, to my knowledge on the average had over 100,000 candidates writing their respective post-UTME tests even after setting 200 out of 400 possible UTME marks as benchmark. Some departments with 200 admission quota often had over 5000 applicants and those who made it through the screening stages usually felt somewhat accomplished.
It is true the universities charge between N2000 to N6000 for their screening tests, and this has been a source of worry for many but what is also true is that the management of those schools bear the logistics cost of those examinations.
It makes no economic sense to expect an under-funded institution to screen over 100,000 candidates at no cost even if it is argued that education is too essential to use price as a streamlining tool for. If there are other allegations of corruption in the process aside this basic input-output arrangement, the education ministry can do more than lament; it can cause an investigation.
The arguments about burden on the parents is also hypocritical. The token charged by the schools is not as much a burden as the blanket ban on competition the ministry has just put in place. It also does not compare to the psychological and financial costs placed on students in those universities when forced to fund alternatives to government facilities in classrooms, libraries and laboratories.
Ministers Adamu Adamu and Anthony Onwuka need to abandon thee tokenism of reducing cost of application fees paid by students and rather concentrate on setting the school curriculum at all levels on a par with contemporary national and global demands. They also need to tell us how much of the ministry’s budget for 2016, understood to be larger than previous allocations before it, will be devoted to resurrecting the decomposing infrastructure in universities.
I fear however that the ministers are not giving much thought to the above and just like their collaborators in the national assembly, the dereliction of the duty of thought and diligence in that regard serves a purpose. Elite Nigerians having supervised the decay in public education now own passably better equipped private universities and more licences will be granted even under this administration. The ministers wield influence in this regard just as the lawmakers and the latter’s focus on amending the JAMB Act to extend the validity of UTME must be seen in this regard.
The immediate implications of a successful amendment of the JAMB Act would be that candidates unable to make the cut for admission into universities in September 2016 for instance, would not need to write another UTME till 2019. Pray tell, who at his administrative best, will overlook fresh candidates of the UTME in 2017 with possibly better results to pick a candidate from 2016 who failed to secure admission in that year. You can guess who actually. Most likely the private universities where UTME scores have not always been the major benchmark but a valid registration number and their own internal screening tests.
With the abolition of post-UTME screening tests and prolonged validity of JAMB registration numbers, it becomes a free for all party at the private universities. Private universities are not exactly for the poor. Senate President Bukola Saraki and such legislators as Senator Isiaka Adeleke (Osun East) who owns Adeleke University and Hon Bode Ayorinde (Owo/Ose federal constituency in Ondo state) who owns Achievers University in Ondo state, know that much. They are merely enhancing the ease of their business and I won’t be surprised to see private universities admitting students twice a year or as often as possible once that amendment is passed.
If Saraki and his friends truly mean well for the poor as they posit, they need to provide legislative supervision to ensure both increased and efficient utilisation of funds allocated to universities to enhance their capacity. All of Nigeria’s tertiary institutions presently have a capacity of less than 800,000 according to the executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC) Prof Julius Okojie, while about 1.5million students take the UTME annually. Adding to and improving existing facilities in public universities can help to reduce the near 50 per cent annual admission deficit which in any case mostly affects the poor left with no such alternatives as pursuing their education outside of the country.
I am not very hopeful that the education ministers and their collaborators at the national assembly will do anything substantial to improve the quality of education in Nigeria. Lowering the bar for admission by pegging UTME cut-off marks at 180 and removing the opportunity for further tests as well as elongating the validity of UTME may sound pleasing to those given to socialist tendencies but we need to look into the long-term effects.
The opacity of the years before post-UTME when universities determined by whatever parameters they admitted students, is set to return and with that increases that nagging problem of admission racketeering. Miracle centres where examination cheats hold sway helping lazy students circumvent the system ensure high UTME scores will gain more prominence and there is no telling how many more dark holes these supposed efforts to reduce the burden of the poor will plunge us.

Those policies need to be looked into and jettisoned with immediate effect. Nigerian students need to be taught to compete and aim higher not be deceived for cheap popular gain.
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