By Owei Lakemfa
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, JAMB, examination is an annual train that runs candidates to tertiary institutions; once it is missed, the candidate has to wait for another year to get on board. So for many youths, it is an opportunity that must not be allowed to slip away.
In 2021, as a member of the independent High Power Commission empowered by JAMB to observe the fairness and transparency of the examinations, I visited its Professional Test Centre, PTC, in Kogo, Abuja. Everything appeared smooth and normal. Then the centre head observed that the candidate in cubic 232 had not logged in. She instructed him to do so, but he refused.
She explained to him that since he had presented himself for the examinations and thumb printed, it is assumed that he is taking the examinations so he should please log in. He declined. It was a baffling situation; a youth who seemed calm and spoke good English, took the JAMB form and met all requirements to sit for the examinations, will even refuse to log in. But he insisted he does not want to be educated.
I told him he spoke quite intelligently and in measured tones, so education will ultimately make him a better person. He replied in a low tone: “I told my parents I don’t want to go to school, but they are forcing me. This is where I will let them know I am serious.” It appeared to be a case of forcing the horse to the river, but not being able to force it to drink.
I asked him what his ambition is, he replied: “I want to do business.” “What type of business?” “I want to run a wine shop. I have the talent.” After one hour, the system locked him out; there was no longer any point trying to persuade him.
Two days later, the second session of the examinations was well under way at the SASCON International School, Centre II, Maitama, Abuja. Suddenly at 12.05 pm a candidate rushed in panting, desperation written all over her face. But it was too late, the second session was past half time and the system would have logged her out. Then came the bombshell: no, she was not for the second session, but for the first that began four hours earlier and ended two hours later!
The examination slip had asked candidates to report for accreditation, biometrics and thumb printing at 7am, and she was coming five hours late or two hours after the examinations had ended! The young lady broke down. As I exited the venue, I saw her weeping. I tried consoling her, but she simply crumbled on the floor.
She had not been aware that the examinations had commenced nationwide two days earlier until her uncle enquired if she had taken it. Luckily, her papers were for that morning. She scrambled to print out her examination slip and headed for Maitama which is a two and half-hour straight drive from her Abaji home. I did not understand why she did not take the examinations at the centres near her, like in Gwagwalada. She had to embark on the journey by public transport and was not familiar with the city, making her get lost in the process before finally arriving at the centre.
It was a tale of two youths: one, a male who thought he did not need education to push ahead in life, and a female who thought education was her lifeline and that in missing the 2021 entrance examinations, her world had collapsed around her.
On Tuesday, August 31, 2021, when JAMB held its Policy Meeting chaired by the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, during which its Registrar, Professor Is-haq Olarewaju Oloyede, released a full report of the 2021 admission examinations, worrying trends were visible. For example, the Bayero University, Kano discovered that of the 148 students it admitted through its pre-degree IJMB course system, only eight were genuine. The university Senate had to expel the rest 140 students who had fake results.
Another trend showed there are tertiary institutions that admit some of their students illegally. JAMB claims these include Igbinedion University with 633 such students and Bogoro College of Education with 432 students. Yet another, is tertiary institutions weeding qualified candidates for preferred ones.
For me, the most disturbing trend is the continued bottom placement of states in the North. This indicates that despite salutary interventions such as the 1999 introduction of the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, to provide free education from Primary to at least Junior Secondary School, and the introduction of a school feeding programme, the situation is not improving significantly.
Out of the 10 states and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT at the bottom of applications into tertiary institutions in 2021, nine are in the North. The only state in that unedifying league from the South, is Bayelsa State. In fact, where a state like Oyo has 82,521 candidates, Zamfara has only 6,545. The combined candidates of Taraba, Jigawa, Kebbi, Yobe, Sokoto, Zamfara and the FCT which is 76,586 is still lower than those from Oyo State alone. The same statistics reflect in performance; of the ten best candidates in 2021, only one is from the North (Kwara State)
To worsen matters, the high rate of wholesale kidnapping of students in schools in the North especially Niger, Katsina, Kebbi, Kaduna and Zamfara states, has led to wide scale closure of schools or withdrawal of children in those areas. It means that the situation of these states in the 2022 admission examinations will be worse.
This requires the declaration of a state of emergency in education to tackle these problems and the general quality of education. The solution to our education challenges certainly does not require the opening of more public tertiary institutions. This is more so when the feeder schools are in such poor health and existing institutions are poorly funded.
There are, however, salutary trends in the JAMB Report, including its putting counter-measures in place to check the negative trends in the examination and admission of students, and asking institutions to admit all blind candidates that meet the minimum requirements for admission.
This yielded good results in the 2020/21 Session with the Federal College of Education(Special) Oyo, alone, admitting 27 blind students; University of Lagos admitting 11; Aminu Saleh College of Education, Azare and the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, admitting nine each; Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba admitting eight and University of Jos, six. In all, 126 blind candidates were admitted into tertiary institutions nationwide in 2020. That however was the lowest admission of blind students in the past five years, and certainly a far-cry from the 182 admitted in 2019.
*Owei Lakemfa, journalist, columnist, labour activist human rights crusader and public affairs analyst sent this piece from Abuja.