Over the past few days, there has been ridicule and laughter over a news report that some candidates for the Universities Tertiary Matriculation Examination are suing the organising body, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) for N1 billion.
They allege that the body has substituted their actual results with random scores, their results have been sold to other people; this is not the first time and, armed with the Freedom of Information Act, they are demanding to see their scripts.
We find that we cannot join the general amusement with by this report; we think it is in fact a matter for sober consideration to ask – is JAMB playing with the lives and futures of our young people?
Over the past week, the board lustily declared how only 3 out of over 1 million candidates scored above 300. Over 27, 000 results were also seized. Beyond the inevitable reactions crowing about the failing state of our education and how this reveals that things are getting progressively worse, it is useful to interrogate these failures.
One of the true injustices of our society is the fact that we rob our children of quality education, watch learning standards slide and have shown no sense of responsibility towards the structures that build a viable knowledge economy, yet we have no qualms adding to this an examination stringency that does more to cover up incompetence and inefficiency than tighten standards.
More to the point, agencies like JAMB that have made the news severally for corruption ranging from leaked papers to shady officials cannot possess the moral right to be rigid and stringent.
In addition to all of this, the ways the examinations themselves are conducted leave a lot to be desired. Despite cosmetic technology improvements, everything about these examinations have questions marks – from registration, through operations at the various centres and the way that results are checked. Then there is the fact that the system for complaints and redress has barely registered any student successes over the past many years. The entire system seems wired to make life as difficult as possible for the helpless candidate.
So, JAMB cannot continue to take pride in mass failures. It is not enough to make a publish show of failing students or of catching them in examination malpractice. It cannot continue to get away with mass cancelled and withheld results with no verifiable justification. In the same way, we must begin to aggressively question its methods. For one, there is the subject combination system that seems to have lost global relevance. Then there are the JAMB brochures. You have to wonder at the morality of grading students for the English language when the board’s shamefully inadequate brochure is defined by insufficient information and typographical errors.
The result of all these is that students now have the sense that you don’t need to be brilliant to pass JAMB’s exams – you only need to be smart enough to exploit its loopholes. This is a clear pointer that JAMB needs to take more responsibility for the failures in its system than holding press conferences to show “exhibits” of cheating.
It is entirely possible that the students who have taken JAMB to court indeed failed. However, JAMB needs to stop hiding behind laws that seem to protect it from accountability, were students need to know if they have been treated unfairly and fraudulently. In this respect, we speak not only of JAMB, but also other examination bodies including the West Africa Examinations Council (WAEC) and National Examinations Council (NECO).
It is a supremely useful exercise for Nigerians to, for once, be able to take a look behind the veil of gratuitous secrecy that governs these bodies. It is time for them to be transparent, and it is time to hold them accountable.
According to the student’s lawyer “JAMB cannot expect students who sat down and wrote accurate text exams to believe they performed woefully to just sit down and fold their arms.” We completely agree.
This is indeed a challenge to the body to prove that it runs a fair and honest system. The lives of many young Nigerians hang on that challenge.