Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, was in Lagos at the weekend to interact with some stakeholders in the education sector. In this no holds barred interview with acting Editor, SEGUN OLATUNJI, and Head, Editorial Board, KAYODE FASUA, he explains why JAMB, under him, cannot be business as usual. Excerpts:
Under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the slogan is ‘Change’. In JAMB, where can we feel this change?
I think the change in my view is, ‘do it right’. If anything is wrong, when you correct it, that is when it becomes a change. And the change that I understand is changing those things that are bad to good. Change is also about maintaining what is good. When something is good, you do not change it. What we have done in JAMB is that those things that are not good enough have been changed, while those things that are good have been further polished to become better. And that is what I know as change. We have come in with transparency, that is, to make sure that everything that we do is as open as possible, as accurate as possible, and as accountable as possible. That is what we regard as change. We have also automated the process. Most of what we were doing that we ran from pillar to post over, in the past, have been automated. The process has been automated in such a way that we can determine the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of the process.
We have also standardised some of the already automated processes. We have brought in additional quality to the process of our registration, the process of our examination and the process of our placement. That is what we have added to what is on the ground.
How would you describe the meeting you have been holding in the past two days with stakeholders in JAMB?
The meeting we held with stakeholders, who include mobile money operators, bank operators and service providers, such as MTN, Airtel and Glo, ended with some resolutions. In fact, some of the recommendations we took to them were not what we came out with. We were able to make contributions, adjustments to our proposals and we came out with better resolutions. But as for the meeting today, it was like instructions to the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy centres, because many of them are unfortunately out for profit.
Many want to take undue advantage of the system. In such a situation, we have gone with our position that, you either comply or you are out. We have not gone for debate, unlike in the previous days. We have taken a firm position and unless somebody comes up with something different that can change the decision, it’s just a matter of conveying to the CBT owners what we intend to do and soliciting for their cooperation by their compliance. We don’t expect that there would be major changes in our proposals, and therefore, we listen to them, and also explain our position to them.
But frankly speaking, we did not go there to negotiate. We have gone there to convey the position of the board in terms of what is required of the CBT operators and that is what we spent the whole day doing. We allowed the technical assessors to present their findings about the CBT centres in the presence of the CBT owners and administrators. We also listened to them in terms of their complaints and what we could do to ameliorate their problems. But frankly speaking, we are not expecting much in terms of policy adjustments from the CBT centres because they are largely people that want to maximise their own profits and what we have gone to explain to them is that, yes, we know you are there to make profit, but we are not ready to compromise ethics and standards.
We have, for instance, introduced some stiffer measures this year; like the fact that wrist-watches will not be allowed into examination halls, pens will not be allowed, some specified glasses would not be allowed into examination hall because they have lenses implanted in them to commit examination malpractices. And it was clear to them because many of the operators are ladies and gentlemen.
Are you still facing some challenges in terms of the use of computers to conduct your tests?
Well, frankly, that is not the case anymore. Before last year, a candidate could tell his parents that he did not perform well because he was not conversant with the computer. Since last year, we have come with a device that you do not need to be computer literate, you do not need to master the control of the mouse before you can successfully use the computer for JAMB examination. We have come out up with an eight-keyboard device, whereby if a person is not conversant with the system, the computer, we have created a situation whereby you read on the screen, the questions and the answer is A, B, C, D and they are objective questions and you press A, B, C or D. This is what anybody who can operate a mobile phone will do. So, there is nobody who cannot take the examination. It’s not a problem that ‘oh, I can’t operate the mouse’; you don’t need to use the mouse. You press ‘A’, for instance, for Question One and you want to go on to the next question, you press ‘N’, which is ‘next’. If you want to reverse to the last space, you press ‘R’ on the computer; eight letters on the computer. And if you want to submit, you press ‘S’.
So, you do not require the control of the mouse. Not only that, we also created mock exam for the purpose of familiarising the candidate with the process, because some have phobia for the computer. We have created an opportunity for interaction for the examination at no cost to the candidate. So you can see that, that situation used to be an excuse that ‘I can’t use the computer’. That excuse has been removed. Some people are saying that by so doing, we are not encouraging digital literacy in Nigeria. Such a group of people, I think, have misplaced the position. Even in advanced countries such as UK and US, there is what they call examination pack. Examination packs contain eight keys for you to press. The difference is that they remove the normal keyboard, and they insert keys that they call examination pack, for those who are not familiar with the mouse.
But because we found the cost of examination pack exorbitant, that is why we now came with a device that will perform the same function by deactivating all other keys and allowing only eight keys to be working. If examination pack is allowed in UK, China, US and other developed countries, then how would someone say that allowing an artificial keyboard in Nigeria is retrogressive?
Given the limited number of space available for candidates in admission, there are suggestions that maybe JAMB should allow a situation where the result from a particular year can be valid for two years or more….
Even if it is valid for 10 years, does that create additional space? Assuming for argument purpose, you say if you take exam this year, don’t take in the next 10 years until you gain admission. Does that stop more people from being qualified? And in any case, the examination we conduct is not a certification examination; it’s a one-chance examination. It is a purposeful examination, it is not an achievement exam; it is a screening test. Anywhere in the world, screening test is conducted for the purpose it is meant for. And you cannot issue a certificate for it; extended validity for such an examination is usually accorded to certificates.
JAMB is not an examination body; it is a placement body. If the legislature had wanted to make JAMB an examination body, they would have put ‘examination’ as part of its name. Just like you have WAEC, NECO, NABTEB, among others. The ‘E’ there is for examination. There is no letter ‘E’ in JAMB. The purpose of JAMB is to conduct placement, which you call admission and matriculation of the students. Elsewhere, the equivalent of JAMB in many places across the world don’t conduct any form of examination. We have such bodies like JAMB in the UK, which does only placement examination. All over the world, we have only 45 countries conducting examination. And of all the 45 countries, we have only six that have examination as mandatory. In USA, SAT is not compulsory. Not all universities will go through SAT. Even when you sit for it, universities will still reassess you, rescreen you for admission purpose. We have just six countries, Nigeria inclusive, where equivalent of UTME is conducted.
Out of the six, it is only one that specifies what you can call ‘cut-off’, and that is Spain. In that case, they specify that a candidate would not be disqualified from further considerations if he scores 5/14. That is how they specify their cut-off. In all other climes, they simply conduct the exam and pass the result to institutions, where each decides where he draws the line. But in Nigeria, we are used to doing things the wrong way, and when you now try to correct, people who don’t even know what goes on, even in their own background, will continue to pontificate issues they are less informed about.
The Nigerian Universities Commission said that it was considering about 200 applications for registration as private universities. So, in the event that they sail through, how do you think JAMB can cope?
Of course, we interface with the NUC. We are both under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Education and the synergy is there. No matter the number of the institutions that we have, JAMB has the capacity to handle the institutions. When we talk about institutions in Nigeria, many people talk about the number, not the weight. Today, all the about 50 private universities we have – all of them put together – do not admit as many candidates as one federal university. All the candidates they admit, put together would not be as many as that of the University of Lagos or University of Ilorin. So, when we are conducting examination, when it comes to private institutions – private universities, polytechnics and colleges of education, they are just coming up. They are relatively new, and because of cost, many of them are for profit. Only very few, insignificantly few among them are out for social service or public service. You know in Nigeria, we talk about civil society groups, NGOs, but how many are actually not established for profit? They are NGIs, that is, non-governmental individuals, who parade themselves as non-governmental organisations – the husband is the director, the wife is the deputy and the son is the treasurer. So that is also a factor. I believe that the private institutions should find a way of bringing down the cost of the school fees.
There are allegations of malpractices in admission process and a lot of people are saying that JAMB should take more than passive interest in the admission processes….
There will always be allegations, but for me, I am a student of Islamic Studies; he who alleges must prove. As far as I am concerned, I have had many allegations but when you ask people to come and prove, you will find out that such allegations are not true. Recently, some of the newspapers were carrying some stories about LASU, that somebody who scored a high grade was not admitted; the man concerned had the courage to petition JAMB but at the end of the exercise, we had to be begging LASU to accommodate the candidate because LASU is owned by the Lagos State Government.
Seventy per cent of the candidates must come from Lagos. This candidate that was going from one place to the other, yes, scored 240 and he wanted to study Nursing. Nursing will take 70 candidates, which is the total for the class, and this candidate was 150 on the merit list. Even if they want to take all the 70, they will not get to him. Now after taking the first 30 on merit, they will now go for Lagos State indigene. And many of them scored lower than his own score, but he is from Oyo State. And he said someone who came from Oyo State and scored less was admitted. We followed it up, yes. So we found out that the candidate from Oyo State, who was admitted, his father is a member of staff of LASU. And staff of the institution, irrespective of wherever they come from are treated as indigenes of Lagos. So, at the end of the day, we had to beg LASU to be able to accommodate him in Chemistry. And he had to accept Chemistry.
If, for instance, I come from Ogun State and I applied at the University of Ilorin, or Minna, I can only be taken on merit. If I score 260 and I want to read Medicine and apply to University of Ilorin, the possibility of my being taken is zero, because of merit. Out of 120 to be admitted, anybody with 260 cannot be in the first 200. And out of the 120, they are expected to take 45 per cent by merit. That will be the first number one to 60. And after that, they take the next 35 per cent by catchment area, which include Kwara, Kogi, Nasarawa and Niger. So, somebody from Ogun cannot be considered. Then the last 20 per cent is for the educationally disadvantaged areas. Ogun State is not part of educationally disadvantaged areas. And the candidate will be making noise that somebody from Kwara, Kogi is admitted. He or she has not studied the catchment areas of the school and where your own state falls.
People have often talked about the fall in the standard of education in Nigeria and this has sufficiently reflected in the performance of students in examinations conducted in the last one decade. As a renowned educationist, what is the way forward?
Let me be frank with you. There is the popular view that there is a fall in the standard of education, and fortunately, I came up with a proof now because you said people are failing in the examination, and that the level of performance is going down. That means the standard is not going down. If the standard is going down, many people will pass. They will bring down the standard in such a way that many people will pass the examination. That is when standards are falling. The fact that many people failed does not mean the standard is falling, it is the performance that is poor. You either score above the standard or below the standard. There are countries that have toyed with the idea that we want many people to pass. And the fact that you are declared to have passed does not mean you have performed better. It is because they are lowering the standard.
So, for me, I do not share the popular view that the standard of education is falling in Nigeria. If you go to the National Youth Service Corps camp, you’ll see that those who attend foreign universities also partake in the scheme. If you can carry out your investigative journalism to study these graduates from different institutions, both home and abroad, you will find out that people who score below 100 in our UTME, because their parents have money, go to Ghana, Republic of Benin, Uganda, all sort of places – within Africa and outside Africa and they come back with grades not lower than Second Class Upper. And most of the big men in Nigeria, their children are coming back with First Class, as if wealth is the source of brain, which is not the truth. And you still say the standard of education is falling in Nigeria? When you look at products of the Nigerian university system going for post-graduate studies outside the country and their performance in class, they are on top of the class, almost everywhere.
I have been the president of the Association of African Universities, which gives me the opportunity of a very good insight into what goes on in tertiary education all over Africa. I have served on the board of Association of Commonwealth Universities that took me round the Commonwealth countries. I have also served on the board of International Association of Universities and have gone all over the world to not only compare and examine schools around the world, but to also appraise what goes on in the tertiary education. Everywhere, you will be proud of Nigerians. Surprisingly, we still believe and it is a very popular belief, that we are not doing well. I do not say we cannot do better, but I do not share the view that the standard of education in Nigeria is falling. I tell people, when you go all over the world, pick any class, from Archeology to Zoology, and others, you will find out that Nigerians who are pursuing their post-graduate studies – products of Nigerian university system – are part of the top 10 in their classes.