We must of necessity at some point collectively agree to break tradition and the tradition I speak of in this instance is the penchant to place material gains over other life impacting imperatives. In this instance the imperative is for us to agree what constitutes quality education and what amounts to sheer profiteering dressed as quality assurance and control.
My position is in direct response to a newspaper editorial that deviated from the influential pieces Nigerians have always known it for to defend the extortion racket that tertiary institutions embark on in the name of conducting post-Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UMTE). This reaction came despite the serious efforts to hold back from responding because it is often tedious taking on the establishment. The patriotic demand to point out potential pitfalls however trumped my fear of the backlash that could come from challenging a stereotype that have been carefully crafted over the years.
The write up in question dismissed the scrapping of post-UMTE tests as if the exercise is itself picture perfect and was the best thing since the introduction of mobile telephony although the direct opposite is the truth. In declaring the scraping of post-UMTE by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu as presumptuous, the editorial conveniently glossed over the context and circumstance under which the declaration was made. It has simply outlived its usefulness when an agency responsible for conducting entrance examination repositioned and woke up to its responsibilities.
Specifically, the Minister spoke at a meeting at which the cut off point for the year’s tertiary institution’s admissions was agreed to. That meeting convened by the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) had vice chancellors, rectors and provosts of tertiary institutions in attendance and there has so far been no one of them that came out to express a minority opinion after it was reported that they were in support of the decision to scrap the tests which not a few stakeholders had described as exploitative. By the way, several of these institution heads had before that meeting muted the idea that post-UMTE was no longer necessary given the advancement that JAMB has made particularly with its Computer Based Test (CBT) which significantly ruled out cheating.
Instead of acknowledging this advancement, it would seem the intention was to justify why prospective students should continue to pay what is nothing short of the “corruption fee” that the post-UMTE had become under the guise of being an exercise for sifting candidates. Any sincere member of a tertiary institution management would admit that there was no sifting being done with the exercise and that if anything it was a fund raising activity that doubled as a strategy for manipulating admissions to ensure that institutions have the cover to practice cronyism without being found out. If the institutions are able to sift their intake with post-UMTE how come we are ending up with so many unemployable graduates?
It is unfortunate that the comments of founder and Chancellor of Afe Babalola University, Ado Ekiti, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN on the scrapping of the post-UMTE has now been appropriated as a catch all license by those who want to sustain a practice that exploit prospective students monetarily while exposing them to the risk of travel they do not need to undertake in a country with high road accident mortality. Chief Babalola, who was instrumental to the introduction of post-UMTE, spoke about what was obtainable and the condition that led to the introduction of the exercise. Had the situation remained the same since the time the likes of the revered SAN were in charge we should have collectively questioned the sanity of not just the entire country but of our individual selves.
Similarly, to suggest that since most of the universities organising this questionable test are privately owned and thus beyond JAMB’s or the Federal Government’s jurisdiction smacks of mischief. Would the people pushing this argument also canvass that commercial banks stop being under the jurisdiction of the Central Bank of Nigeria simply because they are privately owned?
It is ironic that the ills of ‘miracle examination centres’ can be demonised in the same piece that cast several aspersions on JAMB when these same dubious centres have been the ones that launched the most attacks on the organisation since it conducted the UMTE with CBT. The singling out of the last examination, which was incidentally the first that was wholly CBT thus tend to prompt the suspicion that the entire piece could be at the behest of the miracle examination centres but some possibilities are just too outrageous to ponder.
This is even more so when one read the part that was not appreciative of JAMB and the vote of confidence it got from Malam Adamu. If the teething problems associated with the first use of the CBT were enough to scrap JAMB in favour of extortionist post-UMTE tests then any newspaper that has ever suffered incidents of ‘printer’s devil’ have to close shop in favour of town criers and church bulletins.
For those who have forgotten, post-UMTE tests have had their own share of randy lecturers leaking questions to candidates to score some hits that have no correlations with academics. It is the same tests that ae so badly organised in some schools that they eventually have to arrive at the final admission lists without recourse to them. It is the same examination that some government schools have used to side step the requirements for equal opportunities as enshrined in the federal character principle. And private schools have been known to use it as a cover to ensure they got enough revenue paying clients, who end up emerging with first class degrees even when they originally failed the UMTE.
It is alright for tertiary schools to want to protect a revenue stream they have since taken as a given but it is barely one step away from being irresponsible to try twisting the facts in a desperate attempt to overturn a government policy their leaders adopted when it was announced. It is definitely disheartening when an editorial, the most sacred asset of a newspaper, is deployed in defence of those whose only interest is making more money out of hapless candidates even when the relevant organisation has taken the necessary steps to save them the hardship.
JAMB has already stopped those playing games with Nigeria’s future in their track and it is now left for the government to make sure it is not brow beaten by the pro post-UMTE lobby to reverse the backing it is giving to the examination body. Those trying to revive the post-UMTE tests are sheer profiteers who have no business running schools if they cannot abide with a lawful directive.
Abiodun PhD is an educationist and contributed this piece from Ibadan.