The abysmal failure rate recorded in the 2021 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has been described as one of the worst in many years. Since its release, the result has continued to elicit reactions from the public, especially candidates and their parents. While some said the result was a reflection of the state of education in the country, others blamed the situation on the examination body, JAMB.
For instance, students complained of and attributed their poor performance to system malfunction. Many parents also faulted the long distance over which candidates had to travel to reach their examination centres; sometimes arriving late. There were also claims that the UTME questions were based on a wrong examination syllabus. However, the Head of Public Affairs and Protocol at JAMB, Dr Fabian Benjamin, refuted this claim and insisted that the prescribed UTME syllabus, which was issued to candidates through the JAMB’s Integrated Brochure and Syllabus System (IBASS) was used for the 2021 UTME.
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Also speaking, JAMB Registrar, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, said the coronavirus pandemic should rather be blamed for the poor performance of candidates in the 2021 UTME because according to him, it affected the smooth running of the academic calendar. Speaking during an interview on the Nigerian Television Authority, Oloyede said, “All informed education experts understand why we recorded a lot of failures this time around. They knew the point at which we were in the academic calendar before the examination was taken.”
Prof Oloyede had a point when he explained that students suffered incomplete academic sessions as a result of the pandemic. Of course, UTME candidates had to cope with emergency online lessons (where available) in addition to other disturbing factors such as insecurity. For sure, schools, which were shut for the most part of the academic session were next to the economy as the worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Enough syllabus contents in nearly all school subjects particularly for the sixth year of secondary education (SS 3) were not covered before the students sat for the UTME. This possibly explains why some candidates accused JAMB of using the wrong examination syllabus.
Candidates who had to rewrite the UTME in 2021 for their inability to secure admission after passing the same exam in 2020 were unfortunately caught in the web of the mass failure in the 2021 UTME. Again, this has rekindled the debate on the validity period of the UTME result. It would be recalled that in October 2016, the Senate approved the extension of the validity period of UTME results from one to three years. The extension was contained in the new amendments made to the Act establishing JAMB. The passage of the bill followed the report of the Committee on Tertiary Education and TETFund chaired by Senator Jibrin Barau. Nonetheless, JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede reacted by saying the bill will do more harm to students than good. He said the approach may not solve the problem it seeks to address.
We strongly support the passing of the bill that seeks to extend the validity period of the UTME result beyond the year it was written. If this policy had been in existence, candidates who failed to secure admission in 2021 would have no need registering for and rewriting the 2021 UTME in which candidates’ performance was generally poor. The 3-year validity period would not only lessen the burden of examination fees on parents but also ease the challenge of logistics for candidates and the examination body. After all, the IJMB result currently has a validity period of two years. Besides, candidates who obtained requisite credit passes in the SSCE need not re-write it again. We, therefore, call on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the bill that extends the validity period of the UTME result.
To forestall mass failure as experienced in the 2021 UTME, we urge all national examination bodies to do a quick review and produce a revised syllabus when situations of national emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic arise. We also urge the body to look into other issues such as distance of examination venue to avoid a repeat of this year’s performance.