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UTME: The more Nigerians fail, the more universities are established

When universities were universities in Nigeria, those who dreamt of gaining admissions into them were those who were prepared for the rigour that academic endeavor…

When universities were universities in Nigeria, those who dreamt of gaining admissions into them were those who were prepared for the rigour that academic endeavor requires. Then, university is not for every Tom, Dick, and Harry. Now, it is for every rat, mouse, and kitten. All that one needs to do is to register for the Senior School Certificate Examination (SSCE) and Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME). You do not need to know anything except, perhaps, how to spell your name and your surname. You should also dream big—expect to pass with flying grades.

While a candidate is required to pass at least five subjects with credits in their SSCE (to include Maths and English), it does not matter whether they pass or fail UTME which is another requirement. In recent years, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has proven to be an examination body to reckon with. Examination is argued not to be a true test of knowledge (to some extent I agree). However, UTME, among other examinations in Nigeria, is a true test of merit at the moment. I agree that UTME is not perfect only to the extent that nothing is perfect. 

Some argue that admission into universities in Nigeria should be determined by universities, not JAMB. In other words, UTME should be scrapped!  If that argument makes sense to our policy makers, it means five credits in WAEC and NECO would be the only requirement for admission into our higher institutions of learning.

But it is obvious—not debatable—that many candidates pass these exams by other means. It is safe to say through fraudulent means for lack of a better word. If any exams should be scrapped, it should be, in my opinion, WAEC and NECO. These are exams that candidates are cocksure of passing provided they register in the “right place” and do the “needful.” They do not have any reason to fail. This is an open secret.  

But because JAMB seems to have almost overcome the challenge of exam mal-practice, it is, in some quarters, seen as a stumbling block to gaining admission into Nigerian higher institutions. Does anyone reason why many candidates with A’s and B’s in their O level results could not pass the UTME? It is because those flying grades are, in most cases, phoney grades.  

The UTME results released few days ago should jolt any serious government and push it into action. The breakdown of the results paints a grotesque picture of a serious crisis in the nation’s educational sector. Only 24% of about 1.9 million candidates who sat for the exams scored above 200. This is the ugly reality even though  the number of universities in the country continues to balloon ironically as if there is a large pull of qualified candidates from which to admit.

The fact that the more Nigerians fail exams the more universities are established is symptomatic of our failed educational sector. Many blame the recent mass failure in UTME on Tik Tok, Instagram, Facebook and other distractive social media platforms. These platforms, it is argued, make students to lose focus on education. This is relatively true. 

But it should be noted that these platforms could be used to advance learning as well. What is much truer is the fact that many candidates have become complacent and relaxed about academic success because they have realized that with pass or failure in UTME, they will still gain admission. On this note, JAMB and other stakeholders who make admission cut off mark ridiculously low should be blamed. 

It is obvious that with the range of 100 to 140 out of 400 UTME total scores which is equivalent to F9, candidates still stand a bright chance of gaining admission into Nigerian higher institutions. Would any words of admonition on academic excellence make sense to these candidates knowing full well that they do not need to pass before gaining admission?      

While JAMB deserves our commendation for exerting its willpower to use technology to curb examination mal-practice which remains one of the most serious crimes against humanity, its unfortunate lowering of admission bar into higher institutions is like undoing its good work and reversing its gains. If other examination bodies in Nigeria like WAEC and NECO would be resolute to conduct their exams such that grades awarded to candidates are what they actually deserve, problem of mass failure would be half solved. 

In that case, candidates who are not well prepared for exams will not think of writing one. That will put a stop to the free-for-all nature of our exams and restore sanity to our educational system. To achieve this sublime objective, all hands must be on deck. Religious leaders would need to be moral agents which they should ideally be. For God fearing Nigerians will shun exam mal-practice. Parents should be good role models to their children. They should inculcate into their wards the virtue and spirit of diligence which is the surest way to success. No parent should be like a father who was recently arrested for impersonating his son during the UTME exams. This unfortunate father shamelessly overturns the hallowed adage which says “charity begins at home.”  

Government should act decisively against examination related fraudulent acts. For the government to justify its moral right to act, it needs to pay teachers in its employ a reasonable and living wage with an improved condition of service. Well paid teachers would be motivated and, thus, expected to be upright in doing their job. Problem of deficit infrastructure in public schools should be addressed and diligence should be rewarded. Excesses of private schools should be regulated and their inadequacies should be addressed. 

If government, parents, religious leaders and teachers play their respective roles as stated above, it should not come as a shock if we experience sharp decline in the number of UTME applicants. Under normal circumstance, not everyone has the aptitude for the mental rigor which learning in higher institutions requires. It is our corrupt system that makes it seems as if everyone had the stuff for higher education. That explains why universities continue to increase in number despite woeful academic performance of applicants. If we choose to, we can get it right.

Abdulkadir Salaudeen wrote via [email protected]

 

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