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JAMB and its unending challenges…

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Anytime the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations are written, there is bound to be headline news! No wonder, then, that JAMB is every newsman’s delight! The down-to-earth disposition of its Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, apart, the many battles and wars that JAMB perpetually fights against election malpractice and its beneficiaries before, during and after its examinations always make headline news. The last JAMB exams were no exception.

When one had thought that the hijab controversy had been finally laid to rest, some overzealous Computer Based Test centre officials exhumed its ghost again, barring a hijab-wearing candidate from the examination hall. Bedlam! You would think this was more than an isolated case! Mercifully, the prompt intervention of the JAMB officials on ground and the explanation, afterwards, of JAMB’s image-maker, Dr. Fabian Benjamin, arrested the situation and prevented the fleeing ghost from escaping into town to wreak havoc! Religion issues are damn too touchy here – and needlessly so. If hijab or any form of dressing is not employed to aid cheating in examinations, I think the wearer should be at liberty to do so. Avoid trouble!

Next was the news of parents caught in the act of writing the examination for their wards. What kind of parents are those? And what manner of children as well? In my own days, few parents knew anything about university education and how their wards got there. My father only knew I had gained admission when I went to ask him for the school fees. My mother only stepped her feet on the University of Ife soil on my graduation day. Now, when a father or mother writes exams for their child, how will the child cope when he gets into the university? He must continue to cheat and cut corners and the parents must be available to provide all the support and encouragement.

If standards are falling, this must be one of the reasons. Examinations are meant to determine competence and qualification for the next level but once the system is perverted and the incompetent and less qualified gain ascendancy by foul means, then, standards are bound to get compromised. Thus, we have students who get to the university and are unable to cope. It is only cases of lecturers stalking students for sex that make the headlines, what of students running after lecturers, vending whatever, to pass their examinations? All manner of unhealthy practices go on in our tertiary institutions orchestrated not only by randy lecturers but also by students who cannot cope with their studies on fair grounds.

The many layers of examinations that we have erected have failed to effectively arrest the slide in rectitude. They are organised by West African Examinations Council and National Examination Council, JAMB and post-JAMB: Still, the cankerworms of examination malpractice remain with us. The quality of graduates that we produce today leaves much to be desired. We have certificate-flashing youths all over the place who are not employable. I was at a workshop recently where a Professor complained to the organizers that the Youth corpers assigned to work with him knew next-to-nothing. The workshop organizers fought back bravely: ”Sir, they are your products. You trained them for three, four or more years. You examined and certified them okay. You awarded them certificates and unleashed them on society. We are the ones who should be complaining to you and not the other way round!” Silence!

Are we surprised at the reported mass failure in the last JAMB examinations? According to reports, 77 percent of the 1,842,464 candidates whose 2024 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) results were released by JAMB scored less than 200 marks out of 400; meaning that only 23 percent scored 200 marks and above. Now, only the first generation universities and a handful of state and private universities usually set their admission cut-off marks at not less than 200. Others fall as low as 120 marks over 400. I have heard demands of 100 marks shouted down at JAMB stakeholders’ meetings! With the general failure witnessed this time around, I wonder whether the cut-off marks for many will not be as low as 100 marks or even less! Where are we going?

Another controversy raised during the last JAMB examinations was the Minister of Education, Prof. Tahir Mamman, hinting that the Federal Government plans to review and peg the minimum entry age into tertiary institutions at 18 years. That way, the Federal Government plans to climb its tree from the leaves! Who did this to us!

In my own days, your right palm, passed over your head, must touch your left ear before you were deemed old enough to start elementary or primary school. That was in the sixties. School age then was six years minimum but how touching your left ear with the right hand passed over your head mathematically translated to six years, I cannot explain. In an age when birth certificates and declaration of age were not commonplace, that was the standard procedure that was strictly adhered to.

When I began to have children, I took my first child to Nursery school at age 18 months! My wife and I were working class. So, dumping her (for that, actually, was what it was) at je’le-o-sinmi (give the home a break) was the best option available. Her first report sheet carried the teacher’s remarks: “Cannot read”, Cannot talk”, “Cannot write”. I was livid! But, truth be told, was it the teacher’s fault – or the baby’s? At 18 months, what else could I have reasonably expected from both ends?

Now that there are talks of making 18 years the minimum entry age to tertiary institutions, the right place to start is at the elementary level, reverting to the old school age of six years at the least. But we must learn from the Chinese how they engage their pre-elementary school children and do likewise. Videos of the Chinese model trend on the internet. So much havoc was done to us by colonization, which made us abandon our own traditional ways of life for the inferior quality imposed by the rampaging colonialists. The little good they did, we have ruined with the mindless corruption that has run riot in every facet of our national life.

The colonialists imposed their language and we have, to all intents and purposes, lost hold of ours. It will take a lot of grit to claw our way back. Let our children spend the first six years of their life correcting that. The colonialists also imposed their religion and demonized ours. Religion thus became an opium which was employed to dull our intellect. They point us to paradise in heaven while they mindlessly exploit our human, material and natural resources to create paradise for themselves here on earth. To have a feel of the good life, we japa (flee) to their countries. The racial discrimination they inflict on us apart, the brain drain that goes with japa further accentuates our misery and deepens our penury. They imposed their educational system and took away our traditional educational system of passing knowledge and values from generation to generation. Today, we read and write but the education we get is not functional.

The colonialists subverted our value system while imposing theirs. Our culture is perverted. We hanker after their way of life – their food, their drink, their medicine, their mannerism, and their dresses. We are hardly original in anything again but are copy-cats of the ways and methods of foreigners. Yet, in virtually everything, we have found, to our chagrin, that our way of breastfeeding our babies, our diet of whole grains, our roots, barks and leaves, our culture, etc. are vastly superior to theirs. We have only been led by the colonialists “among the sharps of the forest”, like Kofi Awoonor moaned in Songs of Sorrow: “Returning is not possible. And going forward is a great difficulty”.

But we must return! Those benefiting from the present system, who glamorize and glorify it, whose pot of soup it is and whose bread is buttered by it will not give up without a fight. The disadvantages of letting our children start school before attaining the school age of at least six years far outweigh its advantages. There are always prodigious children – but that is the exception rather than the rule. Robbing our children of their childhood; rushing them into an early adulthood that is beyond their capability; thrusting upon them responsibilities they cannot cope with at such a tender age; all of these visit upon them vicissitudes they are least prepared for. Education devoid of maturity is a disaster waiting to happen.

LAST WORDS: JAMB, for good reasons after the Ejimeke Mmesoma forged result saga of 2023, decided not to release any official “best results” again! But with the avalanche of “best results” daily swarming the internet since May 1st when the latest JAMB results were released, we can safely echo William Shakespeare’s character, Cassius, in “Julius Caesar”, that the fault is not in our stars nor in JAMB but in ourselves that we choose to stoke the embers of needless controversy perpetually! Who gains?

The truth, however, is that many of these internet “best result” may still not qualify the candidate for admission because it is just one leg of a three-leg process of Ordinary or A Level result, JAMB score and post-UTME score that combine to give a candidate his or her final score. We have seen some “best results” without the right subject combinations or good O or A Level result. There have also been “best results” with absymal post-UTME performance. When the aggregate of all the scores is taken and a so-called “best result” fails to make the cut-off marks, another round of needless controversy and pointing of accusing fingers ensue.

Many “best results” also fail to gain admission because a disproportionate number of them want to read Medicine, Pharmacy, Law, etc where the competition is cut-throat because the carrying capacity of the universities cannot accommodate the avalanche of requests.

I have been privileged to attend series of JAMB stakeholders’ meeting and I know that contrary to another fake news already making the news on social media, JAMB does not unilaterally fix admission cut-off marks; the universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, and monotechnics congregate in the open, where they discuss, debate and decide for themselves and by themselves their cut-off marks session after session with the JAMB Registrar, Oloyede, merely playing the role of a moderator or an impartial umpire.

How many candidates, their parents and the know-it-all emergency, half-baked and yellow journalism social media “journalists” have these useful information? Ignorance is costly! Deliberate falsehood more so!

Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of the Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-Chief, Bolawole writes the On the Lord’s Day column in the Sunday Tribune and the Treasurers column in the New Telegraph newspapers. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television. He can be reached on turnpot@gmail.com +234 807 552 5533

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