The 1.7 Million Candidate Examination

Posted: May 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImageBy Abimbola Adelakun

The Minister of Education, Prof. Ruqqayatu Rufai’s admission last Saturday during the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination that about 70 per cent of the candidates being tested will not gain entrance to a tertiary institution is a very demoralising one. As the minister under whose purview the exam was conducted, it was a damning verdict. If I had taken the examination, her imprudent statement would have sunk my spirit. There are other troubling pointers about the minister’s confirmation of a not-so-hidden-problem, and even more distressing is her proposed solution. She charged private organisations and individuals to build more tertiary institutions — a simplistic solution to a complex problem. Just how many tertiary institutions can be put up quickly enough to accommodate the teeming number of candidates being churned out of pre-tertiary institutions every year? The Nigerian population burgeons geometrically and before we know it, we will need to expand our infrastructure to accommodate the children of those who are just being born as you read this.

There are additional questions Madam Minister’s proposed solution does not seem to be considering: that of the socio-dynamics behind the oversubscription to Nigerian tertiary institutions. I am curious, is the rush for education a quest for knowledge or, are the youths in search of certification that will guarantee a meal ticket down the line? Both questions are not mutually exclusive but properly if deconstructed, both questions are actually separate issues; either of them indicative of where we are as a society. If what we are dealing with is a desire for knowledge, then we should be excited to create more schools. We should take time to put up institutions relevant to the society to satiate the thirst for knowledge and empowerment. We need not rush to meet the demand for post-secondary school education by putting up “chicken coops” staffed with clueless PhDs. Buildings and lecturers do not make a university and this is a point that cannot be overstated.

If, however, people only want certificates that could guarantee them jobs, then building more drone factories and labelling them universities/polytechnics/colleges will only worsen the situation. In a country with a high unemployment rate like Nigeria, 1.7 million candidates sitting for examinations is a cry for help; one that should not be attenuated by the President and the minister’s visceral reaction of, “We feel your pain and we are working on building more schools.” What we will need to do, and urgently too, is to take a critical look into the construct of our society. For instance, what are the chances of quality life available to Nigerians who cannot, for one reason or the other, go to higher institutions of learning? The point is, if we build a university at every bus stop in Nigeria, somewhere along the line, we will still experience some shortage; some folk will still not get a chance to go to school beyond a certain level. It is important to also factor them into every plan and projection. Again, we should question how our lack of enterprise culture fuels the demand for tertiary education. There are very few job opportunities in Nigeria –and even these dwindle daily — such that racking up certificates does two things: it boosts the applicant’s profile in a saturated job market and also, it helps unemployed youths kill waiting time. Both reasons could explain the present desirability of tertiary education. Another question I also consider very important is if the decline in artisanship has to do with increasing demand for tertiary education? In other words, is the Nigerian economy closing up alternative routes such that people who cannot get jobs are being pressed into certification at all costs? These days, you read news reports of youth corp members who are barely literate and you wonder why the person wasted productive years of his/her life in the university/polytechnic when s/he could have been meaningfully occupied in an artisan workshop somewhere? Of course, I do not mean to say artisanship does not require some measure of literacy or even a comprehensive education but it can do well without tertiary education.

The problem of oversubscription to higher institutions of learning should not be conveniently attributed to lack of facilities alone, it is also a consequence of our larger socio-political and economic problems. In these times that graduates ride Okada for a living, I believe creating more “degree-awarding institutions” should not be our priority. Who knows how many of the 1.2 million candidates the minister predicted would fall through the wide cracks are sitting for the exams for the umpteenth time; some, in spite of the odds, will still sit for it again the next year, swelling the already bloated figures; and few will make it, go through the tertiary education and then what? Where do they go from there?

JAMB: To scrap or not to scrap

It has been interesting listening to both sides of the debate about scrapping the examination body, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board; I will like to lend my voice to the issue. Personally, I am not convinced by the solutions articulated by those who oppose the continued existence of JAMB. If we leave individual universities to conduct their own tests, how soon before we run into the same problems we are trying to avoid by killing JAMB? I believe there is a need for the standardisation JAMB provides. What needs to be challenged is the various traditions JAMB clings to even as the ground beneath its feet shifts every day. For instance, what sense does it make to conduct examination for 1.7 million candidates in a single day? JAMB may claim it is not doing badly but it is unwieldy. When is it going to explore the option of computer-based test, a system that is more effective at beating cheating since it deals with candidates according to their individual capabilities? Also, why is the examination an annual event? Why do unsuccessful candidates have to wait for an entire year to take the examination again? Why waste people’s time and lives? Why not conduct it multiple times in a year? I also think the idea of making a choice of schools ahead of the examination is outdated. I believe it will make a world of difference if candidates simply take the examination, collect their results and shop for an institution that levels with their abilities?

(AA_ADELAKUN@UTEXAS.EDU)

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