Tuesday, June 02, 2009

JAMB result: Speed without accuracy

SINCE the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) released the results of the 2009 University Matriculation Examination (UME) five days after the examination was taken on April 4, there have been a flurry of complaints and apprehension by parents and thousands of candidates who sat for the examination over perceived inaccurate results or manipulation of the already released scores by JAMB or by some unknown persons. The complaints have added a new dimension to our battered education system, namely, the alteration of published results by the examination body.

A situation where a public examination body would release results and later embark on the alteration of the already released scores erodes the credibility of the examination. If the public can't trust JAMB and its examination, then it is finished, as its credibility is lost. To avoid this, JAMB should strive to maintain its integrity. Apart from conducting hitch-free examination, its results should be worth more than the paper on which it is printed.

JAMB should not sacrifice accuracy on the altar of speed. No one is pursuing it. After conducting the examination, it is at liberty to release the results at the appropriate time. There is nothing wrong if the board takes four weeks or more to properly mark the scripts and have them entered unto its website. Why rush to only make mistakes at the end? The board is not under any obligation to release the results in five days. If it impresses itself and displeases the public it has not succeeded. It is better to release trusted results after a month than to rush and release trash within five days. While we appreciate the effort of JAMB to re-build its damaged image and reputation, which led to the introduction of post-UME, the board should try to balance its decisions and actions in order not to drag itself down.

Trouble started when some candidates who had checked their results and ascertained their scores later found out on a second check that their scores had been changed. All the reported cases had marks added thereby jacking up the scores and giving the affected candidates undue advantage over others. The change occurred mainly in physics. For example, Nigerian Tribune on May 8, reported about a candidate that scored 214 when the results were released but on a second check discovered that his score had been jacked up to 242!

Shocked by the discovery, the candidate was alarmed. As he was no longer sure what his correct score was, he put a call to the newspaper asking what was happening? Did JAMB re-mark the scripts? Have hackers infiltrated the JAMB website? Are there some unscrupulous elements in JAMB who were probably collecting bribe and awarding undeserved marks to candidates? These were some of the pertinent questions that many people raised.

The fear is that if the released physics scores could be changed, what is the guarantee that some other subjects were not altered? That concern made many candidates go back to re-check their scores. Although, there have been no further reports of change in other subjects, what has been found so far was that all the changes made in physics involved score increases. No one had his or her score reduced. Instead, every affected candidate had his or her score jacked up. This raised questions as to why the alteration was one-directional? Why was no score reduced but all were increased? If there were mistake, it would occur on both sides.

There is reason for apprehension over such unholy development. Some public examination bodies in this country have been accused in the past of aiding and abetting examination fraud. It is widely known that some unscrupulous officials of the examination bodies collected bribes from candidates and their parents and in return awarded unmerited marks in their favour. There have also been reports of people who never sat for examination but had results issued to them by corrupt officials of the examination bodies. The route for committing such fraud is the computer system. The dubious staffers know how to manipulate the computer system. They succeed in uploading the cooked marks unto the computer system. On that note, there was fear that those who changed the scores in physics might have used their position to change other subjects of candidates. After all, this is Nigeria where corruption is a culture.

Apart from the score alteration, reports have it that many candidates who went to check their result didn't find it for one reason or the other. Thousands had their results seized. On the whole, this year's UME was adjudged one of the worst. Most of the candidates had very low score. According to JAMB, 50 per cent of the candidates failed to score the minimum 200. The development has dashed the hope of thousands of candidates. There are speculations that the hurried marking and release of the results by JAMB might have contributed to the mass failure. Some think that the scripts were not properly marked and scored.

Considering the large number of candidates that sat for the examination (over 1.2 million), many think that it is impossible for JAMB to mark that number of scripts and have them properly organised in two days. This is more so when it is known that electricity is not available throughout the country. Certainly, this would create problems assuming that JAMB had directed its staffers across the federation to work for 24 hours none stop. Notwithstanding the use of Internet Computer Technology (ICT), it would still be hard in Nigeria's context to accomplish that feat. The ICT is not yet widespread. And, by the way, why rush to release the result in five days? That is not necessary.

Although, JAMB has not made any formal public statement on the matter of scores change, its registrar, Professor Dibu Ojerinde was reported as saying that there was no cause for alarm, as the board had not re-marked any script. The registrar was reported to have admitted that "the board's website operators made some mistakes while uploading some results on the board's website". According to him, "the data was wrongfully loaded and it is being corrected. It is not that physics was re-marked...It was a mistake on the part of the website operators".

From that explanation, it is obvious that the so-called wrong data earlier inputted into the system and released was due to human error. The mistake could have been avoided if the board had taken more time to do a thorough job. I had commended JAMB in this column when it broke record last year by releasing results in two weeks. That was historic. Before then, I had also lambasted it for shoddy performance that gave rise to the agitation for the scrapping of the board. The heat generated by those criticisms apparently led to the introduction of the current post-UME conducted by the universities.

Unfortunately, the post-UME test has not fared better. As a matter of fact, the universities have turned the post-UME test into a moneymaking venture rather than an instrument to ensure quality in the admission process. It is obvious from the experience so far that JAMB would perhaps remain the only option if it could sit up and conduct more reliable examination. It is not just enough to call for the abrogation of the post-UME when there is a gap. The continued existence or abrogation of post-UME depends on JAMB's performance. It was the gap created by JAMB that gave rise to post-UME. Therefore, it is left to JAMB to live up to expectation and prove that it is capable of conducting entrance examination that could be used as yardstick for admitting candidates into the universities. To achieve that, JAMB must live above board and avoid making costly mistakes like the one in question.

The point is that if there was a mistake in physics, there is reason to believe that there could also have been mistake in other subjects. Otherwise, why was it only physics? Why not biology, mathematics and any other subject? Once there was a mix up in physics, the same problem could have occurred in other subjects. Besides, those who changed the physics scores are in a position to change any other score of any candidate that seeks their help. Because of what has happened, many people have lost faith in this particular JAMB examination.

From whatever angle one views it, the development is not in the interest of JAMB. The earlier the board took measures to ensure that this sort of thing doesn't recur, the better for it. I must acknowledge that there has been some improvement since Professor Ojerinde took over the headship at JAMB. He should not overstretch his genuine effort to instill efficiency in the board by attempting the impossible. He should do what is humanly possible at our level of development. He should concentrate in curbing examination malpractice and ensure that the examination is properly organised. Nigerians appreciate honest effort.