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Computer-based crisis

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•JAMB should allow CBT and pencil-paper mode to co-exist

Since the introduction of computer-based JAMB tests three years ago, the level of anxiety around admission into tertiary institutions in the country has increased enormously. While some see it as a demonstration that the country is embracing ‘modernity,’ particularly technology, others, possibly the majority, regard it as adding to the uncertainties parents and pupils experience annually.

The acknowledgement by the registrar of JAMB that some difficulties were experienced in the 2015 examination may have confirmed the suspicion by those familiar with practices in other parts of the world that the shift to computer-based examination was nothing more than a bureaucratic sleight of hand. It distracts from failure to address problems posed by the pencil-paper mode rather than being a policy driven by concern for improving admission into the nation’s tertiary institutions.

In spite of the registrar’s promise to overcome the problems, the House of Representatives has advised JAMB to consider restoring the pencil-paper mode to co-exist with its three-year-old computer-based examination. The Nation welcomes this suggestion and supports it wholeheartedly.

Our view is that the difficulty that JAMB recently faced was more than”teething problems.” It was unable to examine 59,000 candidates spread across 15 states; 45,000 students received multiple results. The registrar, while seeking to defend the retention of the CBT as the sole mode, stated that what led to CBT introduction were more worrisome. These, according to him, included embarrassing irregularities associated with the pencil-paper test, such as candidates running away with question papers, and parents and tutorial centres conniving to perpetrate all kinds of malpractices. While these are serious problems, they are only insurmountable to the extent that JAMB believes. The solution should however not include throwing away the old system, if it can be used along with a new system.

The debate about determining students’ eligibility for university admission, in addition to acceptable results at WAEC/NECO and post-UTME exams conducted by tertiary institutions, has been raging for years. But until this debate is settled, there is a need to ensure that candidates being examined for admission are given a level-playing field to compete for an examination that can shape their future.

The difficulties experienced in the last CBT ought to stimulate questions about how to ensure that candidates are not disadvantaged while JAMB adjusts to its new mode. This will also prevent the integrity of the test from being thrown into further disrepute. Examination candidates, most of whom are teenagers, need to be assured that their chance to enter university will not be determined solely by a mode that needs improvement on the part of the examining body and government’s provision of infrastructure for computer literacy in all public schools.

The need for a policy dialogue that addresses the advantage of technology and of equal preparation for every candidate for CBT should be recognised by all. Such dialogue ought to include research on demographics of test takers. For example, what is the percentage of students in public schools, especially those in the rural areas, that can use the computer efficiently to the point of taking a highly competitive national exam on it?

It is common knowledge that despite the nation’s commitment since the announcement in 1988 of “the Nigeria National Computer Policy,” most students in public schools across the country still have no access to computers. Most public schools do not have computer training for students. Nothing illustrates this better than the donation last September of 450 computers to 15 states by UNESCO to stem digital divide.

It is not fair to insist that students with limited computer competence take competitive tests with students in private schools and Federal Government colleges generously endowed with computer centres. Students may not, in the words of the registrar, have complained about difficulties in taking CBT, but the reality is that the higher a student’s exposure to formal training in computer use, the higher his/her chances to have less stress with CBT.

It is instructive that countries cited for global best practices still allow traditional and computer-based tests to co-exist, in the interest of fairness and equal opportunity for all candidates. JAMB must not be allowed to dodge that compromise.

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