Friday, May 24, 2024

UTME: Candidates, educators blame poor infrastructure, technological woes for mass failure

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For many young Nigerians fresh out of secondary school, their prospects for entrance into tertiary institutions hang on their performance in their Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination, however, parents, students and educator are blaming the roles played by failed computer systems, power outages and poor Internet connections, VICTOR AYENI writes

On April 19, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board commenced its 2024 Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination in 774 centres nationwide, following months of preparations.

For millions of young citizens, the UTME serves as a crucial gateway to higher education. The results of this examination are a key determinant of whether candidates will be admitted to a university, polytechnic, or college of education.

This year, a total of 1.9 million candidates registered for the examination, which ended on April 29.

In 2013, JAMB introduced computer-based testing across the country and since then, the method has become popular as an efficient and sufficient method of administering examinations.

While the examination was being conducted last month, reports emerged that some centres had faulty computers which delayed the commencement and interrupted the efficiency of the exercise.

“The computers are not working properly. It shouldn’t be an accredited centre. Candidates for the first set (7 am) were not able to sit for the exam. The second set (9 am) has yet to sit for the exam by 11:30 am,” a sister to one of the JAMB candidates in Lagos told The PUNCH.

After monitoring the exercise in Kogo-Bwari, Abuja, the Registrar of JAMB, Prof Ishaq Oloyede, noted that some centres would be marred with failure due to the level of development in different parts of the country.

He said, “I have heard of only one centre that has failed today. By the end of today, I expect about 10 per cent of the centres to have one problem or the other because we know the level of development in different parts of the country.

“We are not encouraging this, but when it happens, please do not disrupt others. It is important to note that when a session fails because of a problem, you cannot bring those candidates to do session two, they will have to step aside, and the headquarters will have to be contacted.”

The registrar said the earliest time they could be scheduled would be after 4:30 pm so that those slated for sections two and three could take the exam.

76 per cent failure

On April 29, the UTME results released by JAMB showed that 76 per cent of the 1,842,464 candidates scored less than 200.

Giving a breakdown of the results of the candidates released, Oloyede at a press conference held in Bwari, Abuja, on Monday said, “Out of a total of 1,989,668 registered candidates, 80,810 were absent. A total of 1,904,189 sat the UTME within the six days of the examination.

“8,401 candidates scored 300 and above; 77,070 scored 250 and above; 439,974 scored 200 and above while 1,402,490 scored below 200.”

Over the years, the benchmark for admissions to universities has ranged from 140 to 200.

Oloyede noted that while the results of a total of 1,842,464 candidates had been released, the examination body withheld the results of 64,624 candidates for possible infractions.

The board is expected to announce the minimum benchmark for the 2024/2025 academic session admissions during its policy meeting to be held at a later date.

However, the registrar added that only 25 of 9,156 examination sessions experienced technical glitches, which disrupted 150 sessions in 95 of the 774 centres.

“The affected sessions were promptly rescheduled. Only one centre, Makama School of Technology, Old Motor Park, along FCCE (T) Road, Bichi, Kano State, was delisted for substandard performance,” he added.

Parents, candidates lament failed systems

However, many parents on social media have blamed the less stellar performance of their children in the latest UTME on technical glitches.

In a private Facebook group named Concerned Parents and Educators Network, monitored by our correspondent, parents claimed that technical difficulties such as computer malfunctions, poor Internet connections, and power outages led to candidates scoring below their capabilities in the UTME.

Sharing her son’s experience, one of the parents, Nnorom Uchenna, wrote, “My son’s system went off midway into Chemistry and the invigilator ignored him and it never came on. But (we are) grateful to God, he had 233.”

Another parent, Ruth Ekebafe, stated, “My daughter said her system failed but later came up. She tried her best and she scored 251. She’s been crying since JAMB has dealt with her and quashed her chance of studying her desired course. I’ve been consoling her since.

“I told her to give thanks to God in all situations. She can go for an alternative course if that’s the wish of God. They are twins. Her twin sister now scored higher. Meanwhile, she’s more brilliant.”

Another member of the group, Mr Abimbola Adebiyi wrote, “My son told me that all their systems shut down 30 minutes to the end of the examination. He said that he was thrown off balance and that the questions he knew the answers to just went away. It took him time to adjust.”

In his response, another parent, Mr Ajomale Wole, described the examination body as a “fraud,” stating that the young students were angry at the system put in place by the country due to some centres that lacked the necessary facilities.

He stated, “What was the situation of these candidates when taking the said exams? JAMB is (a) fraud! The young ones are so angry with the system.

“Centres with no standby generator, laptops and desktops not functioning well and internet connectivity messing up the exam process for the candidates. Most of the candidates are so embittered and annoyed with their country Nigeria!”

Narrating her daughter’s frustrating experience during the JAMB mock examination, Adewale Ajayi, wrote, “My daughter’s centre for mock was a terrible experience of this system failure. All candidates slated for 9 am couldn’t take the exam due to network issues.

“Candidates and parents were there from the stipulated time till 6:30 pm and nothing was done. When the JAMB officials came around 6 pm all they said was, ‘We are sorry, candidates affected will be reached out to for a refund or reschedule to write the mock exam.’ Nothing was heard till now.

“Thank God she had a better centre and perfect Internet system for the real exam and did well. So I can imagine the frustration this can bring to any candidate who falls in this category during the real examination.”

Confirming the system malfunction in her centre in Lagos, a UTME candidate who pleaded anonymity told our correspondent that at a centre in Ikotun where she sat for the examination, the commencement was delayed due to power failure.

“My centre was in Ikotun and when we were about to start our computers went off. It didn’t come on for more than an hour, we all had to wait that morning as the centre had to look for a generator. I was not myself again by the time we started the exam, I had forgotten some stuff,” the source said.

Another candidate in Ogun State who declined to give her name said her centre initially had issues with the system but this changed later on in the exercise.

“When we started the exercise, the system I was using went off like twice but they fixed it,” she stated.

However, another UTME candidate who gave his name only as Gospel told our correspondent that the exercise went smoothly at the centre in Ogba, Lagos, where he sat for the examination.

JAMB mum as educators differ

In a chat with our correspondent, an educator, Mrs Ayobami Ajimobi, faulted the idealistic situation that is assumed in the planning of tertiary examinations.

“We lack the infrastructure support that we require; there is no consistent power supply and no reliable Internet connection and we can say the system and the government have failed. It ultimately comes down to the agony that we all endure: inadequate power source.

“These children have been let down by the system but they deserve better. While it’s true that Generation Z has its moral deficiencies, ultimately the system has failed them,” she said.

Corroborating Ajimobi, another educator, Haneefa Badru, noted that the underperformance of 76 per cent of the candidates showed that the system was failing.

“I see a lot of people placing the blame of this JAMB mass failure on the kids but a system where 76 per cent of students are performing below expectations is a failing system. There needs to be a thorough investigation into why this is happening and how to mitigate the problem.

“When you find this kind of failure in an examination, it is a testament to the collective failure of parents, schools and government institutions. The problem is the system. We need a review of our educational system,” he added.

Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, an educator, Abiodun Fashina, explained that when examination candidates are subjected to pressures mounted by malfunction of computer systems or an unconducive environment, it generates anxiety and this could affect their performance.

Fashina said, “When your system shuts down for an extended period before, during or after an examination, there is a need for the body and those in charge of the centres to address the complaints immediately.

“Some of these centres are not well equipped, and then we all know the energy problem in our country. When candidates are put under unnecessary pressure or their exam environment is unconducive, it leads to anxiety in these children. Some of them in the rural areas are not that conversant with the use of systems; when the system they are using for CBT then trips off, you can imagine how that adds to their anxiety and sets them up for failure.”

Also speaking, a teacher , Jamiu Ibrahim, stated that the UTME examination was a summative assessment and as such evaluated students regardless of whether they had met its objectives or not.

He added, “In the case of JAMB, the UTME exam is a high-stakes summative assessment that determines admission into Nigerian universities. It is used to evaluate students’ knowledge, skills, and abilities at the end of their secondary education and determine their readiness for tertiary education.

“Formative assessments, on the other hand, are used to monitor student progress and provide feedback during the learning process. They are typically low-stakes and are used to inform instruction and adjust teaching strategies.”

He further stated that the UTME “is used for placement because it’s a form of placement evaluation”.

“If students fail the examination, the evaluation agency is not to be blamed because their questions are standardised,” he added.

When contacted, JAMB’s Public Relations Officer, Dr Fabian Benjamin, said he had no response to the claims of technical glitches and poor internet connection made by parents and candidates.

“I have no response to this,” he told our correspondent during a phone call.

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