We are, again, approaching that time of the year when students in secondary schools begin to ponder over their educational future and the choices that lie ahead. They will assess their chances of continuing their education whether it is truly worth a bother despite the huge resources spent on creating new universities both by the public and private sectors.
There is no doubt that with our large youth population and the shortage of spaces in the ivory towers, entry into an institution of higher education is simply a game of chance. The process of gaining entry into any university in Nigeria is simply one of the most difficult one has ever come across. After sitting a multitude of exams, one is then subjected to the oddity of UTME.
If a student is fortunate to score a high mark, such can only be allowed to sit the university’s post UME of first choice. Why the bother to fill form for a second choice? In fact, the online portal will deny access to register for any UTME exam where the university is second choice. This simply shuts out so many students and further populates the streets. It is in effect a crude method of cleansing that results in the majority of students not having access to higher learning.
My proposal will be for UME to be a baseline test of aptitude and capacity for higher learning. A student should be given the choice and the opportunity to get her UME result sent to two universities without any of them having to be classified as first or second choice. The student should also have the choice to pursue admission into both universities after which the choice of where to go can come.
There has to be a distribution of power to our students and they must never be left stranded by the system we put in place. The plan ensures that students meet a certain standard of academic aptitude by sitting the UME but students also have the opportunity to apply to at least two schools (should be more) of their choice and to follow the process to a logical conclusion despite their application to other schools.
Universities therefore assume some form of autonomy as well in the admission process as they can make their own choices without having to consider which other schools the candidates have applied to; so they are making merit their watchword and not sentimental entrance decisions.
Now, JAMB has even made entry harder by insisting on a computer based test that will gradually be used to phase out written exams. We really are in a hurry to catch up with the world; however, to insist on the computer based test will again shut out so many that are already marginalised. The decline in standards cuts right across the country coupled with inadequate access to the use of technology in schools.
This means that we are setting up our children to fail entry to higher education. I can imagine the hues and cries when UME is written this year. So far, over a million have registered for a few thousand university slots. Only a third of them will gain entry. Imagine a student in Ganye, Otueke, Shinkafi village or Gandun Albasa waiting for electricity to power a computer to do an exam they have no way of passing because they were not taught how to use a computer or fill in their details adequately. These are certainly serious challenges.
However, it is commendable that JAMB as a government agency wants to introduce a new and more vibrant system, but the question is are we ready? Those in Lagos and the more developed regions might be ready but are the majority ready for this? The success of UME is usually reflected geographically in the sense that those students in the south west usually come out on top.
For the changes that JAMB wants to introduce, it would be wise to phase and scale up introduction of the computer-based test annually for the next five years so that those gaining entry into secondary school are, from inception, introduced to a system they will utilise five or six years down the line.
This way, both the paper-based and the computer based methods of assessments can go on hand-in-hand and incentives provided for applicants to choose the computer-based method by making it cheaper and the result either instant or at least faster. In summary, our method for university entry must be simplified to give each and every child equal access in order to build a greater nation.