1.4 million students sit university entrance exam online
The new online exam is a revolutionary departure from the paper-pencil test and dual-based test of before. Of course, the innovation was introduced with some glitches as well as advantages, but Nigerians have by and large accepted the computer-based exam.
A few years ago Dibu Ojerinde, registrar and chief executive of JAMB and a professor of tests and management, submitted to the board a technical paper proposing e-examinations for candidates seeking admission to all tertiary institutions.
The idea was for e-tests to take place in selected, dedicated ICT centres around the country which would have to have efficient internet connectivity, dedicated generators to ensure uninterrupted power supply, and certified ICT technicians or engineers to run them.
JAMB spent two years educating prospective candidates in secondary schools on how to participate in the online tests – for a start, all candidates had to learn how to use a computer.
Ojerinde described the new online entrance tests as a reflection of JAMB’s “desire to transform our educational system starting with the conduct of public examinations".
“This system was thought out as the only way, for now, that can address the challenges of examination malpractices such as impersonation and other ills associated with public examinations,” he said, adding that the new system also obliged schools to implement information technology – a step in the direction of global best practice.
This year’s common entrance examination took place in about 400 ICT centres across Nigeria. According to reliable sources, the government is building about 774 centres to handle future examinations.
Beforehand, each candidate was registered on the JAMB website. Students integrated all their details through a PIN number purchased in banks, which gave them JAMB’s customised compact disc containing all the information needed before writing the entrance tests.
The agency gave all registered candidates a biometric card with salient information, and biometric verification machines were used to read the cards and ensure there was no impersonation. At each ICT centre, the exam timetable was divided into three to accommodate all candidates, who had a maximum of three hours to complete the tests.
The computer-based tests have immense advantages, such as no more spending on tons of paper and transporting exam papers across the country, as well as to centres elsewhere in Africa and the Middle East.
The test questions were sent to the ICT centres via JAMB’s servers. Within 12 hours all candidates had sat the e-examination and within 24 hours most results had been sent to the e-mail addresses of candidates.
There were genuine complaints by some candidates.
According to the influential The Guardian newspaper, in a few centres the exams did not start on time as a result of temporary failure of servers. Some data capturing machines failed to recognise the biometric cards, although this thorny problem was quickly resolved by JAMB having recourse to an official comprehensive database.
Some candidates were not accredited because their data went astray. Also, people who registered in ICT centres not accredited by JAMB could not access the exam website because it could not recognise their PIN Codes.
“The implication is that there is no way these affected candidates can sit for the examination. Their data is not in the organisation’s server,” said Bola Elushade, a JAMB zonal director.
“The difference between the original and the fake e-slip is that if you have the original the serial number must appear on the slip; if this is not the case the slip is fake.”
Physically impaired candidates were catered for. Sophisticated Briallenote Apex – refreshable Braille display gadgets – were provided for 150 candidates. “This is the first of its kind in the world,” declared Ibrahim Shekarau, the Federal Minister of Education.
In his assessment of the first computer-based tests, Ojerinde was confident and emphatic: “As we all know, the start of everything is always the most difficult.”
After conducting online tests for more than 1.4 million candidates for the first time, and having them applauded as successful by most stakeholders, “subsequent years will definitely be an easier task. We have trained our staff, which means we have the technical know-how to sustain it,” he added.
In the midst of this success story, there looms in the background a fundamental difficulty that must be tackled by all layers of the Nigerian government, which needs to fund and deliver a massive literacy campaign for about 62 million Nigerians who cannot read and write.
“If the State does not undertake this imperative project, we shall be dealing sooner or later with what Charles Dickens called A Tale of Two Cities. Nigeria has the resources to cater for those who cannot read and write. Among them are potential scientists and writers,” said Dr Wale Suenu of the department of history at Lagos State University.