We are now living in a dynamic society where information technology seems to be the viable catalyst of development and progress of any nation. Education still remains the best legacy to bequeath to both present and unborn generations and the need for government to invest in this often-neglected sector. The future of any country depends on the qualitative education of its youth, resource management, responsive governance and manpower development. It is a well-known fact that the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has dedicated over three decades of facilitating easy entry into higher institutions of learning in Nigeria but the examination body can still explore modern technologies to enhance its operations, especially in the areas of examinations; by embracing the computer-based system and ditch the age-long paper-based examination system for good. It is noteworthy to say that for over five years now, JAMB has computerized its activities in order to blend with the urgent demands of the 21st century in their registrations, form procurements and checking of examination results which has eventually motivated teeming candidates to develop keen interest in computer education as they flock to various computer centres and cyber cafes to check results and register for the matriculation exams through the purchase of scratch cards from selected banks and designated outlets. Even, those residing in the villages or far from the reach of computer centres/cyber cafes are willing to travel miles to see their results checked online. Let us go down the memory lane to x-ray the foundation of JAMB as one of the foremost examination bodies in Nigeria. The legal instrument that established the Board was promulgated by the Act (No. 2 of 1978) of the Federal Military Government on 13th February 1978. By August 1988, the Federal Executive Council amended Decree No. 2 of 1978. The amendments have since been codified into Decree No. 33 of 1989, which took effect from 7th December 1989. Decree No. 2 of 1978 (amended by Decree No. 33 of 1989) empowered the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board to: (a) Conduct Matriculation Examination for entry into all Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education (by whatever name called) in Nigeria (b) Appoint Examiners, Moderators, Invigilators, members of > the Subject Panels and committees and other persons with respect to matriculation examinations and any other matters incidental thereto or connected therewith. © Place suitably qualified candidates in the tertiary institutions after having taken into account: (i) The vacancies available in each tertiary institution (ii) The guidelines approved for each tertiary institution by its proprietors or other competent authorities (iii) The preference expressed or otherwise indicated by the candidates for certain tertiary institutions and courses (iv) Such other matters as the Board may be directed by the Honourable Minister to consider or the Board itself may consider appropriate in the circumstances. (d) Collate and disseminate information on all matters > relating to admissions into tertiary institutions or any other matter relevant to the discharge of functions of the board. (e) Carry out other activities as are necessary or expedient for the full discharge of all or any of the functions conferred on it under or pursuant to this Decree. Though researches have shown that some ‘techno-phobia’ people are uncomfortable with the prospect of taking a test on a computer and prefer the paper-based tests and they regarded the electronic item as being impersonal, even hostile in some cases but unarguably interactive. Despite all these criticisms, computers still provide a great advantage in scoring efficiency, especially when the test is composed in a multiple-choice format. Web-based examinations have several benefits over the paper-based type such as speedy release of results, systematic ability of placing grades in electronic format and costing less compared to paper-based system. The benefits of computerization to JAMB and to examination candidates all over Nigeria include the following: 1. A fairer, justified and transparent examination process to all stakeholders: JAMB, higher institutions and prospective students. 2. Total elimination of examination fraud, malpractices and the creation of a globally accepted quality assurance mark. 3. The ability to streamline the examination taken to the course being offered by the higher institution. 4. The prevention of the current regime of candidates having to sit further entrance exams (post-UME tests) at the point of registration in the universities, thereby removing the accompanied administrative bottlenecks. 5. Efficient and easier collation of results and ability to publish results in major national newspapers and also electronically through the candidate’s email address in order to prevent the unnecessary long wait and anxiety. 6. Lower operating costs after the initial investment in thin client and server technology 7.With a proven ability to conduct exams for tertiary institutions, the board can consider conducting and managing exams for other professional bodies such as banks, medicals, insurance companies, etc. In this era of globalization and environmental protection, computer-based exams will make use of little or zero papers thereby reducing paper waste or additional cost to recycle the used/marked examinations booklets. One advantage of computer testing is that tests may be structured according to the level of difficulty. A software program may be progressively structured so as to dispense first with the easiest questions before proceeding to more challenging ones. This saves on time, anxiety, and expense. Computer testing and scoring is particularly apt when the objective is to rank test takers as a percentile segment of a peer group population. The paradigm is useful also in study courses aimed at successful performance on required admission tests. Computer and software testing are sometimes found lacking in the area of navigation, the means by which the test taker moves through the test questions. It involves either keyboarding skills or the manipulation of electronic mouse devices, both of which operate at various levels of efficiency. It may be difficult for a person taking a test on a computer to move back and forth between questions and issues. On a paper examination, the test taker can peruse the entire section, or quickly return to a difficult question. So long as one is proficient in keyboarding, computer-based testing is a more convenient way to compose written responses. The computer also provides a great advantage in editing, since it is much easier to correct grammar, sentence structure, and spelling, as well as to move whole blocks of text. On paper, mistakes require erasures and smudging; these do not make a favorable impression on test scorers. The cursive, manual writing of essays or compositions can be a tedious and even painful process. Though some people say the slowness of the manual process allows for greater depth of thought, manual handwriting is irregular in appearance and may confound the reader while using a word processor to write an essay can be a much faster process. Nigeria as a country is blessed with abundant human and natural resources to finance computer-based matriculation examinations and join the league of advanced world in organizing high-tech examinations. Critics of this laudable project would always point to the hydra-headed monster called ‘power failure’ as a big cog in the wheel of progress that may ‘stillbirth’ the computer-based examinations but hope is not lost. The board conducts Matriculation Examination for entry into all Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education through paper based multiple-choice questions, which the enrolled candidates take at pre appointed time, and centers. The enrolment of the candidates is done electronically through an on-line candidate registration process referred to as “e-Registration”. Prior to the introduction of e-Registration, a candidate’s registration was a manual and cumbersome process. Prospective candidates had to make their way to the Board’s offices and some designated Banks for the sales of the documents across the country. The candidate then returned these application forms once completed to the National Headquarters of the Board through the sales outlets. The candidate’s registration for these examinations has advanced further than the actual conduct of the tests and there is a need to embrace the web-based tests with open arms. The conduct of paper-based multiple choice examination is plagued with multitude of inefficiencies and set-backs such as late distribution of the exam materials, logistics/planning for the exams, high cost of production, prone to damage or attacks while in transit, significant but avoidable delays in candidates receiving the examination results which could be emailed to them. Also, the candidates during the examination process are exposed to all the failings, for which paper based tests, are prone to; such as illegible prints/typo errors, inability to correct mistakes easily coupled with anxiety and psychological stress the candidate has to cope with during the examination process. It is also suggested that JAMB must also provide modern facilities and manpower to effectively assist in organizing training classes and mock examinations for the prospective candidates in major towns and cities of Nigeria in order to familiarize them with the web-based tests which will eventually build their confidence prior to the D-day. The issue of hacking the system by some unscrupulous Nigerians often called the ‘Yahoo boys’ may also fuel the setbacks for the programmes but as the proverb says, ‘Rome was not built in a day’, even the most secured organizations’ computers have been hacked many times, but with improved researches in software engineering, hacking shall be made history soon. At the beginning, JAMB as government-established body must ensure that during the crucial hours of the examinations, uninterrupted power supply is maintained or better still invest in heavy-duty generators to power the systems. We are now living in a knowledge-based society and technology would always play pivotal role for sustainable development since Nigeria as a giant of Africa and beacon of hope to entire Black race cannot and must not be left behind to wander in the wilderness of both technological and infrastructural ineptitude. Dare Lasisi is a freelance Nigerian journalist.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters