*says greatest challenge is examination malpractice
*hails Registrar for giving board new lease of life
Dr. Fabian Benjamin is the Head, Information and Media of the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) in this interesting and educative interview where AHMED DODO represented AUTHENTIC News Daily,; he explains some of the intrigues, achievements and challenges facing the topmost examination board in the country.
What are the new initiatives in JAMB?
If you look at what we are doing this year, starting from last year, as regards registration, we have put it into our scheme a process to have the profile and biometric data of every candidate. This means you must have a proper profile in our data; your name and every other relevant information about you. So that maybe in the next 10 years for any candidate who has applied and passed through JAMB, we will have his or her internal data. As a matter of fact we are about to go into partnership with the National Identification Management Commission (NIMC) so that we can streamline the data system in Nigeria. We have a lot of data at our disposal at the moment. For instance, we registered about 1.7 million candidates last year for UTME. So by the time you consistently put together these numbers you will discover that we have a large chunk of data at our disposal. We want to overhaul all the registration process so that at the touch of a button we have every data and information we need on a candidate for informed decision, planning and other necessary government actions.
Can you elaborate more on what is referred to as items in your tools?
You must have a lot of items for you to conduct proper Computer Based Test (CBT) examination, because you are carrying out an examination in session. This is unlike the (Paper Pencil Test (PPT); examination where you just conduct examinations in a day for everybody, you don’t need much questions to carry out such examinations, because everybody answers the same questions. But if you are conducting an answer that stretches into number of days, which means some candidates, will write before some others. So for us to avoid a situation whereby a candidate will write and later go and tell others we make sure that we have a lot questions in our item bags, categorized in the same level.
We have what we call an item bag that carries all the subjects. For example, subjects like physics; we may have like 40 million questions in physics so when candidates are sitting for exams in the morning you can for instance pull out 50 questions out from the pool for candidate A, you might have about 200 candidates writing the exam, so you just pull out 50 questions each for each candidate and throw them out after administering them. The same thing applies the next day, so that the candidate that wrote on Monday and the one that wrote on Friday both have different sets of questions.
Part of the first thing the new registrar did on assumption of office was to ensure that a lot items were developed. When we talk about Items development, I mean resource persons were brought from various tertiary institutions, the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education to develop these items and we put them in the bank pool for CBTs examinations.
Even though we have finished the 2017 examinations and planning towards the 2018 exams, I want to assure you that we have a lot of items on ground to conduct exams at any moment. In fact, if we are asked to conduct examination today we will not have any issue on items.
What will you list as part of the achievements of the new registrar?
One of his achievements is in the area of training and retraining of staff. This, the registrar takes very serious, particularly those carrying out examinations and desk development. We have a department called desk development where their responsibility is to develop these questions and management of these questions generally. He ensured that staff were exposed to new and trending processes of item development and relevant skills.
Again, apart from training, one of the other important aspects of his observations was the fact that before his coming, we were outsourcing some of the things we do in IT to consultants. And you cannot guarantee the sanctity of an examination when some of the core activity is in the hands of external bodies you cannot really vouch for. So what the new registrar did was to bring in some expect to train our staff in IT so that they can do most of those things we were initially spending billions of naira on. He developed internal capacity. As we speak today, the transmission of our examinations is being done internally now. And this was something we were previously spending huge amount of money to do. But now we are spending nearly a zero Naira.
He has also ensured that most of the examination processes are done internally. We now have what we call CAPS, Central Admission Processing System. The entire admission is done on CAPS. Previously what we do is to have an admission conference. We travel to certain location, we converge there and we do admission manually.
But he felt that no, this was not transparent enough. He was not satisfied. What of the candidate? How will he or she know or monitor what they wrote. So he initiated CAPS. By this, a candidate can also watch, monitor and track admission process and also know what they have scored. With this- candidates can now raise query if they feel not satisfied with what they scored based on any irregularities with admission in their place of choice. So the essence of CAPS is to ensure transparency, accountability and participation. The stakeholders participate, candidates participate, and everybody knows what is happening.
Why has the 120 cut-off points generated much issues?
You see we decided to pick the least perimeter, but that does not really mean if a candidate scores 120, he or she will get automatic admission. For instance, If a university has a cut-off point in chemistry for 120 and they don’t have any candidates scoring above 120 they can pick those with 120 but if it has programme to pick 50 candidates and you have 70 scoring 200 they won’t go and pick 120. They are definitely going to pick those with the highest cutoff points. If for instance in 100 candidates, 60 scored 200 and 40 scored 120, definitely they are going to pick those with 200 before picking those with 120. That is picking from the highest down to the least. So it is when in a situation whereby you don’t have any candidate scoring above 120 that you pick those with 120. So you can see that we did not make the 120 cut-off points as something sacrosanct or final point
What will you identify as the most singular achievement of the current registrar since assumption?
Transparency, he initiated transparency, he ensured that everybody is given equal opportunities. The other thing is examination. Overtime we have been having some numbers of issues and challenges, people were beginning to question the credibility of our examinations and he felt that was not good for our reputation. He felt we must restore the confidence of our stakeholders, and the only way you can do that is to improve on the sanctity of the examinations. This is part of the reasons why we introduced the CCTV camera in our exams hall to monitor the examination so that if any candidate is found cheating during or after the examinations we could easily detect this. This is also one of the innovations of the new registrar. The new registrar has improved the sanctity of JAMB examinations,
Can you enlighten us more on the popular revenue drive of the agency?
The board is not a revenue generating agency as such but at the same time we are contributing to the revenue drive of the nation. What we have decided to do is to say, look for over 39 years the board has not remitted more than 50 million Naira to the Federal Government. But within the first year of Professor Oloyede’s stewardship he has remitted 7.8 billion to the Federal Government coffers as surplus. We are not a revenue generating agency, but he felt that whatever is remaining is not his money, it belongs to the government, so he should give it back to the government.
So if you are not a revenue generating agency what happens to the money you collect for registration?
You see that money is amount we collect for services to be rendered. Just like if you hire a labourer to clear the bush in your farm, you are expected to pay him for service rendered, and you cannot say that is revenue. Mind you, the labourer might use that money to hire tools and other hands to clear the farm.
But JAMB is also a beneficiary of the Federal Government annual budget?
Yes, overtime the Federal Government pays our salaries of about two point something billion per annual, then capital budget. I think the highest we have received in recent times is not more than a hundred million. But what we have returned back is triple what the government has ever given us in a year. So you see the money we collect are for services we render in every examination we conduct. We spend this money to carry out various services with stakeholders, moderators, items banks; the computers we buy, the logistics and so many other things relating to our examinations. Government does not give us one Naira for the conduct of examinations.
Is it true that JAMB is moving out of Bwari Area Council because of the recent crisis in the area?
No, this issue of office started before the crisis and not the way people are interpreting it. We are looking at various options. One of the options is that we can reconstruct this office to make it more decent. The second option is that we are looking at what is obtainable in other climate. The fact is examinations bodies all over the world have standard office structures that are basically meant for the conduct of the administration of examinations. So we are looking at a place that is off the mark. Where our staff will have a serene environment to do their work effectively. That is; develope our items, manage our items and efficiently administer them. So we need such an office. You can see that our present office location is almost close to the market which is no longer conducive for our activities. So we are trying to see if we can have a secluded and conducive area just for the purpose of organizing and conducting sound examinations.
Another important factor is that Bwari is not connected to optic fiber. It stopped somewhere around Maitama or thereabout, and we need it in transmitting our exams effectively. What we use now in this place is the radio. We use the radio to transmit our data, which is not as reliable as the optic fiber which is much efficient in the internet thing. The radio has the tendency of being trapped. So we felt that it is no longer secure. Again, it will cost us more than 10 billion Naira to draw the optic fiber to Bwari. So the option is to spend more than 10 billion naira just to draw optic fiber to Bwari or to spend about 2 billion naira to own an office somewhere where we can access this service. So we thought the best option was to own an office somewhere closer to the optic fiber. So we are also looking at that as an option.
We learnt that staff are being paid promptly now during their official assignments unlike before?
Yes, what the present registrar does is that he says; look for your primary assignments I give you buck money. For example if you are entitled to certain amount of money he gives you more than the amount for the assignment, when you come back you retire what is left. So you see that his style is to empower the staff adequately to carry out his or her assignment effectively with enough fund and at the end you come back to retire to the board account.’’
What are some of your challenges?
Basically one of our greatest challenges is exams malpractice. Somehow we spend huge amount of money for innovation in order to curb exams malpractice. This is not peculiar to JAMB alone. Examination malpractice is a challenge peculiar to all examination boards globally. It is even worse in Indian, even in the UK, exams malpractice is a global phenomenon. For instance, to curb this malady we introduced the 10 fingers biometric, one of the new innovations to tackle exams malpractice. But we discovered that some dubious candidates sometimes try to beat this system by registering nine fingers and co-opt the tenth with the original candidate’s who is to seat for the exams, or sometimes they clone or share five fingers each to register. So you can see the challenge we are facing. As much as we try to innovate our system, they the bad guys are also trying to beat our system. Even the CCTV introduced was not left out. We have seen a situation whereby some criminal minded candidates covered the cameras with clothes so as not to transmit what was going on in the examination halls.
Apart from the malpractice, another challenge we face is the fact that we are conducting an important examinations that most people are always suspicious about what we are doing. The confidence is not always there. You know most Nigerians do tend to be suspicious of anything good on paper. They might see it as innovative but equally suspicious of its application. So building their confidence in what we do as been part of our challenges. But funnily, you see other nations coming to Nigeria to over study our system, because we are the highest examinations conducting board in the world. We sometimes do examinations for more than 1.7million candidates. This is something that is not happening anywhere in the world. Nigeria is the only country that organizes examinations for about 2 million candidates at a sitting. So you can see the huge challenges we are facing.
Again you will discover that parents also contribute to these malpractices. Some of them give their children money to go and influence these centres. So no matter how we innovate if we don’t have the full supports of Nigerians we would not succeed. So it’s important that they support what we are doing for the betterment of their children and the nation in general.
What is your final appeal to stakeholders in the country?
My appeal is that we should try to give education the attention that it deserves. Because upon all the challenges we are facing in this country if we get it right at the educational sector, we will defeat other challenges. If you talk about doctors or teachers not doing well at their place of assignments, it all boils down to the issue of quality education. Again, I want Nigerian to give us a benefit of doubt, let them believe in what we are doing. Let them believe in the system. Once the system is built on justice and equity.