Experts’ verdict on computer-based test for UTME

Candidates writing the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination using the Computer-Based Test format

Candidates writing the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination using the Computer-Based Test format

There has been nationwide uproar against the varying challenges experienced by candidates in the just concluded computer-based test (CBT) mode of Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) recently conducted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). However, in view of calls by members of House of Representatives for JAMB to make CBT optional and revert to paper pencil test, UJUNWA ATUEYI sought the views of stakeholders on the pros and cons of CBT examination format.

• Concept eliminates exam malpratices
• Ensures sanity during conduct

The Computer-Based Test (CBT) system is an examination model of testing a large number of candidates who may not be geographically bound but are connected through a network of computers. The system was introduced a few years ago by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) under the leadership of Prof. Dibu Ojerinde in a bid to restore sanity, confidence, credibility and trust in a system that had begun to have serious image crisis.

Prior to its introduction, the board conducted its university entrance examination using the Paper-Pencil Test (PPT) format. After the CBT was introduced, it was made optional for candidates to choose between CBT and PPT until last year when the board made CBT compulsory for all candidates.

In the world over, examination remains one sure way of assessing and evaluating individual’s knowledge or proficiency. But in Nigeria, the growing incidence of examination malpractices has undermined the credibility, reliability and objectivity of this particular means of evaluating knowledge. It was the reason JAMB diversified its method of conducting its examination.

But the irregularities that trailed the 2016 conduct of the examination have caused many to question the readiness of the board for the process before it embarked on it. In fact, some group of candidates staged a protest to the Lagos State governor’s office and the State Assembly complex, Alausa, Ikeja, against what they termed a manipulation of the 2016 UTME. They also demanded the cancellation of the exams and the removal of JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ojerinde.

The House of Representatives, last Thursday, therefore advised JAMB to consider making its CBT optional to allow candidates choose either the CBT or PPT mode. The House also called on the Federal Ministry of Education to direct JAMB to reconsider its position on the CBT, noting that it was necessary to suspend the sole option of the CBT pending when the examination body is able to conduct the examination effectively.

A lawmaker (representing Lagos State PDP), Oghene Ego, said there was need for JAMB to revert to the PPT until the board was ready to conduct a hitch-free CBT. He argued that serious admission problem was already rocking the nation despite the fact that JAMB receives huge allocation from Federal Government yearly, adding, “Majority of the children do not gain admission either because of the technical hitches of the CBT or the Post-UTME introduced by various tertiary institutions”.

However, some stakeholders who spoke with The Guardian on the issue said CBT has come to stay and for good. They argued that it should be reconditioned for better results.

A lecturer at Kogi State University, Anyigba, Mr. Bernard Anthony, considered Ego’s position a misplaced aspersion. According to him, “CBT was introduced when the image of JAMB was plummeting, when the credibility of JAMB scores was highly in doubt. I have been teaching for close to a decade now and I can categorically tell you the quality of students admitted through CBT are better than those admitted through PPT. PPT method was fraught with fraud and at the end of the day, those who used their heads to write the exams scored less, and this promoted mediocrity within the university system. Disappointingly, tomorrow, lecturers will be blamed for churning out half-baked graduates. The truth is that the PPT model allows half-baked students to be admitted, as quality control of exam is greatly undermined through this method”.

Anthony recalled that Kogi State University had since introduced CBT into her system long before JAMB launched hers, noting, “Kogi State University, having realised the objectivity in CBT examination, has introduced CBT into the university system, as Post-UTME and GST examinations which are compulsory for all students, are computer-based.

“How can a lawmaker argue that CBT put rural dwellers at a disadvantage? Is it the responsibility of JAMB to provide electricity and computer training centres for rural people? More so, can the National Assembly, for instance, regulate the entry requirements to foreign universities in the United States of America or Canada where even as Anglophone nation, we are required to write their home-based examinations such as TOFEL, GRE and these exams are computer-based?”

He further argued that at this point in time, what Nigerians should be thinking about is how to make JAMB CBT more effective and efficient. “Let our lawmakers concentrate on better issues that will put government on its toes. Let them rather invest their energies and intellect on issues that will push this country forward instead of dissipating energies on issues that will take us many decades behind. Yes, going back to PPT will take us many decades behind” Bernard stressed.

Other observers are of the opinion that JAMB’s preference for CBT over the PPT is not a futile exercise, but that what government should do is tackle issues of CBT infrastructure, content and capacity otherwise the challenged may persist.
WHILE analysing the identified challenges, Chairman, Mobile Software Solutions Limited, Mr. Chris Uwaje, said, “In the electronic world, you have all these essential component levels to ensure that the content can be delivered. From what I heard and read from the dailies, it is not about CBT. It is about how CBT is delivered within a given infrastructure, within a given expertise of domain and within a given climate of practitioners who deliver those services to the clients.

“You might have the best car but may not have a good driver. So the question is, who are the software expertise that are within this environment that can link the servers to the clients at the other end and make sure that we have administrators that don’t allow it to breakdown?

He continued, “We shouldn’t be too sentimental about the CBT issue. It is not a rocket science. I’m talking to you on the cellphone because we are going through a network and there is a multitude of skills that enables this network to be put in place for us to talk. When it comes to the content mapping, also called data, there is also another level of competence of professionals who are at the other end to put it together.

“Policy and leadership issues are what I think have failed here because if JAMB knows the right policy, they know that their job is not to deliver CBT in terms of conceptual technology base. It is for them to lay down the standard and policy and give it to a third party agent who delivers the infrastructure and make it work; that is the way it is done in the developed world”.

Moving forward, Uwaje, recently appointed Chairman, Africa for the World Forum for Internet of Things (IOTS), advised, “to get it right with CBT, it requires security outsourcing, infrastructure outsourcing and expertise outsourcing. Where you know there would be constraint, you do constraints’ mapping in terms of where the connectivity is not reaching. Then you can do a centralised zone where you can even bus the candidates to 10 or 20 kilometres with an efficient system that can take them to exam hall and bring them back, because your connectivity reach in those rural areas probably is not strong enough with signals to access the internet.

“Then the forth dimension is the local gateway. Most of what is being accessed from the internet by these kids are hosted in servers outside the country. So, they have to go through those countries before they can be served in the platforms where they are. So there is a myriad of problems, although it is not a rocket science, it can easily be assessed and diagnosed by professionals.

“So if you have that infrastructure problem, and leadership and policies cannot deliver them in a systematic way, then of course, questions will arise. But that should not lead to abandoning CBT. Going back on CBT would elongate our time sequence of catching up with the innovation, because you cannot abandon it forever.”

Rather than going back to PPT, the legislature and authorities of JAMB, Uwaje suggested, could involve professionals to recondition CBT, because it is an innovation Nigeria must embrace.

He further stressed that the process also involves systematic approach that would ensure that data could be hosted locally at the data centres. According to him, “When you do that the latency of data travel becomes more efficient because you are not fetching from outside the country; you are fetching them from local servers that are efficient. At the end the possibility of data breaking is reduced and quality of data that is served is enhanced and then the system, infrastructure would be more stable. What caused the problem is instability of infrastructure because of configuration, hosting and because of the people who man them.

“What is happening to CBT is exactly what happened to card reader at the election, where you had non-professionals who were commissioned to run card readers as technology for election purposes. So these are issues to be looked into. If there is policy direction; yes, CBT can happen. But then it must be manned by professionals, certified people must come forward to perfect this new innovation. So CBT must go on, but you must address the challenges using the professionals”.

On his part, Emmanuel Nathan Oguche, a public commentator and media professional, said when choices are being made, the pros and cons of all alternatives must be adequately considered. He noted, “In my opinion, JAMB CBT is a permanent solution to diverse problems associated with the old paradigm. I am a product of PPT model of JAMB and it was characterised by high level of unwholesome irregularities, administrative snags, towering costs and the unfortunate, despicable loss of credibility of test scores as a result of examination malpractices.

“The condition in which examination was conducted during our time cannot be said to be an ideal exam condition and it was not the making of candidates. The environment was crowded, unsecured and noisy. There was impersonation, stealing of question papers, obstruction of supervision. Those whose opinions are in favour of PPT should re-examine their position. The scores of CBT are far more credible than those of PPT. I don’t even see reason why we should compare the two models. There may be some technical hiccups on the side of JAMB, no doubt, but we should not sacrifice long term benefits for temporary but surmountable challenges”.

“The Federal Government should support JAMB to create at least one CBT centre in each of the 109 Senatorial Districts in Nigeria. Let the critiques lend their voices to this genuine cause and remind government of its responsibility of creating an enabling environment for JAMB to discharge its mandate creditably. CBT is an idea whose time has come and sliding back to embrace the old model of Paper Pencil Test is akin to cowardly allowing evil to prevail over good because we lack the psychological and physical ointment that will make the good to thrive.”

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