When the Joint Admissions and Matriculations Board (JAMB) mulled the idea of migrating from Paper Pencil Test (PPT) to Computer-Based Test (CBT) six years ago, the proposal then elicited some apprehensions.
In spite of the widespread reservations about the proposal, JAMB has consistently emphasised that CBT would engender a seamless conduct of the Unified Tertiary Education Matriculation Examination (UMTE).
The Registrar of JAMB, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, cited security challenges, high cost of producing writing materials for paper-based tests, high cost of transporting materials and curbing examining examination malpractices as some of the reasons behind the adoption of CBT.
In 2015, however, JAMB fully used CBT for the conduct of UMTE across the country between March 10 and March 21 and the experiment generated concerns as well as applause from the citizens.
No fewer than 1.4 million candidates sat for the examination, which was held in over 400 centres across the country and in seven overseas countries.
Those, who argue in favour of CBT, insist that Nigeria cannot afford to lag behind in the digital world of the 21st century, while critics argue that efforts to educate candidates, who are not tech-savvy or computer-literate, have been inadequate.
They contend that the adoption of CBT places candidates in the rural areas, with limited access to computers and internet facilities, at a gross disadvantage.
The critics insist that the CBT is still far from being seamless, as server/network problems, delayed receipt of results and placement of candidates at faraway centres or at centres, which they did not choose in the first instance, still marred it.
An educationist, Mr Goody Njoku, said that many brilliant candidates, who had yet to be computer literate, were denied the opportunity of making good scores in the exam.
Nevertheless, Njoku conceded that CBT would expedite efforts of students to acquire computer skills since they were left with no other option.
“Even in the recently concluded CBT, many candidates had to engage in crash computer lessons in order to be able to write the exam.
“With the trend, you will find out that only few candidates will be lacking in computer skills by the next UMTE; hence, we are building a digital generation in tandem with global trends,’’ he said.
A candidate, Innocent Prince, said that the CBT was easy, as it only entailed clicking on the right answers.
He said that the CBT was commendable because it reduced the stress of paper writing, adding that it would also encourage future candidates to upgrade their computer skills.
“JAMB should, however, work on how to facilitate the provision of computer and internet facilities across the country, while reducing the distance which a candidate has to travel to get to his or her centre,’’ he said.
Another candidate, Faith Onu, said that she found the CBT easier than envisaged when she got into exam hall, adding that her only problem was that her centre was very far from where she lived.
She said that any candidate with basic computer knowledge could write the exam without much difficulty.
On his part, the JAMB registrar said that he was impressed with the performance of the CBT.
He said that no fewer than 192 visually impaired candidates wrote the computer-based UTME.
Ojerinde said that the candidates wrote the exam using the “BrailleNote Apex’’, a special machine which enabled visually impaired persons to read and answer questions via voice or Braille.
“We had 192 visually impaired candidates nationwide but the concentration was in Lagos.
“We had no fewer than 15 of them in Abuja. That was the first of its kind in this part of the world,’’ he added.
Ojerinde stressed that the results so far indicated that candidates performed better in CBT than in paper-based test or PPT.
He said that more centres would soon be established, adding that the Federal Government had directed that eight new centres should be set up across the country, while four of them would be completed this year.
He said that each of the eight centres would be equipped with 270 computers, adding that the southern and northern parts of the country would get four centres each.
Ojerinde recalled that on the first day of the examination, majority of the candidates got their results before the end of the day.
“In the final analysis, CBT is cost-effective. The process is going to be cheaper with time but now, it is capital intensive. Once we have all the computer systems, in the next 10 to 15 years, nobody would be complaining.
“In security-prone areas, of course, we got a report from Yobe State that the examination went on smoothly.
“It is the same for Yola in Adamawa State and Maiduguri in Borno State.
“However, if we had limited ourselves, using pick-ups vans to carry things up and down, we would have been in trouble, as this could have posed some security threats to us.
“With the CBT arrangement, the questions go straight into the centre portal system and nobody knows when it gets in or out,” he said.
He, however, recalled that the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East geo-political zone caused about 20 per cent decline in candidates’ registration for the 2015 exam.
Ojerinde said that a total number of 1,475,477 candidates applied for the 2015 UTME.
“In the last UTME conducted in 2014, a total of 1,632,172 candidates registered for the exam.
“The figure for the 2015 UTME shows a decrease of 156, 695 applicants, when compared with last year’s figure,’’ he said.
The JAMB boss said that the examination was held in 400 centres across the country and seven foreign centres.
He listed the foreign centres as Accra in Ghana; Buea in Cameroon; Cotonou in Benin Republic; London in UK; Jeddah in Saudi-Arabia; Johannesburg in South Africa and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
Also speaking, the Minister of Education, Malam Ibrahim Skekarau, said that he was quite impressed with what he saw, adding that he was confident that the challenges encountered in the first CBT would be addressed in subsequent editions.
He said that efforts would be made to reduce the number of days earmarked for the examination in subsequent years.
“The most important thing is that we are catching up with modernity; we are catching up with new technology, particularly with regard to the blind candidates who we saw. It is the first of its kind in Africa.
“Another advantage is that if you miss your exam you can come over the next day for it and there is no room for exam malpractice.
“The JAMB CBT centre at Kogo, Bwari, is world-class; every state and every local government area will have that kind of centre in years to come,’’ he said.
Skekarau described the CBT as a good innovation in the nation, saying that the Federal Government had started studying all the challenges facing the CBT in 2014.
“We have directed all the state commissioners to go out on behalf of Federal Ministry of Education and JAMB to collate nationwide assessments of the CBT because education is everybody’s business.
“What the committee is doing is to collate all the happenings on this new system and let’s see the level of problems we have.
“We did not receive any serious complaint; we have more than 80 per cent success,” he said.
Shekarau stated that the Federal Ministry of Education was waiting for the final collation of all the results by various committees before assessing it and advising JAMB on how to improve upon the achievements recorded so far.
“That’s the main purpose of the committee; it is to address issues that are likely to crop up and assure Nigerians that we are not just throwing a new thing to the street. We are ready to listen to the complaints,’’ the minister said.
“With time, the target is that every state will have CBT centres; this is really compelling and it will further expose our students to the new technology,” he added.
Education stakeholders are of the view that JAMB’s CBT should be sustained and extended to every other examination in the country.
They insist that its advantages far outweigh its disadvantages as Nigeria strives to remain relevant in the Information Communication Technology-based 21st century civilisation.
Okoronkwo, writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)