UTME Cut-Off Mark: Reward For Laziness - by Ololade Ajekigbe

I received the news about the decision of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board to reduce the cut-off mark for candidates seeking admission into Nigerian universities for degree programmes in the 2015/2016 academic session from 200 to 180 out of a possible 400 marks with some measure of puzzlement and amazement. I tried to find out what could have informed such a bizarre decision but could not really get any plausible explanation from all the news I read or heard. What is certain is that from October this year or thereabout when the next academic session would commence, schools are required to implement the new rule with regard to the admission of students.

One can only assume that the officials of JAMB were convinced that they were taking the right step to help a majority of the university hopefuls whose hopes are dashed perennially having failed to make the previous pass mark of 200. I unequivocally disagree with this point of view. In fact, I believe the education sector has just suffered a setback.

The increase in the failure rates in both the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination and Senior Secondary School examinations over the years most certainly calls for concern as well as a long lasting solution. An analysis of the results of the 2014 UTME shows that out of the 990,179 candidates who applied for the Pencil-Paper Test, 828,296 of them scored less than 200 which translates to about 83 per cent failure rate! The 2013 examinations were even worse as they were marred by widespread cheating in many centres. Fake answers were distributed to desperate candidates by scammers. Teachers, invigilators and even parents assisted candidates to cheat thereby resulting in mass failure, hence the introduction of the Computer Based Test in the 2015 examinations which has so far reportedly helped to reduce the incidence of examination fraud.

However, when a gathering of professors and “learned fellows” adjudge that the only way to better the lot of prospective undergraduates is by scaling down the pass mark into higher institutions, one cannot help but wonder what they hope to achieve and if they stopped to consider the long term implications of their decision. The Nigerian education system is in troubled waters no doubt, but lowering standards in the name of increasing candidates’ chances of gaining admission into higher institutions is not the way to go in reviving an ailing sector. The resolution reached may result in more candidates making the cut-off mark and eventually securing admission into a higher institution of learning, but it will also mean that we are encouraging mediocrity and a lassez-faire attitude to education in our future leaders.

Generally, the failure rate in schools and national examinations is not as a result of tougher examination questions, rather it is an aftermath of the poor quality of education which has been on a steady decline through the years. This should not surprise anyone who is domicilled in these climes. Our undergraduates spend more time at home than in school due to incessant lecturers’ strikes. Poor parenting and guidance, population explosion, indiscipline and inadequate funding in particular are also factors militating against the standard of education in Nigeria to the extent that the highest ranked university in the country occupies an unacceptable eighth position on the African continent.

Today, we have teachers and lecturers who have lost the zeal to impact knowledge in the pupils and students entrusted to them but rather are more interested in extorting students through the sale of compulsory handouts and textbooks. This has in turn resulted in our universities and polytechnics churning out half-baked graduates in the mould of mechanical engineers who cannot repair their own cars when it develops a fault and would rather patronise the roadside mechanic who never passed through the walls of a school, agricultural science graduates who cannot so much as cultivate maize all because somewhere along the line we stopped paying the required attention to a highly sensitive sector.

The decision of JAMB passes only one message across: We would rather lower the standards to accommodate mediocrity than tackle the root causes of the problem and achieve excellence. Already, the crops of young people we have now are more interested in the virtual world of social media than any activity that may involve critical thinking or studying. It is not uncommon to come across high school leavers, undergraduates and even graduates of reputable universities who cannot string a correct sentence together either in oral or written English.

While I was participating in the one-year compulsory National Youth Service Corps scheme, I remember being approached by a fellow youth corps member who asked me what “Maiden name” meant. We were in a banking hall where we had been given a form to fill as part of the requirements for opening an account where our monthly allowances were to be paid when she came across the field which required one’s mother’s maiden name to be filled in and she had absolutely no idea what it meant. I was taken aback that a university graduate had never heard or come across the term and wondered how she scaled through school. Now, that’s only one of several examples. I have since ceased to be amazed at any disappointing or below par display by any supposed graduate having come across many others.

By reducing the cut-off mark, JAMB is invariably giving a carte blanche for laziness and complacency. How are candidates supposed to be motivated to give their best when we are saying that a 45 per cent pass mark is good enough to gain entry into the highest level of the education? If candidates keep failing, do we continue to keep lowering the standard? At a time when the nation is supposed to be going through some positive changes in various sectors of the economy, the education sector being one of the key sectors that will ultimately define our future as a country surely shouldn’t be left out. Officials of the Federal Ministry of Education and by extension JAMB should be more proactive about putting pressure on the government of the day to increase the percentage of the budgetary allocation to education in the 2016 fiscal year with a view to providing adequate equipment and infrastructure in schools, as well as ensuring that lecturers are well paid, so that the incidence of strike actions can be a thing of the past rather than choosing the easy (but on the long run costly) way out.

Developed economies like the USA, China, Germany and Japan are driven by both prudent economic policies as well as technological innovations and inventions which their students are an integral part of. Students are supposed to be taught to be solution providers and not just consumers. This should be Nigeria’s goal if we intend to experience an upward mobility from our perpetual ranking as a Third World country anytime soon.