Wwjd: What Would Jamb Do?

The article borders on JAMB's best secret of marking/scoring formula which has not been known by the majority of its stakeholders.

The 'WWJD' as initialisms for 'What Would Jesus Do?' is credited to Charles Sheldon, a nineteenth-century Christian writer of the book entitled 'In His Steps.'This abbreviation is relevant to the modus operandi of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). After all, the examination body is also an 'almighty' of some sort, whose existence remains a mystery to candidates who remain at its mercy, even before the results are released.

This correlation is noteworthy, considering that the monumental success that the examination body has recorded in the last six years, under the headship of its incumbent Registrar, Professor Ishaq Oloyede, is akin to the impact Sheldon made in Christendom as well as the secular world in the shortest time possible - one week. Without mincing words, the giant strides of the examination body, in less than six years out of the 44years of its existence, are commendable for the umpteenth time. Yet, one question still appears to be begging for an answer, which might leave no room for further questions, given the abysmal performance of the candidates who sat the examination in 2021. 

The release of the 2021 results of the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) was greeted with an outcry from stakeholders, even candidates whose attitude in the classroom indicated that they had no inkling about the demands of the examination. If one form of examination malpractice or another had made a failure of such magnitude an impossibility, the majority of the candidates would have gone with their shoulders squared, backs arched, and heads raised high to give unsolicited information about their success in the examination -- scores brewed in the embers of examination frauds 'mandated' by struggling learners who think of money as a substitute for the 'rigor' which the pursuit of scholarship demands. These are 'hirelings' who find it torturous to give learning even an ounce of their attentiveness.  

The JAMB, reportedly, had never recorded as low as 004/400 or 008/400 in the history of its conduct of the examination until 2021. Oloyede pooh-poohed sentiments and struck in a way that shook and shocked stakeholders, though the sky did not fall. And to hint at the fact that he was unperturbed, he eventually told the world that parents and other stakeholders should feel worried if the results had been otherwise. Why? The pandemic outbreak was still ravaging the world. But who says crisis - or the fear of the unknown - cannot be a motivation to succeed? It can be, but more often than not, it is not the case? Unarguably, the pandemic was already in the middle of its outbreak. So, why not if not?

One thing which appeared to have escaped the gaze of the JAMB in the course of running its affairs was the two or three months of preparation for the examination, when there was no crisis or pandemic (between January and March of every year), was the same as when there was a crisis or pandemic (between March and May 2021). It would be recalled that the same quagmire in which the education sector was enmeshed even before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic is playing out currently. The Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike, and one cannot but ask, 'What Would JAMB Do?' That remains the sixty-four dollar question. The examination body had barely sold its e-forms for three weeks when the strike began. Even if the strike had not begun, it is doubtful that the JAMB would allow any barrier to stand in its way of making the billions of naira made from the sales of the form every year -and from the sale of a 'Life Changer' or a 'Sweet Sixteen' as a text seemingly an additional burden for students in a fast-paced world.

The ongoing strike commenced in February 2022 (on the 14th day, noted for excesses in the name of love - love misconstrued), the same month the last industrial action was canceled by the ASUU in 2021. The timeline of additional twelve weeks to the initial three months of the ongoing strike could be a way of giving hope amidst a hopeless situation. If the additional twelve weeks of the current strike by the ASUU was effected in May 2022, about one year to the commencement of another democratic dispensation, who dares to say that the protracted face-off by ASUU, which began with the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo and inherited by the late President Musa Yar'Adua, Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari would not continue in 2023, 2027 or 2031, with one bespectacled president or another?

In all of this, it is noteworthy that just as Charles Sheldon's 'WWJD' is not a rhetorical question, so is 'What Would JAMB Do?' Not many people appear to actually or fully know what the JAMB would do. Lest this unsavory situation should verge on speculations hinting at the 'your guess is as good as mine' idiosyncrasy, it becomes pivotal to delve into the two types of technology that constitute the modus operandi of the examination body, namely; examination (grading) technique and admission technique.

Regarding the former, the JAMB would deduct a seemingly insignificant fraction of marks as a penalty for wrong answers. It is assumed that wrong answers are a pointer to wild guessing. It is believed that taking an educated guess as art would most likely birth more right answers than wrong ones. So, there is a mark reduction for wrong answers. But it is not in the sense of negative marking as a system of deducting the number of wrong answers from that of the right ones. Although the examination body has struck the cord for the umpteenth time regarding its dissonance with negative marking in a sense earlier stated, the examination body's system of penalty for wild guessing is negative marking of some sort.

As revealed in E.O. Obe's 'Educational Testing in West Africa,' the ritual in such an examination as the UTME where JAMB keeps silent about guessing and the instruction to answer all questions is to deduct from the number of questions that a candidate gets right. This is done by using a simple mathematical notation of deducting the number of questions a candidate gets wrong from the number of questions he or she gets right, divided by n - 1, where 'n' stands for '4' as the number of options which each question comprises. 

But that is not the case if the spaces for the wrong answers are left 'unshaded.' It is noteworthy that why taking an educated guess appears to be a better option is that it could make a candidate obtain a score where unshaded answers would not guarantee any score. But what if even the guess does not result in an additional mark? The best course appears to be answering correctly as many questions as possible. If a candidate, for instance, answers about 35 out of 40 questions right, then five wrong or unshaded answers will not necessarily culminate in an abysmal performance. The same will be the case if a candidate answers right all or most of the high-scoring questions in a subject and ultimately answers, for instance, about 52 out of 60 questions.

There is an aspect of the examination/grading technique that still appears to be shrouded in mystery, even though it was revealed to prospective UTME (then UME) candidates at a conference held in Lagos in 2001. The then Registrar of the examination body, Professor Salim A. Bello, hinted at a system of a 'leveler' among candidates. He says that it is necessitated by the fact that a candidate obtains a high score does not necessarily mean that he or she would be the best student in the chosen course. This system, according to him, is informed by the assumption that a candidate can do well in any course, regardless of his or her area of specialization. 'By the time we compute the "overall mean" of the examination and the "mean" for each subject is taken into consideration, we arrive at a mean..'. The Registrar added that it is called 'normalization.'

As regards the admission technique, the National University Commission (NUC) remains unflinching regarding its policy of not admitting more than 30% of candidates who sit the examination in any given year, particularly as the number of candidates who write the examination every year runs to 1.6 million or more. The NUC says this even before candidates sit for the examination. This, however, does not mean that the universities would undermine the JAMB ritual of such admission criteria as merit (45%), catchment(35%), educationally less developed states (20%), and a discretionary system that affords admission slots for members of the university staff.

All hope seems not lost, as the policy of the 'new' Central Admission Processing System (CAPS) appears to guarantee a placement in a higher institution for candidates whose scores are too low to pursue their chosen course in a university of their choice. This appears to be consequent upon the vain plea by an erstwhile JAMB Registrar, Professor Salim Bello, about two decades ago that candidates choose a polytechnic or a college of education. A majority of the candidates appeared to have had a wrong mindset about admission to other higher institutions than universities.

As candidates are awaiting the results of this year's, like any other year's, examination, the JAMB may or may not make the results better than the previous year's, with the awareness that they (the results) must reflect the reality of the falling standard of education. But with the National Identification Number (NIN), which appears to have created a pathway to the extinction of examination malpractice, should candidates still be subjected to the 'backlash' of a grading system all in a bid to make results reflect the reality of the falling standard of education?

Even if this would be the norm, there is a set of candidates that is immune to this grading 'rigor.' The candidates are known as the 'outliers.' They are the candidates who would not be affected because they have obtained a grade so high that a reduction occasioned by the system of grading or the scoring formula would not culminate in a reduction of the mark which would negatively affect their score. For instance, a candidate who obtains 350 out of 400 after the scoring formula deprives him or she of about five or seven marks is undoubtedly an outlier. But that cannot be said of a candidate who obtains 201 out of 400. He might have originally scored 210. The ebb and flow of the grading system eventually make his or her grade lower. 

On the flip side, the argument that the examination body has been turned into a revenue-generating establishment is pronounced among its stakeholders. But that argument seems to hold no water against the backdrop that the JAMB, under the leadership of Professor Oloyede, has consistently assured stakeholders of and ensured a lower price for the sale of its e-forms (exam pin). One thing which still flabbergasts many is that the examination body, which reportedly, in its history, had never remitted more than three million nairas after deducting the cost of conducting the examination, now reportedly remits over N50 billion naira after deducting the cost of conducting the same examination, even in the face of the current economic recession. This argument, somewhat hilarious, verges on a 'JAMB question' for the JAMB, but not by the JAMB.

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