I was invited by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) sometime ago to participate in a discussion on how to improve the university admission process in Nigeria. I couldn’t honor the invitation because of a schedule conflict. But here are the thoughts I would have shared if I had a chance to be at the discussion.
Nigeria’s education system is contemptuous of processes and obsessed with single-metric outcomes. That is why a brilliant, hardworking student who made consistently excellent grades in internal school exams but gotstumped in their final O-level exams doesn’t stand a chance against a bad or mediocre student who somehow did well in the final O-level exam. This fact distorts our appreciation of the true abilities of students.
At the moment, the most important criteria to adjudge students’ readiness for university education in Nigeria are grades from O-level exams and scores from the UTME. As I argued in a previous article, this is neither fair nor helpful.
So I am proposing a more process-driven alternative to adjudging student readiness for university education, and it’s a modified variant of the American system. It would be nice if student performance in the last three years of secondary school education is factored in admission decisions. That means senior secondary schools should have transcripts and Grade Point Averages. I am aware that some private secondary schools in Nigeria already do this, but this needs to be done nationwide.
To ensure the integrity of the process, at the end of every school term, secondary school principals should submit the records of student exams- from SS1 and SS3- to state ministries of education, the federal ministry of education (for federal secondary schools), and JAMB. At the end of three years, an academic transcript should be created with grade point averages for every student. There should beconcordance between the transcripts in state ministries of education (and the federal ministry of education for federal secondary schools) and the transcripts in JAMB’s record.
Senior secondary school transcripts should then be used as one of the criteria for admission into universities, polytechnics and other higher education institutions. There are many reasons why this is useful. One, it ensures that the hard work-or lack thereof-that students invest-or fail to invest- in their senior secondary school education has real consequence. As it is now, most people don’t even remember the grades they made in their secondary school days. (Although I graduated from university more than two decades ago, I remember the grades I made in all my courses).
Second, knowing that their grades are being recorded and archived for purposes of admission into higher education institutions will inspire students to take their studies more seriously. Right now many students have no real motivation to excel in internal continuous assessment tests and end-of-term exams because results from these tests and exams are transitory and of no momentous consequence. Of course, I am not denying that there are students who are motivated to excel in spite of the low stakes in these internal exams, but more will be if they know that the consequences of the tests go beyond their schools.
Third, it helps to lessen the outsized importance attached to high-stakes, make-or-break assessments like the Senior School Certificate Exams and the UTME. Plus, being examined and graded by people who didn’t teach you has its down side, which can be offset by the kind of coursework-based assessment system I’m proposing.
In any case, when the 6-3-3-4 system was inaugurated in the 1980s, we were told that internal, school-administered continuous assessment tests would constitute at least 40 percent of Senior School Certificate Exams. As far as I am aware, that hasn’t happened, and I don’t know why.
Fourth, a de-emphasis on exam-based learning and an incorporation of coursework-based assessment of students will bring our students’ qualifications in line with international best practices. Secondary school students in the US, for instance, are issued high school diplomas at the end of their study. They also have transcripts and GPAs for the purposes of university admission. Universities use this in addition to scores from standardized university entrance tests, recommendation letters from former teachers, and personal essays.
The UK has also been tweaking its secondary school education to make it sensitive to the demands of the times. It transitioned from GCE Ordinary Levelto the General Certificate of Secondary Education in 1988, and several reforms are still being proposed, including accepting science experiments in lieu of examination.
Finally, it gives university examination committees a broader view of candidates’ abilities and trajectories. A student with a superb secondary school transcript but a subpar SSCE result and a mediocre UTME score is probably the victim of disabling examination anxiety, that is, in the absence of other extenuating circumstances.
I know brilliant secondary school classmates who did poorly in the school certificate and university entrance exams because they were crippled by the dread of being graded by external examiners who didn’t teach or know them. Such students deserve an interview from admission committees, and the only way such students can be identified is if an internally administered coursework-based assessment system is instituted in secondary schools.
Like all solutions, this is isn’t foolproof. The first obvious problem is record keeping. The second is that some people can- and will- game the system. Teachers may be persuaded, coerced, or bribed to inflate grades if the grades are part of the criteria for university admission. But school certificate and UTME exams are also subject to abuse. There is no point giving examples of these abuses because everyone interested enough to read this article to this point knows what I am talking about.
Solutions are not abandoned because they are subject to abuse. Most importantly, giving this option a chance helps create a rich, diverse composite of criteria that can be used to determine the suitability of candidates for admission in universities, polytechnics and other higher education institutions in a fair, just, and equitable manner.