30 January 2013

Nigeria: CBT Has Come to Stay, Says JAMB Registrar

In the past, candidates used to wait for more than four months and crowd post offices and the offices of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) just to collect the result of the Universities Matriculation Examination (UME) and Monotechnics, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education Matriculation Examination (MPCE).

Several modifications and improvements by the examination body, as well as the merging of the two examinations into one- Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) - led to the release of the results after a week.

However, the ultimate objective of the body is to ensure that the results are released 30 minutes after the examination. This it intends to achieve with the introduction of Computer-based Testing (CBT), which would commenced this year, though partially, as it plans to begin full-scale CBT by 2015.

The Registrar, Prof. Dibu Ojerinde, was in Lagos last week to acquaint journalists of measures that the board has adopted to ensure the successful commencement and sustenance of CBT. He also explained some of the features of the new method to guard against examination malpractices.

On the rationale for introducing CBT, he said: "Whether we like it or not, the world is changing, technology is the answer, let us change otherwise we shall be forced to change."

He said the board decided to make CBT optional this year, with only 150,000 slots all over the country. "We don't want to rush to everyone doing it at the same time that is why we have optionalised it. This year, you can do Paper and Pencil Testing (PPT), which will come up on April 27, you can even do Dual-based Testing (DBT), which will also come up on April 27, but CBT will be conducted on April 25."

He refuted the claims that candidates in rural areas would be excluded with the CBT, saying: "Some people argued that people in the villages may not be able to do CBT and we ask them why, they said because they are not used to the computer, they have not seen computer before. As much as they can use their mobile phones, they should be able to do CBT. After all, they send text messages with their phones. All we are saying is 'these are the possible answers, pick the right one and you either press A or B or C or D as the case may be and when you finish, you can manoeuvre, you can go to the next one, you can even come back to the previous one."

Ojerinde maintained that the board will not compromise standards and would ensure the integrity of its questions. Though the questions would be sent to various CBT centres in all parts of the country, he said system was designed to protect the questions till they reach the candidate that would take the examination.

"We are sending our questions not by hand or by anyone, we are sending them straight from the JAMB Headquarters to the examination centres and it will get to its destination in seven minutes, but officials of the board have the receiver. However, the staff will not know the content of the question he/she is holding. Immediately the question comes, it will go straight to the terminals encrypted until it reaches the screen, it will not be decrypted.

Encrypted material from JAMB to wherever in the world until it reaches that candidate who is sitting before the computer that is when it will be decrypted. So even if it is intercepted, which is not likely, the material will be encrypted."

He said the board is also putting other undisclosed approaches in place. "We are doing everything humanly possible and using God as a support to secure the questions. Immediately the candidate finishes, when the time is off, the answers go back to the source and the questions follow, so even if you put on the system again, you will not find our questions there. Even from the server that our staff has with them, our questions are disappearing, even if they don't disappear, they are encrypted; in any case, they are disappearing. The answers will be sent to a central place and within five to 10 minutes, the responses are treated and sent back to the candidate's mobile phone. So the results will be received within 30 minutes."

Reacting to the reservation of some critics about using CBT for an examination as large as UTME, considering the problem of unstable power supply in the country, the JAMB boss said: "We will only accredit centres that have other sources of power apart from PHCN so that when one source goes off, there will be a backup. If you want to be accredited, there must be power supply, there must be UPS, which is a kind of back up, then there must be generators. However, the generators may also fail, the UPS may fail, so the system was developed in such a way that if there is a problem with a candidate's computer and the person had already spent some time, when the system is restored, the timer will start from where it stopped. If you want to log out for some time, you can also do that and continue from where you stopped when you return. There is also provision for navigation in that there are four subjects for each candidate, the candidate can navigate from one subject to another, even within subjects, you can navigate."

The registrar also commented on the alleged inability of some cyber cafes to register candidates, saying that those cafes might not have been accredited by the board to register candidates.

"We have already registered 1,000,100 candidates. This is January and we started late last year. Cyber cafes are accredited by us because of previous experiences, if you go to any cyber café, please ask if they have accreditation by JAMB and if they do, then there should be a code. If the cyber café is not registered, they will not be able to register the students. If you have no code, you cannot access our site to register.

"You know very well that it depends on the speed and the speed depends on the bandwidth. The speed at which you get the result depends on the bandwidth. Some people will wait till night when their narrow bandwidth will be free, but by then, the candidates will not be there, so they put in the wrong information for them. Some males will be registered as females while some names will be misspelt. The cyber cafes are part of our problem and we cannot do all the registrations on our own, we have to let them do it. And our bandwidth increases on demand. We are expecting about 500 to 700 more candidates so that we can reach the target of 1,500,000 candidates."

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