Considered an innovation in Nigeria, the biometric verification mode adopted by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) to ward off cheats and eliminate examination malpractice at the just-concluded Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) has again brought up the system for scrutiny as students and parents cry blue murder, writes Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal.
The notoriety of examination malpractice in what is now known as Nigeria began in 1914 during the Senior Cambridge Local Examination papers which were leaked before the scheduled date of examination. Since then the art and science of cheating in examinations have gone from the sublime to the outrageous - from "mere" 'girrafing' to impersonation. Many exams in the country have been subjected to the menace and one of the worst-hit by examination malpractice is the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board.
A one-of-a-kind examination body in the country, JAMB had a breakthrough when it launched the Biometric Capturing System (BCS) for the UTME. The system was designed to deal with the menace of impersonation and other examination malpractice using biometrics fingerprints capturing.
Over the years the system has steadily reduced cheating before, during and after the examination to the admiration of many honest-hearted Nigerians and to the consternation of many cheats - which include students, parents, guardians, invigilators, and some JAMB officials.
With the UTME being conducted nationwide there have been outcry by some students and their parents that they have been disqualified by the new system coupled with poor network for Computer Bases Test (CBT) to sit this month's examination which came on the heels of the news that a man who claimed to be a professor, Jide Jisus, was arrested for malpractice.
"His identity was shrouded in dubious tales. He claimed during interrogation that he was one of the professors selected by the Board to oversee the conduct of the 2019 UTME," the spokesman for JAMB, Fabian Benjamin said in a statement.
"He also claimed that he was awarded a professorial position by Christian University, Isolo in Lagos and that he had two professorial awards from 'Becket' University England and Freedom University. He similarly claimed to be a staff of Anchor Polytechnic, Kubwa, Abuja, an institution that does not exist. However, it was discovered that he had a daughter who was sitting the 2019 UTME in the same centre where he was caught."
Beyond that seeming isolated situation, some of the candidates complained about the verification snag they experienced.
"I have been trying to thumbprint after my examination, but my profile is not coming up. I have been here since 10 am. I have washed and also cleaned my hand, but it is still not working. I hope JAMB will be able to rectify it," Nedochianya Okoli had said. Karl-mom Goong, another candidate explained his predicament thus: "The officials were strict. They asked us not to come with any writing material, which I adhered to. On getting to the examination hall, they gave me a working sheet without a pencil. So, I was unable to solve equations in Physics and Chemistry."
Azumi Garba, a parent, also expressed her frustration: "My daughter did not go with a pencil and could not solve her equations. I am not happy with this. She said she has hope in English but lacks hope in Physics, Chemistry and Biology. They should provide pencils or allow them to go in with pencils and pen."
In other instances, the complaints bordered on the slowness of the computers used for the exam.
One Fatima Balogun was denied access to sit for the examination because the biometric verification system failed to recognise her fingerprints. The distraught young lady said: "The machine recognised my fingerprint when I registered, but now it did not. I don't know what caused it. I don't know what to do."
If the fingers are dirty, it can be difficult for the system to validate fingerprints. Another problem can be from the server.
But JAMB does not think those are issues to lose sleep over.
"Those are antics of the candidates claiming they have biometric problems and we are watching closely. How will you thumbprint when going in and you cannot thumbprint on your way out? We will address all the issues," Benjamin argued, adding, "we are not supposed to provide pencils, and if you come with suspicious pencils, we are not supposed to allow you to go in with them."
JAMB is willing though to bend a bit backward to resolve genuine cases of exam candidates who were unable to sit for the examination as media reports suggested that the candidates were given forms to fill to reschedule their examination.
The board had previously scheduled some 20 candidates with similar issues to sit for the examination at its headquarters in Abuja.
At Dominion International School, Jabi in the Federal Capital Territory, at least nine candidates had difficulty with the biometric verification and were given forms to fill, which would be forwarded to the JAMB headquarters.
Though not an issue with JAMB itself some candidates have also been found to be less conversant with the use of the computer as they have had to be assisted by officials at the CBT centres.
Despite the glitch and complaints, a former Minister of Education, Prof. Chinwe Obaji, commended JAMB for its good work and innovations, while he exonerated the organisation of being responsible for the inability of some candidates to log into the computers.
The former minister pointed out that such a scenario occurred because the affected students are computer-illiterate and thus recommended computer literacy programme for primary and secondary school pupils.
Earlier in March, JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, said the board had introduced new innovations for the successful conduct of the 2019 UTME during a meeting with stakeholders on strategic planning and preparations for supervision and evaluation of administration of the exam that held between April 11 and 15.
"A separate indicator had also been created for the deaf to differentiate them for special attention at the examination centre. Efforts are on to provide the option of special centres or mainstreaming for the blind. We now have live report on centres that registered any candidate, the time the candidate was registered, who registered the candidate, computer system used and the location of registration," Oloyede stated.
"All these are done through our enhanced monitoring system. I want to warn candidates expected to sit for the examination to ensure their biometrics were taken and verified for the examination."
There is no other way, he insisted, for candidates to gain entry into the examination centre with the biometric verification, adding that the increasing threat of identity fraud during the UTME before the advent of biometric verification machine necessitated its introduction for capturing the biometrics of candidates to counter fraud.
The JAMB registrar added: "Any candidate that cannot be verified by the biometric verification mode must not be allowed to take the examination under any guise. All candidates whose fingerprints could not be captured during registration from centres across the country were brought to JAMB headquarters and were registered appropriately. In other words, exemption mode is not allowed for any candidate. Therefore, no biometric verification, no examination."
Further measures taken by JAMB to prevent cheating is to ban items like wristwatches, recorders, earpieces, mobile phones, Bluetooth devices, smart lenses, erasers, smart buttons and spy reading glasses, among others.
In one of its bulletins, the examination body said it would not stop the use of biometrics in the conduct of UTME now or in the future, noting that the biometrics verification machine was introduced by the board in an attempt to put an end to malpractices.
The BVM is considered a security mechanism used for the authentication of candidates' identity as it provided access to the individual data, based on physiological characteristics.
According to the bulletin, the core value of a biometric verification process lies in its ability to provide extra layers of security and protection against counterfeiting and impersonation. The increasing threat of identity fraud during the board's UTME before the advent of the BVM necessitated its introduction for capturing biometrics of candidates to counter fraud.
In doing this, the candidate's 10 fingers are captured during registration and are used as clearance to admit them into the examination hall. There are various types of biometric solutions but JAMB said it opted for fingerprint recognition, to eliminate all forms of infractions.
It said further: "Biometric security is surely a breakthrough for the board, because the fingerprints recognition technology provides a greater degree of security as it is impossible to steal, forget, lose or compromise data already captured. Therefore, the adoption of biometrics in the conduct of our examination is here to stay."
In February, JAMB disclosed that no fewer than 22 candidates with biometric registration issues would sit for the 2019 UTME at the headquarters of the board in Abuja, with the promise that it would be responsible for their transportation fare. The candidates had since been registered and sat for the examinations.
"This is against the 24,490 candidates whose examination was rescheduled on account of biometric verification challenges, JAMB explained.
There have been some attempts to sabotage that system with JAMB insisting in 2018 that there is no going back on the fingerprint-based protocol. In fact, it warned that any candidate that could not be identified through biometrics would be barred from writing that year's UTME.
"We want to clearly state here that any candidate who cannot be identified using biometrics will not be allowed to sit for this examination. So far, over 450,000 candidates have sat for the examination and we have had reported cases where some of the candidates could not be identified as they placed their fingers on the machines for identification. Candidates sitting for this examination are not to be identified by mere registration numbers or names, but through the machines.
"We know that at the point of registration for this examination, candidates' details were captured with live photographs as well as their fingerprints. So, while going for the examination, it is only expected that candidates should be screened and identified using biometrics," Benjamin, had stated.
Not a few stakeholders in the education sector believe JAMB is doing its best to conduct fraud-free examinations and that whatever hiccups experienced in the last exercise is nothing compared to the menace of conducting the UTME with the BVM, adding that it is a much-improved system compared to the Independent National Electoral Commission's (INEC) card reader system.
They also think that the biometric verification should be extended to all other examinations both external and internal in the country as a way of restoring the pride of education excellence.