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Worrying Trend in SSCE and UTME 2021 Results

SIR: A popular joke among teachers is that in student’s mindsets, poor grades are ‘given’ by teachers while good grades are ‘gotten’ by the students. When any continuous assessment or end-of-term examination results are released, students proudly claim that they merit the good grades they have but disown the poor grade claiming that it was the teachers that gave them such grades. This blame game is a common phenomenon even among sports where the coach, referee, umpire, pitch, or court is blamed for any loss but glory is claimed as the result of hard work, dedication, skill, and expertise.

Even though the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) had debunked the claims of poor results in this year’s Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), cyberspace is awash with reports of very low scores in the said examination nationwide with many reasons attributed to the failure. Over the years, the decline in candidate’s performance is also observable in the Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination (SSCE), National Technical Examination (NTC), National Business Certificate (NBC) and, Senior Arabic and Islamic Studies School Certificate Examination (SAISSCE) results as released by examination bodies such as WAEC, NECO, NABTEB, and NBAIS respectively.

Amidst many blame games, banters and comedy skits, the reasons proffered for the decline in candidates performance in the external examinations include the seeming unlimited freedom enjoyed by students both in homes and schools; uncontrolled access to many distractive electronic devices; addiction to the social media; obsession, indulgence, and followership of sports and other forms of entertainment as well as the pursuit of luxuries and quick fixes.

Even as the above factors must have in some way played a critical role in the poor performance, other factors such as lack of proper guidance and counseling, dwindling reading culture; teachers’ availability, qualification, competence, and motivation; the need for adequate infrastructure, facilities, and instructional materials as well as some schools’ admission, performance indices, and policies among others are the key factors that contributed to the reported poor results. Unless these and other related issues are addressed, this worrying trend may continue to worsen.

While the candidates are used to school-based examinations, the SSCE is a form of school-type, external achievement examination that tests competencies while the UTME is a rigorous selection or ranking test with both requiring thorough preparations. Thus, our students need proper guidance and counseling, to enable them (re)discover and improve their educational and other requisite potentialities that are needed for good performance in the examinations. A clear understanding of what is at stake is as important as choosing the right courses, subject combinations, and other expectations and required competencies of the examinations.

Adequate preparation for any type of school examination can only be attained through a dedicated, devoted reading and practicing previous years’ questions over an extended period. A student who has difficulty in reading systematically and extensively may not perform optimally in the examination. With the dwindling reading culture among our students, a good pass in the compulsory subject of the Use of English in the UTME for example is a mirage.

The bedrock of preparing the students is the teacher. Where teachers are not available or in limited numbers; the teachers are available but not properly motivated or are not competent and adequately qualified to teach, the students will be ill-prepared for the examination. These teachers are needed to guide the students in understanding the principles and concepts of the exam topics as well as boost the students’ problem-solving and critical thinking potentials. Teachers’ aid in the adequate coverage of the prescribed syllabuses which is a notch different in both content and context for the SSCE and UTME, is a key factor towards obtaining a colourful result in the examinations.

The UTME is a Computer-Based Test (CBT) and with time, it is clear that some aspects of the SSCE may also adopt the same approach. Without adequate infrastructure, facilities, and instructional materials such as good electricity supply, computers, internet connectivity, and practice software, students in many of our schools-both privately and government-owned, do not stand a chance in getting well prepared for these examinations. To adequately prepare the students, schools require computers and dedicated computer rooms, a reasonably stable source of power supply, and a level of internet connectivity to access some of the practice software and websites.

On its part, JAMB should consider reviewing its policies especially in terms of the life span of the UTME result, the timing of the examination timetable, and the strict adherence to the scheduled time of conducting the examinations on the specified dates. In the same vein, the board should up its game in ensuring the provision and functionality of the needed examination facilities provided to candidates by the approved centers.

As the country struggles to recover from the economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic and as parents and guardians battle soaring inflation rates, stakeholders should rally to ensure that resources are not wasted in the futile pursuit of illusive examination results. Instead of just joshing the UTME candidates on various social media platforms, a holistic overhaul is needed to arrest the ugly trend of the dismal performance of our children in the SSCE and UTME.

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