JAMB And Africa’s Place In Global ICT Revolution

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By Innocent Clement

One of Africa’s most talked-about ICT success stories in the education sector is the adoption of Computer Based Test (CBT) for entrance examination into tertiary schools organized by the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board, a Nigerian examination body with a core mandate to conduct Matriculation Examination for entry into all Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education in Nigeria.

Globally, there has been an ICT revolution since 2000. The internet economy has grown larger and faster than could have been reasonably expected back then.  In future, technology, connectedness, the internet-of-things all promise a more efficient, fast-paced economy set within an accessible global market. But how can Africa really harness all this change to its betterment?

For a long time, ‘creativity’ and ‘innovation’ in technology were only latent concepts in Africa in general, and Nigeria in particular, until the dawn of the digital age. ICT plays an important, valuable and critical role in education development. Its usage has become very common but its full potential is yet to be discovered. Nigeria’s JAMB is now playing a critical role in ensuring that Africa maintains its pride of place in the Global ICT arena with a particular reference to education. It is heart-warming to see the fact that developing countries have now understood the importance of ICT and have started adapting to it as a basic tool for quality education.

The trailblazing credentials of JAMB experienced a surge with the coming on board of Professor Ishaq Oloyede, who has accelerated reforms at the institution and fast-tracked innovation. JAMB is applying ICT to areas that no one would have thought possible.

The ICT- mediated examination innovation by JAMB, which replaced the Paper and Pencil Based examination system that was fraught with problems of accuracy and delay in timely results’ declaration is an effective tool for integrating and automating the activities of examination system to bring reliable, efficient, transparent and robust e-examination solutions for Africa.

JAMB, especially under Professor Oleyede, has increased its institutional capacity and credibility since the introduction of the CBT in 2015. Determined to make the Computer Based Test all inclusive to different category of candidates with disabilities, JAMB embarked on nationwide training for visually impaired on the use of Apex Braille-note computer. This is quite commendable.

The Apex Braille-note computer is an electronic devise invented by the Board to enable visually impaired to take the Computer Based Test without stress like a normal Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination candidate.

The machine is affixed to a desktop computer and questions are deployed to it electronically with hearing aid. No fewer than 200 visually impaired participants in the training held at designated venues across the nation; namely South West Resource Centre in Abeokuta, Lagos, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt.

It is a good thing that the House of Representatives committee on Education has thrown its weight behind JAMB’s ICT drive with reference to the Computer Based Test (CBT) when it said the electronic test was in tandem with global dictates to sanitize the education system. “The paper Pencil Test (PPT) was cumbersome and characterized with several irregularities and unwholesome activities. The world is flying and we cannot be crawling”. The Chairman of the House of Representatives committee on Education Hon. Zakari Mohammed was quoted to have said.

Thus, if the Board’s major objective is to completely eliminate malpractices through the conduct of CBT, it may as well have achieved it because the CBT has to a large extent eliminated malpractice in the Board’s examination process. As with everything good, there are those who will lose because of the elimination of malpractices. These are the people that pick holes in the reform and tend to highlight the few teething issues.

Irrespective of how much such people try to make a mountain out of a molehill, JAMB could compete auspiciously with any examination body in the world considering its innovation in digitizing its examination. The innovation has now restored confidence and integrity in its examination process. With the pace of the current Registrar, the body is set to become a global reference point.

From its application to obviously mundane tasks to its use for the noblest of all human endeavours, the place of information and communication technology (ICT) in today’s world cannot be over-emphasized. The fate of individuals, businesses and countries largely depends on how fast they latch on to the ICT revolution and stay ahead in the game. It is the 21st Century equivalent of the scramble for land and territory most races of humankind have been involved in from ages past.

Against the backdrop of the importance of ICT to the present era, the effort by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) which has now phased out the use of the paper and pencil method for its examinations in favour of computer-based tests, is not only a commendable step in the right direction, it is also a pointer to the fact that Africa and indeed Nigeria is playing a very crucial role in global ICT revolution.

A disquieting percentage of graduates in the country today are not computer literate, thus, making them unemployable. This wouldn’t have been the trend if all critical stakeholders in the education string had been proactive in espousing ICT, specifically in testing candidates over the last two decades. The contemporary workplace is ICT-oriented and anyone not trained in this direction is hopelessly unfit to take on many tasks in the corporate world, which can only get more sophisticated, as technology is being daily improved to work more for the human race

Embracing ICT for providing the robust, transparent, accurate and authenticated outputs as we have witnessed with the JAMB innovation brings substantial quality improvement in education and this needs to be extended to other examinations in the country.

Nigeria’s JAMB has taken the lead. There is no gainsaying the fact that ICT will make exam system more efficient and transparent. This will produce competent human resources, which will contribute to the development of the country. The development at JAMB, which fully digitized and modernized most of its operation is the way to go and should be rolled across others facets of the education sector.

Nigeria and notably JAMB has been highly successful in creating a modern ICT supported examination platform. Learning the lessons from JAMB, while also understanding the breadth of the application of ICT is valuable for broad goals of a smart country and the quest for efficiency. This is because the success story of JAMB’s  ICT drive will enable Nigeria and Africa to compete in a global technology economy, developing its own tech-enabled businesses, content, applications and services.

A consensus has been built around the fact that today is the era of technology which is resulting in changing the life style of people. Today many African institutions are imparting education in the field of ICT, but its application in the functioning of the system is low. The meaning of computerization is limited to just typing or surfing web; full potential of ICT has not been explored. ICT is a useful tool to have transparency, reliability and efficiency in examination system. There are tremendous facilitations integrating ICT with examination system. JAMB’s ICT innovation from what we have seen will ensure efficiency and effectiveness in the examination system and effectively deals with malpractice and inefficiency thus bringing about the much needed change.

Clement wrote from Harvard University, USA.