The number 180 may not mean so much to many people but would probably now mean a great deal especially to thousands of university seekers in Nigeria. This is because the Joint Admissions Matriculation and Exam Board otherwise known as JAMB has decided in its wisdom to lower the university cut-off mark for students seeking admission into Nigerian universities. When asked if this meant a lowering of standard, Prof Ojerinde who is the JAMB registrar disagreed by saying "it's not true, what we are saying is that the entry qualification in terms of senior secondary certificate examination must be the same. Prof Ojerinde, who is the first Nigerian Professor of Tests and Measurement, would surely know a thing or two about standards so it is rather surprising if the quotes attributed to him are accurate. Now let me make it absolutely clear I have nothing against young people striving to make it to university and realise their life long dream of a university education. I am a beneficiary of Nigerian university education, so it would be foolish for me to suggest so. However, I have a problem when we dumb down standards for the sake of accommodating more students who clearly failed to meet the minimum score to be considered for admission.
The University Matriculation Exam is an entry level exam that has historically set its cut-off mark at 200 out of a possible 400 score. A score of 200 is equivalent to 50%, so in effect what we are saying is that a student with less than 50% score is good enough to go university. Well I disagree with that notion. First, we have to decide if university education is for everyone and in my view it isn't. We have had this open door approach to university education in the last 20 odd years or thereabout and it has created more problems that solutions which university education are there to solve in the first place.
One of the reasons why cultism has strived in Nigerian universities is because there are far many young people who have somehow got themselves into universities but have no business being there. I experienced this first hand during my time in university back in Nigeria. Universities in Nigeria have become breeding grounds for all sorts of promiscuous behaviour with many young gullible female students as victims. Again made possible because most of them should be no where near a university but a system that encourages mediocrity has somehow allowed every individual who can buy their way get into universities.
Universities are places for serious academic work and research and only meant for those students who can handle the rigour and demands that it provides. Sadly, the heavy decline in standards over the years has meant the rigour and demands of academic work has gradually faded away with serious allegations that abound relating to money and sex for grades. This is not to say those who go to university are somehow superior to people who choose not to, far from it. What it means quite simply is that you must have some level of aptitude to academic work to be able to cope. To suggest that somehow this move by JAMB would not in any way result in a drop in standards is either being in denial of what is at stake or at best rather naive. So what if future UME exams produce worse results with fewer students scoring less than 180, would that mean another lowering of cut off below 180? If we keep lowering standards in this way, there is only one direction for education to move in Nigeria and that is down I'm afraid.
Rather than keep lowering JAMB cut-off marks which is an exercise in futility, all stakeholders in education needs to go back to the drawing board and find out the real reasons why our young people are under performing. Let me once again draw attention to some of the main issues that needs to be addressed that would help us move forward. These issues includes to provide adequate funding and ensure it targets local needs for local schools. Invest heavily in infrastructure and reform teaching and learning by restructuring the current teacher education and training. Until we fix all that is wrong in our educational system, performance in UME exams will only get worse and we may reach the stage where there is no more cut-off marks to be lowered.