Two institutions profoundly depict the choices before Nigerians as the world moves onto the next phase in advancement. There is the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Both typify our chance at progress or retardation. The choice to be made should be guided about the driving forces of either option.
JAMB has been innovative. It migrated to the digital platform way ahead of other government agencies. It was before its time in adopting online application. It moved away from Pencil and Paper Based Test to Computer Based Test. It implemented an array of other measures that cemented its position as a leader in embracing change. The end result is an organization that has shortened the wait time from sitting for its entrance examination from over three months to just a few hours.
On the opposite of the spectrum is ASUU, which has earned itself a reputation that places it on similar footing with the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and that is not referring to our university lecturers as not better than motorpark touts even though they are known to descend into unprovoked unruliness. ASUU has largely proven to be allergic to innovation and evolved to be less relevant than it was at twilight of return to democratic rule in 1999. It had largely retained the combative and confrontational approach that might have been useful under military rule but has no place in the current dispensation that promotes collaboration over conflict.
It is understandable that ASUU has no interest in catching up with the rest of world – its members, university lecturers, have not done much to explore the open source digital educational tools and platforms that are powering the contemporary classrooms. Asking them to contribute to that pool of resources would be asking for too much since they cannot give what they do not have anyway.
What provokes head scratching is the venomous passion with which they are insisting on keeping the rest of the country at their own level of Information and Communication (ICT) illiteracy. Even if they have not made the necessary sacrifice to upgrade their tech skills they have no right trying to block the wholesale adoption or application of ICT for processing candidates that are coming into higher educational institutions as they recently tried to do with JAMB. Naturally, teachers that with cyberphobia would loathe the fact that JAMB is a catalyst for populating campuses with tech savvy youths, but even if JAMB were not to play this role nothing would stop the eventual arrival of digital natives – the generation to whom tech savviness is second nature, from showing up on campuses.
At this point the best ASUU can do is to throw the Chairman of its University of Ibadan Chapter, Dr Deji Omole under the bus and distance itself from the shallow arguments he put forward in condemning the changes and innovations made by the current JAMB Registrar, Professor Ishaq Oloyede. The funny reasons included trying to brand the cost of registration for the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination as prohibitive when it costs less than the amount an undergraduate spends on one glorified handout called textbook; if a candidate cannot afford the registration fee for the entrance examination then buying 16 handouts in a session would be a living nightmare.
To call for the scrapping of JAMB over the postponement of a mock examination is disingenuous and exposes the quality of analytical skills of those behind ASUU, which indicates there may be no skills at all in the first instance. The Collins Dictionary online defines mock examination as "an examination, esp in a school, taken as practice before an official examination". Dr Omole and his ilks in ASUU must therefore note that the "mock examination" he was ventilating over was not the one that would be used for admission, its purpose was to give willing first time candidates a feel of the actual examination with all the attendant benefits. His failure to understand this basic concept raises questions that are better not posed in this instance because of the damning answers they will provoke.
For teachers that have been known to run cash-for-admission rackets, there is no confusion as to where the call for the scrapping of JAMB is coming from. What they are overtly asking for is to declare an open season for corruption where university applicants would become fair game for exploitation. The corruption around university admission as currently known would be a rehearsal compared to what is to come when there is no regulatory body to enforce both the process and standard for university intake.
Granted that it is a trade union and not a professional body, which does not justify artisanal reasoning and behaviour, ASUU were nonetheless has the responsibility to be forward thinking and do the needful towards nudging university education in Nigeria onto the path of progress. JAMB has shown leadership in this direction and the least the union can do is to reform its members to be empowered to teach the improved quality of undergraduates that gain admission on the strength of the world class entrance examination that JAMB conducts.
Nigerians would therefore do well to side with JAMB while putting ASUU in its place as a busy body that is out to usurp the role of another and would do anything, including calling for the demise of its object of interest, to have it way. Should this happen, higher education would have suffered an immeasurable setback would only profit ASUU to the detriment of Nigerians. So should we scrap JAMB or sack the reformists that is working tirelessly at the place? It is a path we must never tread.
Agbese is a trained educationist, Oil Gas Expert and contributed this piece from the United Kingdom.