Joint Admission Matriculation Board (JAMB) through the initiative “JAMB Equal Opportunity Group(JEOG)” has created opportunity for over 2,200 blind candidates to participate in the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) while 374 of the candidates have been able to secure admission at notable Federal and State Universities.
Professor Sunday Ododo, CEO, National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, a lecturer at the University of Maiduguri and the coordinator of JEOG in Abuja while speaking to TQM during the second day of the exercise on Friday, said that in 2017, Professor Is-haq Oloyede, OFR, FNAL, HLR, Registrar of JAMB initiated a program to give blind candidates conducive and enabling environment to participate in the UTME just like their counterparts without disabilities. A group known as JAMB Equal Opportunity Group (JEOG) was formed to ensure the implementation of the program and the group is made up of 43 senior academics including former executive secretaries of parastatals of the federal ministry of education, former vice-chancellors, a former Honourable Minister and experts in special education and other relevant stakeholders such as the President of the Nigeria Association of the Blind, National President, Joint National Association of Persons with Disabilities, President, The Albino Foundation and President, Nigeria National Association of Deaf. The Anglo-Nigeria Welfare Association for the Blind is also playing important role in the exercise.
The National Chairman of the group is Professor Peter Okebukola and the exercise started with four centres in 2017, Lagos, Enugu, Kano and Abuja and other one in Kaduna situated in the prisons but over time the protocol of organizing it was not too smooth, it was stopped.
“The exercise started with blind candidates but others with disabilities such as autism and Down Syndrome were brought in”.
“Currently, there is eleven (11) centres, adding places such as Benin, Kebbi, Yola, Jos, Bauchi, Oyo and Ado-Ekiti to curb the stress of traveling long distances, the idea behind it is to bring the exercise closer to the candidates”.
Professor Ododo told TQM that JAMB takes full responsibility for hotel accommodation and feeding of the candidates in the 11 centres and pays generous transport supplementation.
“You can see Ambulance at the centre, it is for any medical emergency, we are well prepared and we are taking good care of them, we are taking care of their expenses for three days”
He also said that the candidates were selected through registration that every other candidate were subjected to, all they needed to do is to indicate their disability status, they would be called to ensure the authenticity of the condition before they would be invited to take part in the exercise.
“The exercise is not only for the blind candidates, candidates with autism, down syndrome were also considered but there is plan to extend it to other clusters such as Persons with Albinism and the deaf candidates. It is basically for candidates who find it difficult to read and write or who find it difficult to comprehend exam questions at the point of answering them”.
He informed that the exercise is taking place every year and it is 6 years now, an initiative of Professor Oloyede which came when it was observed that most of blind candidates were not doing well at UTME due to some challenges so the program was created and experts were brought in and there is a lot of improvement in their grades.
Speaking on other issues that can imped the performance level of other group of persons with disabilities such as lack of accessibility of centres for persons who have mobility challenges, he promised to escalate it in the report of JEOG to JAMB for action.
He also informed that JEOG are not only organizing examination for these groups, they go further to monitor their results and admission to Universities with the aim of evaluating the success of the exercise. Interestingly, their grades have been competing favourably with their counterpart without disabilities.
“In 2021, 110 candidates that participated in the exercise got admitted into Universities, 175 candidates were successful in 2019, and 89 in 2020, some candidates, though few, now offer science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects since this is an important slant to equal opportunity. A study has been underway since 2018 to explore ways of encouraging many blind candidates to study STEM subjects recognising the inclement conditions for the study of science by blind candidates at the secondary and post-secondary levels”.
Mr. Jake Epelle, the founder/CEO, The Albino Foundation (TAF), President, Albinism Association of Nigeria (AAN) and a member of JEOG committee told TQM that the initiative is a welcome development, the onus is on the leaders of disability community to seize the opportunity to push for other groups with genuine concerns to be included in the program. It is an exercise that will populate the Universities with members of disability community.
He commended Professor Oloyede for the wonderful initiative, bringing PWDs from different locations to different centres across the country, pay for their accommodation and take care of other expenses is a feat that should be highly appreciated by PWDs. PWDs should take it serious because it is addressing the issue of telling and choosing course of study for PWDs.
He described the exercise as well-organised because there are people strategically placed to assist the candidates based on their peculiar needs and the process is transparent.
He proposed the application of technology where tablets can be deliver to them in their homes and the same output gotten within the specified time. It will reduce cost and more candidates can be reached.
He called for the expansion of the committee, bringing in all disability cluster heads into the committee so that they can present their peculiar challenges that can be inculcated into the program to enhance equal opportunity for UTME. It can be made to be a choice for candidates with disabilities, but he advised PWDs to opt for this program because it is not separation, it is inclusion in a form of providing all that can make the exams more conducive.
Being part of the invigilating team at National Open University, Headquarters, the venue for Abuja centre, he adjudged the exercise to seamless, well-guarded, well-tested and well-organised. He urged Disability Community to endorse, embrace and participate in the program.
TQM reports that the blind candidates take the same test items as those who are not blind. The mode of examination administration is blended- use of PCs and use of the traditional Braille slate and stylus/typewriters in writing answers to questions that are read out by a subject expert. This is in alignment with the current state of development of Nigeria’s higher education system with regard to education of the blind. JEOG is already implementing a strategic plan of gradually increasing the ICT component of administration of the UTME to match improvement in ICT usage for the education of the blind in the universities, polytechnics and colleges of education.