Babatope Agbeyo, chairman/chief executive officer, Cornfield Group- an information technology company- involved in the development of software for national examination bodies. He looks at the impact of technology on education and how well or otherwise Nigeria’s examination bodies deploy technology tools to curb malpractices.Nigerian has introduced computer-based tests and marking for examinations like JAMB and WAEC.
What led to this transformation?
Let me give you a brief history of that. What we just did is that some aspects of the test items are becoming computer-based that is, for some examinations like JAMB because JAMB examination is multiple choice answers. So, it is easy for JAMB to do that and to guide against malpractice and to make it convenient for candidates to sit for their exams. And then, JAMB has evolved over the years on that, I mean, computer-based test and you can see that they are improving every year.
The one they did this year was far better than the last experience. Then, technology has to come into our system. It makes it valid. It rules out a lot of problems and challenges. Although, people might have a lot of phobia towards it, but yet, it is still the best. When you talk about registration, all the examination bodies are doing it right now. NECO, JAMB, WAEC, because it’s easier for them. Rather than them filling forms, go and submit the form, you put passport, you might even misplace your forms. You can see that the examination bodies are really improving day in, day out and they are using technologies.
We are doing some things for some of them, like real time management of exam day in, day out process. The attendance, malpractice, whatever you want that you need to use paper for by the officials, now WAEC can automate it, just that same day. We have the one that verifies pictures. You can’t use two pictures in WAEC, they can detect that immediately. And then, they have a lot of security they put on their system that I cannot be telling you that we are doing for them and some other agencies.
The sector is not the way it was but paper and pencil is still part of it because there are some practicals you cannot use CBT for. It’s comfortable and is important for JAMB to do it. It’s a good thing that can ever happen to this country. It’s one of the best and I’m telling you, JAMB is looking forward again to what technology that can make the exam better and easier and be malpractice-prove.
Are there technologies that can totally wipe out malpractices?
Why not? It is possible. It is like telling you what they want to do. They are ever moving. They travel here and there, looking for solutions to do this. When you hear them travelling, they are not just travelling for the sake of travelling. Because, the foundation of every state or every nation lies in the quality of their education. And you can only measure that by the quality of certificate you have. So, it is a key role and they are not resting. You can see that crime is now being driven by technology. For you to detect crime, you have to use technology as well. And to prevent crime, you have to use technology. To even arrest crime, you have to use technology and I see malpractice as crime.
Can you tell us where we are heading to, the future of education in Nigeria?
There are technologies that are meeting up the needs of today, preparing us for the challenges of tomorrow. Technology is an output. It is like an input whereby you are expecting an output. So, the kind of method you use, the era of you putting white chalk on black board is going. When you even see our children now, even primary school, they go online to study. There are lots of apps whereby they can study from. If that is happening, then the schools are already joining the stakeholders. The examination bodies, they are all joining hands to make sure that Nigeria is not left behind in the community of nations when it comes to education.
And let me be frank and candid, the budget might be low but the private sector participation in education is making it grow very fast in Nigeria. It is one of the fastest growing sectors in this country. Let’s be frank and candid, it’s the area that private sector have been so much involved. Then, you can talk about agriculture and once you are involved, there is a sort of competition. Private schools, private secondary schools, private primary schools. There is a sort of competitions and when there are competitions, there will be development and growth. They might be having some issues, some challenges which are surmountable.
The way I’m looking at it, in the next few years, the country will be far better. Compare the way our children learn now to the way learning was some years ago. Your child now, about two, three years will tell you something, you will be shocked about the kind of information he or she has. What we need to do is, exposure to technology has its own adverse effects. There are some things that they must not know at this stage. We have to know what they are consuming on the Internet. Is it good for their growth? Is it good for their social standings? Is it good for their upbringing? Are they learning something that can be ethical? Is it good for their culture? Those are the things we need to look into and then, the country will be good for it.
Do you think the higher institutions should continue the way they are doing today?
It’s not the public that should have a rethink. It’s not the government schools or universities that should have a rethink. It is we the individuals. There is something I’m going to say. The school fees paid in public schools cannot sustain the schools. Let’s be frank and candid, how can you ask somebody to pay N50,000 as school fees for university education and you are expecting quality education to be given to you?, it’s not possible.
University education is not compulsory. What is compulsory is the basic education. If you go to secondary school, and you are good enough to stand on your own, you can be a carpenter, you can be an electrician, and you can be a bricklayer. So, while you are educated, you will do it better than somebody who is not educated. What should be free is the basic primary and secondary education. University should be as a luxury, which you want to go further. You want to specialize in a field. Of what use is a graduate that cannot spell his name?
Of what use is a graduate that cannot stand among his colleagues and defend?
Because you got it by substandard education. Those are the areas we need to look into. If I’m paying N500, 000 or N200, 000 for my children in public school, I’m expecting something to be given. But when I’m paying what is not supposed to be paid, I should be okay with what they will give to me. The best schools we still have are the public universities. They still have the best set of professors, the best set of infrastructures and facilities.
They still have everything but we the public should also do something. Don’t let us lie to each other. You said school fees is N100, 000, when they are going to school, you give them about N200, 000. Some of them, they spend about N400, 000 on what are not even supposed to be. To buy cloth, buy this, buy that, buy television, put it in your room, whereas, the sore area that you are supposed to spend money on, you are not. You are saying that it should be free. What is free that is good?
Even abroad, if you want to go to a university, your local government will borrow you money. When they borrow you money, then you start paying by the time you start working. That is the type of system that we should put in place. If I want to go to a university and I know that I’m brilliant, if I cannot get scholarship, then I should be able to approach an institution that can borrow me money and then when I finish school, I can now be paying back the loan bit by bit.
For example, what is killing us is fee. When some states were paying for some students WAEC, the failure rate was very high. But when parents were now paying, then you can see, everything is improving.
This brings us to the issue of funding the education system. The Federal Ministry of Education budget is low. How can we address this issue?
When it comes to the issue of education, I’m not an educationist. I’m talking about my own personal experience. When you say budget is low, it is very comparative. You look at the income of the state, the country and its needs. Really, education should not be for revenue generation. But, the system should be able to provide for what it wants to consume. Why do we go to study abroad? When we get there, we know we are going to get quality and we are going to pay for that quality. And everybody pays for that quality in that system.
So, if there is going to be a budget, we should talk about our contribution to budget. If we say that it is low, low in what terms? UN says this, UN says that, what is our income and then, what is our priority? That’s another thing. The problem of the people in school is skyrocketing every day. When it’s like that, then it now becomes impossible for government alone to shoulder that responsibility. Maybe, some parts of our tax system should be deployed to that. Maybe the rich should be mandated to pay part of their taxes for that.
There should be a way where people who are rich in the society, there should be a bit of levy on them for education. Because if we don’t do that, if we are graduating people who are not graduates, if you are bringing people who are average, every one of us are going to suffer for it. Because by the time you have one million graduates and only ten thousand are employable, the remaining will become burden and that your fine car, you won’t be able to drive it again. That your nice house, your fence cannot defend you anymore. Your police cannot defend you anymore because there will be a lot of crimes here and there. So, every one of us should be able to contribute something to the educational sector. Every one of us should do that.
How will technology help those who have shut off in terms of infrastructure deficit?
That is the area of states and local governments. Really, there might be less infrastructure in those communities but they can still have some few things. When I was in school, we had no light, nothing. But at a stage, I was able to catch up with the available technology then.
It is a matter of mindset. That should not be an excuse. When JAMB was introducing CBT, many of us thought that it won’t be possible. There is no light, there is no internet, there is no this, but now, it’s a success story. Though they might be having some little hitches, it happens everywhere in the world but it’s not particular to them alone. And with the new man on board, those challenges are reducing and in the next two, three, four years, all those things will be a thing of the past.
We should be able to use what is available. If we want to do it, we should make it right. Anything you have, maybe your textbooks, read it. And you will be shocked that most of these villages, some of them have mobile phones. They even go on WhatsApp, they do Facebook. But, are they using it to learn? What are they using it for? Even the people in the city, they are talking about villages. People in the city, are they using what they have to learn? When they say they are using it to learn, what are they learning? They are learning about when somebody is pregnant in America, when somebody was putting to bed in the UK, that’s what they are learning. We should use whatever we have to get what we want intellectually.
Is technology not taking away jobs?
You have to make yourself relevant. Technology creates jobs; it depends on how relevant you are. I could remember sometimes when Internet was coming; people thought that Internet will kill paper. We thought with the Internet, there will be no need for paper. They realized that with the use of Internet, we are generating more paper, because we share more data that we need to keep the hard copy.
So, the paper we were generating then are not as high as the volume we are generating now. Technology facilitates job creations. But, are you good enough to occupy those available spaces? Are you a junk graduate? That is the question. You have to make yourself relevant to the available jobs. The problem is people think banks do not need more people, they are still employing everyday because there will be need for consumption.
Technology doesn’t take away jobs, it reduces number of time you spend on job and it brings in accuracy effortlessly. That’s what it does. It creates more jobs. Now, you can see that people are using more mobile phones; they are buying more computers every day. People are there selling the computer now. Some people are there developing software every day. Here, we are about 78 people working in this company and we still need to employ more. We are a full ICT company. So, it doesn’t take jobs, it creates more jobs. It depends on individual capacity and ability.