Education plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of individuals and societies. In Nigeria, the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exams serve as a crucial gateway for students aspiring to gain admission into tertiary institutions. While these exams are designed to assess students’ academic readiness, they often place significant pressure on students, leading to adverse effects on their mental health. This article aims to explore the impact of JAMB exams on student mental well-being in Nigeria.
The Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) is a Nigerian entrance examination board for tertiary-level institutions. It was founded in 1978 to conduct the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME) for prospective undergraduates into Nigerian universities, polytechnics, monotechnics and colleges of education. In 1978, JAMB was established to coordinate and harmonize the admission process into tertiary institutions in Nigeria. The UTME became a single examination for all candidates seeking admission into any tertiary institution in Niger. The examination body introduced a new policy of posting candidates to their preferred institutions based on their UTME scores in 2016, but the policy was later scrapped due to criticisms from stakeholders and candidates. In 2022, JAMB announced two UTMEs in one year, and a policy that allowed candidates to change their institutions and courses up to three times after the UTME.
In 2023, JAMB will conduct the UTME in line with the current syllabus and curriculum, which oftentimes is an upgraded level to what these adolescents have been accustomed to from their six years of learning in secondary schools.
Recent findings have revealed that JAMB exams place immense pressure on Nigerian adolescents, who face intense competition and expectations. Local studies have shown a high prevalence of mental health disorders and suicidal behaviors among the adolescent population in Nigeria. Disorders with onset around adolescence include mild psychological distress, anxiety disorders, depression, suicide and substance and alcohol use disorders just to mention a few. The loss of self-esteem that could arise from repeated failure in JAMB exams and no opportunities for corrective classes or curriculum review in line with national failure rate statistics, can grossly act as a contributory trigger to the mental health implications seen within the age range of 15 to 18 years in the country.
In Nigeria, the pressure to succeed at this examination ‘at all cost’ stems from the view that it is the only path to success as regards educational progression in this country. Success in JAMB exams is also equated to high intelligence and does not account for other inhibiting factors in young people which could be attributed to mental status at the time of the exam or unidentified minor learning challenges that could pose a hindrance to high scores in the exam.
The stigma attached to not performing well can negatively impact adolescents’ self-worth and mental health. Adequate support systems are lacking in many schools and educational institutions, leaving students feeling isolated and unsupported during this critical period of their lives.
In a nutshell, this article aims to drive a conversation around curriculum review and stringent measures associated with the examination. There needs to be a focus on aptitude testing, personality testing and career choices in line with passion, inert talent and creativity. The era of assigning courses to students based on ‘perceived failure’ or low scores needs to be well thought out and abolished. This will stem the impact seen today where many graduates no longer rely on their course from the University to earn a source of livelihood. As a nation, we need to rethink the style and practice of JAMB, refine it’s curriculum and position it as an exam to boost career drive and success in young minds and not as a tool to demoralize the majority and uplift a few outliers, with a long term detrimental effect on the mental health of our supposed ‘leaders of tomorrow’.
Emenyi, Njideka Nkemjika, “Mental Health Disorders Among the Adolescent Population in Nigeria: An Integrative Review” (2023). Doctoral Dissertations and Projects. 4180.
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