Can civil services aspirants do justice without knowing English?

Can civil services aspirants do justice without knowing English?

When lakhs of civil services aspirants have entered the frenetic last leg preparations for the preliminary examination scheduled later this month, a small number among them are still on the streets.

The government’s offer to exclude marks for English and an extra chance next year for those who had appeared in 2011 tests have fallen short of their expectations.

They wanted the scrapping of the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT), which they claim is biased against Hindi-speaking aspirants and those from rural background. But in less than three weeks, the protesters have to queue up in front of the exam centres if they want to move to the next level of the exam.

 Though it may not have accepted the main demand, the government caved in to the pressure from protesters and opposition parties. While making changes in the 11th hour, the government left many doubts lingering for aspirants who have been preparing for the examination for the past many months.

Nobody knows whether there will be a cut off for English. Can they simply leave all such questions? If so, wouldn’t it be an injustice to aspirants who have wasted time preparing for a section which fetches no marks?

The controversial CSAT, which replaces the old one recommended in 1976, focuses on testing skills like comprehension, interpersonal communication, logical reasoning and English.

It also has a separate paper on General Studies. The old system had two papers, one on General Studies and the second an optional paper that can be selected from 22 subjects. The opponents cry foul that the aptitude test is best suited for those from the science background, especially those who have cracked the IIT and IIM tests.

Though the UPSC says that the English comprehension element in the new exam is that of Class X level, the protesters argue that the English teaching in rural schools are faulty and it leaves them at a disadvantage.

This is not the first time that the CSAT has triggered protests. Since 2011 when it was first introduced, it has resulted in demonstrations. However, with pro-Hindi Narendra Modi government at the helm, there was a feeling among protesters that they could get what they bargain for. The issue also resonated in Parliament, leading to repeated adjournments. 
The NDA government initially showed sympathy with the students and requested UPSC -- a Constitutional body that can ignore government directives -- to postpone the exam scheduled for August 24. But with the UPSC expressing its dissent and a three-member government-appointed panel strongly supporting the new scheme, government beat a retreat.

The government kept saying it will resolve the matter in a week but nothing happened and a small section of the aspirants continued their protests. As government dithered, there was confusion and protesters lost valuable time for preparation.

From Pappu Yadav (RJD) to Sharad Yadav (JD-U), all those who had their votes in Hindi heartland jumped into the protest bandwagon but appeared to sidestep certain crucial questions on the issue.

Can a group, which has their own interests, hold the exam taken by students across the country to ransom? Are their arguments cohesive and reasonable? If this exam were discriminatory for Hindi-speaking students, wouldn’t it be discriminatory for regional language-speaking students too? Do the aspirants have the right to dictate the exam pattern? Will they now demand that the entrance test pattern for IITs and IIMs be changed?

There is no doubt that the Civil Services should shun the elitist tag. One would accept that when there is a change, there will be concerns and that should be addressed. There could be flaws and that has to be changed.

But is there any logic in saying that it is discriminatory on the basis of language, when Hindi-speaking students have an added advantage that the questions for the prelims are available in Hindi while others do not have this advantage. However, the concerns raised by aspirants over the poor quality of translation have to be addressed.

It would not augur well for UPSC to stick to Google translator when language experts are aplenty in this country.

Challenging job

Civil Service is a challenging job. A youth selected for the services has to face numerous challenges on a daily basis during his years in office. He will be dealing with a variety of subjects even if he does not have domain expertise.

 For example, an engineering graduate may be posted in health department. He may not need to become a doctor but will have no option but to acquire knowledge in that field. In such circumstances, if an aspirant says that he is not willing to take the challenge posed by a new exam method, what should one make out? If he is not willing to take the challenge of exam, how is he going to take up the difficult job of administrating India?

Another point raised is about the emphasis on English, which has emerged as a common language. UPSC says they are only testing Class X English proficiency of the candidates. The protesting aspirant says they are not ready to face this as it is discriminatory.

They forget that they will have to learn a new language if they are posted in non-Hindi states. The irony is that he will have to learn a new language if he gets a job but not ready to brush up a language to get the job.

It is alleged that the protest is mainly by aspirants who had appeared in the pre-CSAT exams and have not been able to adjust to the new system. These are the last couple of chances for them and they do not want to lose it.

With Civil Services being the most prestigious job, protests by a section should not be the lone reason for reviewing or changing the system. These exams should not be turned into a farce by allowing aspirants to dictate terms.

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