Protestors in the UPSC row have listed many problems, government and UPSC are in a fix while the opposition is making a mockery of the scenario. Here is a solution to put an end to it.
At a time when the students should be burning midnight oil, they are burning effigies and, allegedly, torching vehicles. The aspirants of civil services in the country are protesting against the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and the central government.
Although everyone is by now aware about the paper and the problems, let’s go through them once again.
The UPSC conducts civil services exam in which there are three stages. First is preliminary exam or prelims, qualifying which you give the mains exam which again constitutes a series of papers on your elected subjects and some compulsory topics, then comes the interview.
The prelims consists of two papers – general awareness and Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT). The first paper contains 100 questions and carries time of two hours. The second paper consists of 80 questions testing the comprehension ability, decision making, basic numeracy and language skill of the aspirant. The time remains same – two hours – for CSAT too. The questions in both the papers are printed in English supplemented with Hindi translations.
Now, here starts the problem.
Some protestors, who are pro-Hindi, and probably aspirants, are saying that the language skill test questions are discriminatory in nature. They are tough and made for the people who have studied in English-medium schools.
Well, the protestors are right when they say that it is a problem for, as we call them, Hindi-medium people. The exams must be a level playing field. However, the language skill test questions are provided in BASIC 10th LEVEL English. And English is taught as a second language in all the schools upto 10th standard given the competitiveness in the modern world. So the argument almost fails here.
Some protestors, who are non-English, non-Hindi speaking, are demanding that the questions must be supplemented with their language – for example in Kannada or Karnataka students, in Telugu for Andhra students, in Tamil for Tamil Students, etc.
Although the republic of India does not have any official language, the union government works only in two languages – English and Hindi. Some argue, and they are right to some extent, if a bureaucrat does not understand either of these languages, how will he or she work?
India has 22 scheduled languages. If every student of these scheduled languages will start demanding the same, it will make one hefty question paper with so many supplementary languages. The questions will be lost and, also, there will be such demands for other exams as well.
But, again, it is about providing a level playing field for all kind of students.
And about skills, when we prepare for a private job, we know what we have to deal with and that’s why a certain skill set is required to land the job. So, you need to know how to operate a computer, how to deal with a client and how to manage staff.
In civil services, the aspirant actually has no way to learn about the office processes. The government trains the candidate once he or she is selected. So, whether you are a Hindi-medium or Tamil-medium or English-medium, it does not matter. The government will train you and put you on job only when you clear selectivity process.
Over the period, government tried to simplify its work and that is when the department of personnel and training (DoPT) and UPSC worked together and devised CSAT. It tries to test all the required skills of the candidate. The Verma panel employed to look into the matter has said that CSAT is scientific and should not be tampered with.
Now some of the protesting aspirants are against this CSAT. They say that the exam favours those with technical degrees, or in other words, is difficult for humanities students. They say that the basic numeracy test, which includes questions from data interpretation, reasoning and general mathematics, is of higher level. They want the entire CSAT to be scrapped.
UPSC syllabus says that the questions are of 10th level. And for God’s sake, you are preparing for the highest exam of the country! But this cannot be the only argument. It is in the records of the UPSC, and on their website too, that the cut off marks for the CSAT exam raised every year since it was implemented in 2011 for the students excelled themselves in the subsequent years.
And to say that students with technical degrees can only nail them is rubbish. Yes, they may take less time for preparation than a humanities student but UPSC does provide an year for the exam. Will it take ages to understand the mathematics problem that one solved in 10th?
But these are only arguments which everyone is shouting – some with banners and some on televisions. And there are doubts that there are political parties at work given the loads of problems and consfusion among the protestors themselves. But there is no way of verifying the actual protestors, actual problems and actual perpetrators of the problem.
Then what is the solution to all this ruckus which has stormed the well of the Parliament too?
Examinations are barely 22 days away and the UPSC has refused to accept any of the suggestion made by the DoPT, including that of scrapping or postponing the prelims. Rightly so because nine lakh students have applied for the exam and more than three lakh have already collected their admit cards.
So what can the government do which is seemingly in another UPA booby trap?
For starters, government may suggest UPSC to give a week’s window where every student can opt for one of the 22 scheduled languages included in the Indian Constitution as their medium of the exam. Accordingly, the UPSC can publish the question papers and provide them at the designated centres for the students.
The government can also suggest scrapping the language skill test. With the mains paper already containing two language papers to test the language skill of the aspirants, it is simply a waste of students’ time and not worth government’s headache.
The government may suggest supplementing extra questions for each question of the numeracy test, like they do in 10th or 12th board exams. It will just provide more option to the students and probably lessen their problem.
Now the UPSC will have to see whether it can race with time and do the needful to provide respite to the students before the exam is held on August 24th. Else there will not be any other option than postponing the exam by a month.
And about admit cards, UPSC can publish a corrigendum changing the exam date and accepting the previously issued admit cards for the same. Afterall, only the date and pattern has to be changed, the candidates will remain the same.
Also, the number of students opting for languages other than English and Hindi will actually put some light on the speculation that the problem has more politics to it than it seems. It will also help UPSC evolve some method for making the exam a level playing field for all given it will have the data in hand.