Why Civil Services Aptitude Test must stay
by Anant Mittal on 26 Jul 2014 7 Comments

The clamour for a reform in the Civil Services (Preliminary) Exam has been growing. After the introduction of the Civil Services Aptitude Test (CSAT) in 2011, there has been a hue and cry from by students from various regional languages against the apparent bias in favour of English-speaking students through the question paper pattern and questions. This resistance recently reached its zenith when thousands of students across India protested and even fasted for the complete removal of CSAT from the selection procedure. However the students in their dedicated protest have glossed over many points of importance.


The CSAT was introduced in 2011, hence this (2014) will be its fourth occurrence. Why has this become a major issue only now? What were the students waiting for in the previous two years? Why can’t the students just move on and get ready to face the challenge in 2014?


Many students of Science background opt for subjects from Arts as their optional subjects in Mains. When they can study an MA level subject in one years’ preparation, why can’t these students study functional English in three years’ time?


The students complain of a bias against students from regional languages specially Hindi. The question paper consists of 80 questions in which only eight questions are sans Hindi translation. Can aspirational leaders of tomorrow’s bureaucracy and representatives of India at international stages answer eight questions in English?


The aspirants while giving the exams have to pass a 300-mark full-fledged English written paper in the Mains exam; if they cannot cope with the stresses of the Prelims question paper, how can they expect to pass the Mains exam?


Since the question papers are translated into English and translations made in Hindi for the remaining 72 questions, why demand the scrapping of the entire paper, why not just eight questions?


The Notification of the UPSC states that the question papers will be set in both Hindi and English, so the regional language students already have to be adept at either language. Why then are they stressing on the Pro-English bias of the paper, when before CSAT as well, the papers were only in Hindi or English?


The notification also states, “English Language Comprehension skills (Class X level)” will be tested. When the minimum eligibility is Graduation for appearing in the exam, why do graduate students have a problem with 10th Class or below level English?


English is a global language. Most work of the Government in India, and a large majority of the work around the globe, especially between nations, is conducted in English; how can this group function if selected tomorrow? English is among the five recognised languages of the United Nations Secretariat; if tomorrow selected into the Indian Foreign Service where they have to interact with the UN, will these aspirants manage the work in Hindi?


The entire training aspect of post-selection, including at the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration (LBSNAA, Mussorie) is conducted in English. How will these aspirants cope with the training later on? Or will they quit because they cannot fathom the mysteries of training being offered in English? Of course, mere knowledge of English does not make a better civil servant, but lack of knowledge and the resistance to learn English only adds to one’s detriment in performance.


Thus, one must see beyond the cry for removal of the paper. The aptitude test also includes questions relating to Comprehension, Mathematics, Reasoning and Civil Services related Ability. But we do not see the protestors talking about this. In a recent debate (in Hindi, I may add) on a Television channel, when a “leader” of the protest group was called for debate, he could barely reply to the question on his aversion to English, but was rather focused on obfuscating the debate with his repeated demand devoid of logic but focused on gaining support from the political parties present.


The nation needs a well-rounded and well-read civil servant who should be able to take on all challenges openly. Certainly he is not expected to be an anglophile, but he must possess enough knowledge of English to be able to comprehend and perform his duties in the right manner. With large parts of Government work being done in English, the expectation by the UPSC that its candidates pass a simple test of English at the onset is not one that sets the bar too high. The demand for English medium education in schools is growing nation-wide, as it is the language of higher education and an important language of international commerce (a demand for Mandarin is picking up for similar reasons!).


The CSAT has thus been a logical introduction, and in the interest of bringing in the best qualified civil servants, should continue.


The author is a professional banker and aspirant for the civil services

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