Reform the CSS examination

Daily: Pakistan Today
Date: 14.03.21
(under a pseudonym: Anwar Ali)

On 18 February 2021, the Federal Public Service Commission (FPSC) commenced the
examination of Central Superior Services (CSS), 2021. On the first day, language
proficiency in English was tested through two papers, English Essay and English Précis &
Composition.

Last year, for CSS-2020, total 39,630 candidates applied for the examination but 18,553
candidates appeared and only 376 of them could clear the written examination.  The FPSC
has not released the figures for 2021, but it is expected that the number would be higher
than or equal to that of the previous year. The sheer number touching 19,000 is a gigantic
task to evaluate candidates in a subjective written examination. Nevertheless, the major
fiasco or failure comes through the papers of English Essay, English Précis & Composition
or Islamiyat.

In 2018, while assigning the task to Dr Ishrat Hussain, the incumbent government informed
the public of its resolve to introduce reforms into the CSS exam system. After three years,
the reforms have not seen the light of day. One significant aspect of the reforms was to
introduce a screening test before the written examination to winnow out the candidates ill-
prepared for attempting the written examination. The reform, if introduced, would lessen the
burden of checking thousands of papers each year cumbersome for the FPSC. Second,
the reform would help the examiners mark the answer sheets, which would be fewer in
number, more fairly than before. As a result, a just evaluation of each candidate appearing
for the written examination would take place.

In CSS-2021, the FPSC once again promoted cram learning by offering trite topics in the
paper of English essay. Out of ten given topics, the candidates had to attempt only one
essay. Of given ten topics, three were substandard, to wit, “Meaning purposive education”,
“Gender equality: a popular slogan”, and “Pros and cons of globalization”. These topics
were substandard because these have been the oft-repeated topics for the past ten years.
These topics fall under the class of generational essays– the essays which are prepared
and used by one generation and then they are handed down to successive generations.
When a choice to intellectual escape is given, candidates prefer to attempt such
commonplace topics. In principle, essay topics are meant for prompting original thoughts in
candidates. This was not the case.

In the market, called the CSS-market, these three essays were cardinal part of the guess
papers issued by almost all CSS coaching academies. In the CSS-market, dozens of
quotations are available to attempt such essays. This is where the rub lies. When topics are
predictable, quotations and parroting come in. Except where books and their contents are
quoted, quotation-inflicted essays do not reflect the ingenuity and inventiveness of a
candidate, who pretends to be genuinely sedulous, thereby denting the right to score highly
of assiduous fellow candidates who count on originality and creativity. By offering such
hackneyed expectable essay topics, the FPSC has facilitated once again disingenuous
candidates to pass the examination, outsmart the painstaking genuine candidates, and join
the civil services.

It is now known that most candidates have attempted any of these three essays.
Expectedly, such candidates would keep relying on conventionality and excerpts anchored
in precedents and would keep on avoiding novelty in their thoughts and actions throughout
their service careers. If the masses suffer at the hands of such civil servants, the
responsibility lies squarely on the recruiting body, the FPSC. In fact, by promoting such
essay papers, the FPSC has done a disservice to the country.

Advertently or inadvertently, by giving such essay topics, the FPSC has helped CSS
coaching academies survive. CSS coaching academies, which are now plenty across the
country, convince candidates to bank on confirmed predictable essay topics on which these
academies arrange mock tests. Currently, the coaching charges for one five months’
course per candidate are around one lakh rupees. Candidates with modest or lowly
background can neither attend these coaching academies nor can they sever the symbiotic
relationship extant between the CSS coaching academies and the FPSC. The government
needs to intervene to offer equal opportunities to candidates from rural background to
express their talent without financial pressure shifting onto their families, and it is doable.

In CSS-2021, the objective section (Q 1) of English Précis & Composition was
photographed by some candidates and the section came out of the examination centre.
This section was supposed to lie hidden. The FPSC failed to put a check on candidates,
who brought their mobile phones or pen cameras to the examination hall. To find out the
meaning of 20 words through given multiple choice options, seven words were odd: SOT,
Bricloge [Bricolage], Demiurge, Hagiographic, Tousled, Chiaroscuro, and Caitiff. Instead,
preference should have been given to asking the meaning of the words used in functional
English.

The oddity was enough to permeate insecurity amongst the candidates. Nevertheless, the
beauty of this paper was that précis and other questions were perfect for exploring both
grammar and comprehension abilities of the candidates. This paper evinces that the FPSC
has understood clearly and rightly that without raising the standards of English, Pakistan’s
civil servants cannot compete with their counterparts from other countries.

In today’s competitive world, the need is not to lower the quality of knowledge but to raise it.
Certain CSS coaching academies, especially in Lahore and Islamabad, have been inciting
CSS candidates into standing up against the FPSC and malign it to make it compromise
English standards both in written and viva voce. A campaign is underway to compel the
FPSC to conduct the viva voce– the stage that comes after a candidate passes the written
examination– in both Urdu and English. This is a step towards discontinuing English from
the viva voce initially and then from the written examination eventually.

The proponents of such a malicious campaign have failed to realize that, in this globalized
world, English is now an international language being learnt by even those nations, such as
Japan, China, Germany, and Russia, which kept reeling under the unwieldy heft of
nationalism to militate against English. Besides, English is a language of science and,
without understanding science, life cannot be valuable.

In short, the pending reforms affecting the CSS examination should be released at the
earliest. Dr Ishrat owes it to the nation to unveil his reforms.

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